or millenniums, people have been embarking on pilgrimages around the world. These spiritual journeys were a refuge that offered time for contemplation and self-reflection. They were also a time to appreciate the beauty of nature and the exquisite art and architecture along the way.
A thousand years ago the Route de Saint-Jacques de Compostelle held special meaning as the route pilgrims followed through France on their way to Spain to honor the tomb of Apostle Saint James (Saint Jacques in French, Santiago in Spanish), the patron saint of Spain who was acclaimed for bringing victory to the Christian warriors against the Islamic Moors. For four hundred years thousands of people set out daily along a route they hoped would bring them spiritual renewal. Beautiful churches, cathedrals, monasteries and chapels welcomed them and gave them strength on their journey. Eventually, a legend was lost and the pilgrimages to the tomb of Saint Jacques slowed and then stopped altogether.
Six hundred years later, people are re-discovering the Route de Saint-Jacques de Compostelle and the many treasures along the way. On foot, by bicycle, on horseback and even by donkey, adventurers and modern pilgrims alike are reliving the experiences of the early pilgrims as they follow in their footsteps.
The route follows a varied and interesting terrain, through forests, pastures, vineyards and small picturesque villages. As a pilgrimage or an adventure, there are a wealth of reasons for travelers to pause, catch their breath, and explore French heritage as they go. From breathtaking cathedrals and inspiring religious art, to 25,000 year old cave paintings and Roman mosaic floors, there is something to see around every corner.
The main route, Via Turonesis, traverses lush Cognac Country and is world-heritage UNESCO-classified. Six other monuments worth visiting along the way have earned the UNESCO title as well, churches Saint-Hilaire de Poitiers and Saint-Hilaire de Melle, Saint-Pierre d’Aulnay, the royal abbey of Saint-Jean-D’Angély, the church Saint-Eutrope de Saintes and the Pons Hospital.
Passing through Cognac country is the perfect excuse to discover the region, with essential stops along the way such as the town of Châtellerault (pictured at the top) where pilgrims would pause in the Saint-Jacques church to marvel at a statue of Saint-Jacques from the 12th century. This same town is where the philosopher René Descartes spent his childhood and travelers can still visit his house, which is now a museum.
The next stop along the way, and not to be missed, is Poitiers. Architecturally fascinating, Poitiers has been called the city of 100 clocks because of all of the abbeys, colleges and churches that are here, many of which date to the beginning of Christianity. One will also find Roman amphitheaters and baths as well as famous churches Saint-Hilaire-Le-Grand, Sainte-Radegonde, Notre-Dame-La-Grande and the abbey Saint-Jean-de-Monternieuf. Not far away, visitors also have the opportunity to visit Futuroscope park, the European film park, and to see the excellent Falconry show at Chauvigny.
In the city of Melle, travelers can wonder at its three famous roman churches, Saint-Pierre, Saint Savinien and Saint-Hilaire, before continuing on to visit the nearby Marais Poitevin, or “Green Venice” where canals replace the streets.
Other must-see monuments along the way include the church Saint Pierre d’Aulnay de Saintonge, an exceptionally preserved 12th century masterpiece of Poitevin Roman art, the royal abbey of Saint-Jean d’Angély, today a center of European culture, the church Saint-Europe de Saintes built by Benedictine monks after 1081 and L’Hopital neuf de Pons, a hospital which was built at the end of the 12th century and served as a go-between and hospice for the poor and the pilgrims.
Naturally, in the land of Cognac, travelers always the chance to stop in at one of the Maisons de Cognac to learn the art of this famous cocktail. A unique vacation alternative, the Route Saint-Jacques de Compostelle offers travelers a myriad of opportunities to experience France, history, and have a great time along the way!
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