Spiritual Trips to France

Carna Stones copy

(This is a sponsored guest post written by award-winning travel writer/photographer Jeremy Head, an avid traveler and lover of cheap red wine. His work has appeared in well-known travel magazines and guidebooks, including Frommer’s guides.)

When you think of France, what comes to mind? Wine? Baguettes? Cheese? Sure, it’s got all of that, but there’s so much more to the place than the fab food. The country also has a spiritual side. It’s stacked with historic spots of immense beauty and tranquility.

Within driving distance of Calais, there are beautiful Gothic cathedrals, magical standing stones shrouded in mystery and even more. In fact, France has more mysticism than you can poke a wizard’s wand at.

The best part? Many can be visited on a weekend as day trips to France if you live in the UK. Here’s a quick rundown of three of North France’s most sacred places. Your awe will never have been so inspired!

Notre Dame Cathedral, Saint Omer

Distance from Calais: 38.9km

Head away from the hypermarkets and a pleasant 40-minute drive south takes you to Saint Omer, a market town full of Flemish character. Ignore its industrial side and head straight to Place Foch and its narrow side streets to find the best restaurants and bars in town.

Then, once suitably refreshed, it’s time to visit the lovingly restored Notre Dame Cathedral–the town’s main pull. The only Gothic cathedral in the region, this 800-year-old building boasts a working astrological clock, a fine (and huge) example of a baroque organ and an impressive pulpit complete with beautiful carved angels.

Avignon - Place du Palais Avignon - Place du Palais - Metropolitan Basilica, Notre-Dame des Doms, Cathedral of Avignon and Papal Palace

But if it’s religious miracles you’re after, visit St Erkembode’s tomb–easy to find as it’s the one covered in shoes. As the patron saint of children with difficulties walking, people still come here in the hope their ailments can be cured, leaving behind tiny pieces of footwear as a spiritual offering.

Chartres Cathedral, Chartres

Distance from Calais: 280km

A three-and-a half hour drive (or should we say pilgrimage?) from Calais, Chartres Cathedral really is a must-see, even for die-hard skeptics. I challenge you not to be moved by the sheer splendor of the place, with its beautiful stained glass windows and baroque statues. Arguably Europe’s finest Gothic building, Chartres is considered so important it is now listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

But what really gets pilgrims of all denominations flocking here is its spiritual energy. Chartres is believed to be set on the sacred ground of ancient Druids. It’s also supposedly built according to principles of sacred geometry, rather like Stonehenge.

Chartres Cathedral (76)

And if all that doesn’t float your mystical boat, the sight of people walking in the Cathedral’s ancient labyrinth on their bare knees surely will. Chartres itself is also well deserving of an overnight stay–the Medieval old town is so picture perfect you’ll think you’re living in a fairytale.

Standing Stones, Carnac

Distance from Calais: 518km

You’ll need to bank on spending a good couple of days in France to reach Carnac, but it’s well worth your time. Brittany is a great place to holiday–but apart from its picturesque seaside towns and rugged coastline, the region is also home to a huge collection of about 3,000 standing stones, or megaliths, in Carnac.

These date back to 4500 BC (older even than Stonehenge) and, like many prehistoric monuments, no one knows exactly why they’re there. Were they monuments to the dead, a pagan form of worship or some sort of astrological time-telling device?

Carnac invasion

These theories and more are explored in the fascinating museum, the Maison des Megalithes. But the stones themselves, stretching as far as the eye can see, really have to be seen to be believed. They truly are a fascinating glimpse into what life might have been like at the dawn of civilization. Stones aside, Carnac itself is a fantastic place for a family holiday or short break. Carnac-Plage has five sandy beaches, all backed by pine forests and many are mercifully sheltered from the famous Brittany wind.

Getting there

Ferry to France – P&O Ferries has frequent crossings throughout the day from Dover to Calais with typical journey times of 90 minutes.

Photo Credits
Special thanks to the photographers who made their work available for use via Creative Commons. To visit their pages, click on their photos.

5 Responses to Spiritual Trips to France
  1. Marianne
    May 27, 2012 | 6:09 pm

    What a lovely collection of wonderful churches in France. I went to a small chapel in Roussillon that was so memorable and stumbled upon a choir practice at s small church in VilleFranche when I was in France a few years ago. The Carnac ruins are especially beautiful.
    Marianne recently posted..New York City: A Movie Locations VacationMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      May 27, 2012 | 11:35 pm

      Thanks, Marianne. I have not been to France yet (well, there was one short overnight trip from Spain once) and hope to visit some of the places in this post. They all look wonderful–Carnac especially. Sounds like you had a lovely and enjoyable experience in VilleFranche!

  2. Jim O'Donnell
    May 27, 2012 | 11:37 pm

    France is amazing and the depth of history astounds. Did you read about my recent visit to Lourdes?

    Jim O’Donnell recently posted..Memorial Day FlagsMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      May 28, 2012 | 12:44 am

      Thanks, Jim. I just read it and left a comment. Great post!

  3. Mark S. Strecker
    May 28, 2012 | 10:43 pm

    Big and wonderful churches. Nice photos i love it.
    Mark S. Strecker recently posted..sleep helpMy Profile

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