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Travel stories

5 reasons to experience the Way of St. James on a guided tour

Jul 26, 2022 by Jamie Gallerani

If you have your heart set on taking a spiritual journey, then the Way of St. James is waiting to welcome you. This historic pilgrimage route kicks off in France, and traces its way through Spain and Portugal, passing soaring churches and some of the holiest sites in Christendom. Devout pilgrims have made the journey on foot since the middle ages, and you can follow in their footsteps on our Marian Shrines & the Way of St. James tour.

Traveler Vincent did just that, and returned home with memories of attending local masses, driving through the Pyrenees Mountains, and being moved by the moon in Lourdes. Check out six things to know about the Way of St. James, and then read on to see five reasons why going on our guided tour is the best way to experience this inspiring pilgrimage route.

Cathedral in Burgos, Spain
Traveler Vincent’s snapshot of the cathedral in Burgos, Spain

1. There are so many unforgettable sites to visit

As I child, I saw movies like The Song of Bernadette and The Miracle of Our Lady of Fátima, so the cities of Lourdes and Fátima were part of my consciousness. The 2010 film The Way, which takes place on the Camino de Santiago, also had a deep influence on me. I hadn’t planned to visit those sites, but when I saw that Go Ahead offered a tour of those cities, I knew without a doubt I would go.

The experience was made richer by the inclusion of places I knew nothing about, such as the Basílica del Pilar in Zaragoza, Spain, and the Burgos Cathedral in Burgos, Spain. Every time I step away from familiar surroundings, I learn something new. Every place has its own distinct personality. It’s much like meeting a new person at a party. The history, language, food, architecture, and music all add to my experience of life. Every new experience adds to me and the way I look at life.

Visit the Way of St. James

Statue of Fatima in Portugal
Traveler Vincent’s photo of the statue of Fátima in Portugal

2. You’ll uncover moving experiences around every corner

What made the Marian Shrines & the Way of St. James tour memorable for me was the spiritual beauty I experienced. I am still moved by the memory of the moon shrouded in clouds over the Grotto in Lourdes, the peaceful silence of a monastery courtyard, the reverence of being near the relics of St. Thomas Aquinas in Toulouse, and the grandeur of the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. Plus, driving through the Pyrenees from France into Spain was amazing—and being from Colorado, I’m not that impressed with other mountain ranges, so that’s saying something!

All the trips I take are spiritual journeys for me. This specific tour of Marian sights was closest to what I seek with every trip. I had my own unique, personal, spiritual experiences that will remain with me forever.

Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in France
A candlelit moment in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in France, captured by traveler Vincent

3. You can see even more during free time on added excursions

I cherish my free time to explore wherever I am, though I do tend to get lost even with a map. I like to see how people live away from the more touristy areas. It’s a great way to discover hidden gems like restaurants, local churches, and sites not offered on the tour.

Of course, there are the optional excursions to add to your tour, which are too good to pass up. I couldn’t miss seeing the ocean, so I signed up for the Cape Finisterre Coastal Pilgrimage excursion on the Marian Shrines & the Way of St. James tour. All the optional excursions enhanced my travel experience.

Visit the Way of St. James

Statue in Burgos, Spain
Traveler Vincent’s photo from a day in Burgos, Spain

4. Our travel experts will handle the details, so you can soak in the journey

The best aspect of being on a guided Go Ahead tour is being able to sit back and take it all in without worrying about traffic laws, not knowing the language, figuring out where to get the best exchange rate on money, or what to order in a restaurant. The Tour Directors and local guides help you over any hurdle of being in a foreign country. Also, their knowledge gives you a deeper insight into the history and local customs.

Sabrina, our Tour Director during the Marian Shrines & the Way of St. James tour, suggested a famous local dish made with octopus—and warned it might not be to everyone’s taste. A fellow traveler and I took a chance and though we felt a little guilty eating the wonderful creature, we loved it so much we had it two nights in a row. Who knew octopus was so delicious?

Church of San Francisco at Santiago de Compostela
A statue outside the Church of San Francisco at Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

5. The shared, spiritual moments will lead to new friendships

As far as fellow travelers, there was always a person or two who became a traveling companion. On the Marian Shrines & the Way of St. James tour, I met a fellow traveler named Kim. We bonded when we discovered that we shared the same experience of being so moved by the moonlight over the grotto in Lourdes, even though we experienced it separately. From then on, she and I became buddies, attending mass at local churches, finding great little restaurants like La Boca Del Lobo in Burgos (I recommend the black spaghetti with aioli sauce), and just wandering aimlessly.

But I also spent time with the other fellow travelers, a diverse group of people who were each interesting in their own way. There was an extended Filipino family, members of a small church group, and solo travelers like myself. It was interesting to learn about where they were from and why they had taken this particular tour. Almost all saw it as a pilgrimage, a journey of devotion.

Visit the Way of St. James

Statue in Fatima, Portugal
Traveler Vincent’s snapshot from Fátima, Portugal

Have you ever traveled along the Way of St. James, or taken a spiritual journey? Tell us about it on our Facebook page!

Traveler stories
About the author | Jamie Gallerani
It was Jamie’s homestay in Germany that made her fall in love with travel (and her studies in Florence that really sealed the deal). When she’s not writing and sharing the magic of seeing the world with others, she’s usually on the lookout for her new favorite memoir, testing out recipes at home, or visiting her family on Cape Cod.

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