This combination of our popular faith-based vacations, "Fátima, Lourdes & Shrines of Spain" and "Spiritual Highlights of Italy," is ideal to experience the most treasured shrines of Europe. Start your journey with the visit of the Portuguese capital, Lisbon; experience the peacefulness of the Fátima sanctuary, and the monumental stairway of the Bom Jesus du Monte Sanctuary in Braga. Continuing to Spain, take in the spiritual atmosphere of the pilgrimage destination of Santiago de Compostela and of the Burgos Cathedral. Hear the story of St Ignacio, founder of the Jesuit Order in Loyola and Monresa, where he lived and worked. Take advantage of the opportunity to collect in prayer at the Marian Sanctuaries of Lourdes, France and Montserrat, Catalonia, before witnessing the lively beauty of Barcelona and flying to Rome, the center of Christianity. Attend the Papal Audience and see Rome’s four major basilicas, along with the Holy Steps and the Papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo. Follow in the footsteps of the most celebrated Italian saints: St. Francis in his hometown, Assisi, and St. Pio of Pietrelcina in San Giovanni Rotondo. Spend time at the Marian Sanctuary of Loreto and discover the hillside town of Cascia, St. Rita’s home town. Mass will be celebrated at most shrines with many opportunities for reflection and prayer.
Barcelona, the self-confident and progressive capital of Spain, is a tremendous place to be. Though it boasts outstanding Gothic and Art Nouveau buildings, and some great museums – most notably those dedicated to Picasso and Catalan art – it is above all a place where there's enjoyment simply in walking the streets, stopping in at bars and cafés, drinking in the atmosphere. A thriving port and the most prosperous commercial centre in Spain, it has a sophistication and cultural dynamism way ahead of the rest of the country. In part this reflects the city's proximity to France, whose influence is apparent in the elegant boulevards and imaginative cooking. But Barcelona has also evolved an individual and eclectic cultural identity, most perfectly and eccentrically expressed in the architecture of Antoni Gaudí. Scattered as Barcelona's main sights may be, the greatest concentration of interest is around the old town (La Ciutat Vella). These cramped streets above the harbor are easily manageable, and far more enjoyable, on foot. Start, as everyone else does, with the Ramblas.
Portugal’s capital is an 18th-century city - elegant, open to the sea and carefully planned. Most places of interest are within easy walking distance. Rossio Square, the heart of Lisbon since medieval times, is an ideal place to start exploring. Many rebuilt houses with original façades provide stores and restaurants with modern interiors. High above Baixa is Bairro Alto - with its teeming nightlife. There are many monuments and museums, such as San Jeronimos Monastery, Royal Coach Museum and Gulbenkian Museum. Two well-known landmarks are the Monument to the Discoveries and the Tower of Belem. A statue of Christ looms above Europe’s longest suspension bridge. Madragoa, Bica and Bairro Alto, Lisbon’s older sections, offer a variety of sights: the Church of Sao Roque, with its beautiful tiles; St. George Castle, which offers a splendid view from its location above the Alfama quarter; the botanical gardens, featuring an unusual, cold greenhouse; and the cathedral, stunning with its Moorish design. Renowned Gulbenkian Museum is the cultural center of Portugal.
Sprawled across seven legendary hills, romantic and beautiful Rome was one
of the great centers of the ancient world. Although its beginning is shrouded
in legend and its development is full of intrigue and struggle, Rome has always
been and remains the Eternal City.
Rome enjoyed its greatest splendor during the 1st and 2nd centuries when art
flourished, monumental works of architecture were erected, and the mighty Roman
legions swept outward, conquering all of Italy. These victorious armies then
swept across the Mediterranean and beyond to conquer most of the known world.
With Rome's establishment as capital of the western world, a new ascent to glory
Today's Rome, with its splendid churches, ancient monuments and palaces, spacious
parks, tree-lined boulevards, fountains, outdoor cafes and elegant shops, is
one of the world’s most attractive and exciting cities. Among the most famous
monuments is the Colosseum. As you walk its cool, dark passageways, imagine
the voices that once filled the arena as 50,000 spectators watched combats between
muscled gladiators and ferocious animals.
