Exploring the World’s Most Beautiful Pilgrimages
The concept of tourism as we know it today has largely been driven by the development of airplanes, buses, ships, and other modern forms of transportation. Leisure, too, has become less about journeying across the hills and more about digital options like online blackjack Canada. However, hundreds of years ago, travellers across the globe travelled in a very different sense; they embarked on pilgrimages instead.
Pilgrimages were often the only chance people had to leave their small towns and see the world back in the day, in fact. And while they often had spiritual or religious implications, the modern pilgrim doesn’t necessarily need to have the same motives to explore the trails down which their ancestors walked in search of enlightenment. From the lush green woods of Japan to the picturesque English countryside, here are 5 of the world’s most beautiful pilgrimages for you to consider on your next big trip.
#1: Kumano Kodo – Japan
Kumano Kodo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a pilgrim’s walk that consists of a series of trails rather than a single route. The term itself refers to a collective of walks through Japan’s Kii Peninsula, all of which end up at Kumano, a sacred Shinto site that houses many breath taking Kumano Sanzan Shrines.
It was in this mountainous area that local priests once journeyed to practice austerities and deepen their spiritual knowledge, not to mention gaining supernatural abilities. Nowadays, the pilgrimage attracts both Shinto and Buddhist practitioners, along with nature lovers, historians, hiking enthusiasts and avid photographers.
Japanese tour companies even offer guided trips for those who would love to walk the trails but lack the regional knowledge to do so alone.
#2: La Via Francigena – Italy, England and FranceThere are very few people out there who do not know of this popular pilgrimage route, even if they do not know its name. This trail was a top choice during the Middle Ages, and records have shown that it dates to the 7th century CE, if not before. The most well-known account of the trail, which stretches from Canterbury to Rome, was inked by Sigeric the Serious, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in the 10th century. His extensive records, which documented his return to England along the trail, are still inspiring modern pilgrims to date. It may not be the most popular of ancient routes today, but La Via Francigena receives more than 1,000 visitors every year from countries around the world. Most of these pilgrims have to camp for a portion of the time due to a lack of accommodation options along the trail, but those who prefer to travel in comfort are welcome to opt for a special tour instead. Some companies offer a 9-day guided walk along the trail in question, starting off in Siena and ending in Italy’s famed capital city.
#3: The Abraham Path – Middle East
While it is the youngest pilgrimage path on the list here, the Abraham Path is popular for being a modern and non-religious trail that retraces the steps of Abraham, who is thought to be the ancestor of more than half of us who are alive today.
The path consists of numerous trails through Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Palestine and Jordan, and its development first began in late 2007.
Currently, the trail is more than 2,000km long, and there are also plans to expand in further in the near future. Be warned, however; this massive trail can take up to 120 days to finish and is tricky to tackle on your own as it is still under development. Luckily, guided tours are available for those who would prefer this rather than take a chance going solo!
#4: El Camino de Santiago – Spain
Possibly the most iconic – and oldest! - of all the world’s pilgrimage trails is the Camino de Santiago in Spain, also known as the Way of Saint James. The term refers to a collection of ancient routes that all end up leading to the shrine of James the Apostle at the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral in the country’s northwestern region.
The Camino was a very popular Christian pilgrimage during Medieval times, and today, it still receives a whopping 200,000+ visitors each year. Some pilgrims start their journeys from as far away as the Czech Republic, Germany or France, but the main part of the trail spans across northern Spain regardless.
Those who have walked 100km or more on foot, typically starting off in Sarria, can even apply for a certificate of completion once they arrive in Santiago de Compostela.
#5: The Pilgrims’ Way – England
This legendary trail starts in Winchester, Hampshire County, and stretches across the south of England, finishing in Canterbury at the Shrine of Thomas Becket. Becket was by far one of the most venerated Christian saints in England during the Middle Ages, and the rich history behind his shrine there is a bonus for history buffs.
Recently, modern mapping of the route has taken place, and while archaeologists have uncovered a trackway in recent years, they are still not sure if a traditional Winchester to Canterbury pilgrimage trail ever existed in the days of yesteryear.
Regardless, the Pilgrims’ Way is a wondrous way to see Southern England, and the route also passes through some substantial towns so solo walking is relatively easy.
Most pilgrims follow the recently-opened St Swithun’s Way in Winchester to the small town of Farnham, and then from there walk along the North Downs Way National Trail through Farnham. The trail then takes travellers all the way through to Canterbury, and finally on to Dover to see the iconic white cliffs themselves.