Stop to see the remains of the Forum, once the city's political and commercial
center. In later times, Rome's squares were enhanced with such imposing structures
as the Vittorio Emanuele Monument and grandiose fountains like the Fontana di
Trevi. Join the millions who stand in awe of Christendom’s most magnificent
church and admire the timeless masterpieces of Michelangelo's frescoes in the
Rome jars the senses and captures the soul. Grasp all you can during the short,
precious time you have available in the Eternal City. With so much to see and
do, a day or two will only allow you a sampling of the city's marvelous treasures.
Caution: As in many big cities and tourist destinations purse snatching
and pickpocketing is common. Valuable jewelry and excess cash are best left
in a safety deposit box in your hotel.
Shopping For most visitors shopping for beautiful Italian leather articles,
designer shoes, fashions for men and women, linens, knitwear, silk scarves and
ties is a favorite pastime. Except for tourist-oriented shops, the majority
of stores are closed on Sundays. Some of the department stores, such as Rinascente,
open in the late afternoon on Sundays.
Cuisine Rome's choice of restaurants is mindboggling as is the variety
of cuisine. Whether your meal is at a top-rated restaurant or a rustic trattoria,
you can be sure that you will enjoy your food, especially when accompanied by
wines from the hill towns surrounding Rome.
Other Sights Rome's attractions are endless, and depending on how much
time you have at your disposal a careful selection has to be made about what
to see. Be aware of horrendous traffic conditions and major construction work
all around the city in preparation of Jubilee 2000, the Holy Year. Some of the
sights not to be missed:
Piazza Venezia - This busy square is easily recognized by its imposing Vittorio
Emanuele II Monument. The white marble structure was inaugurated in 1911 as
a symbol of Italy’s unification.
The Forum - Once the civic heart of ancient Rome, today the remains include
a series of ruins, marble fragments, isolated columns and some worn arches.
Colosseum - No visit to Rome is complete without a stop at this awe-inspiring
theater, which is among the world’s most celebrated buildings. Here ancient
Rome flocked to see gladiatorial contests and numerous other spectacles.
Trevi Fountain - Take a stroll to Rome's famous fountain. A spectacular fantasy
of mythical sea creatures and cascades of splashing water, the fountain is one
of the city's foremost attractions. Legend has it that visitors must toss a
coin into the fountain to ensure their return to Rome.
St. Peter's Square - Part of Vatican City, this square created by Bernini
is considered one of the loveliest squares in the world. Twin Doric colonnades
topped with statues of various saints and martyrs flank either side of the square.
In the center stands an 84-foot obelisk, brought from Egypt in 37 A.D.
St. Peter's Basilica - At the head of the square stands Christendom's most
magnificent church, which was begun in 1452 on the site where St. Peter was
buried. Throughout the following 200 years, such Renaissance masters as Bramante,
Michelangelo, Raphael and Bernini worked on its design and created an unparalleled
masterpiece. Of special note are Michelangelo's Pieta and the bronze canopy
over the high altar by Bernini. The immense dome was designed by Michelangelo.
Vatican Museum - To see this museum's immense collection would take days.
As you enter, there are special posters that plot a choice of four color-coded
itineraries. They are repeated throughout the museum and are easy to follow.
It is a good idea to pickup a leaflet at the main entrance and concentrate on
exhibits of major interest. Of course, the Sistine Chapel is a must. Most likely
you may have to wait in line to enter.
Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela is now considered by UNESCO to be a World Heritage Site and attracts visitors from all over the world thanks to its fantastic monuments. The town is named after the Apostle Saint James ("Santiago"), who is buried here. In 2000 Santiago de Compostela was given the title of European Cultural Capital. Santiago is certainly one of Spain's most monumental towns, with a particular architectonical style all of its own. But it is as well a town plenty of life, with one of the most famous Universities and a large number of students who guarantee youthful ambience inbetween the historical walls. The region's cuisine is of great reputation, and it is said that nowhere has better seafood than Santiago.
Assisi is a well-preserved medieval town that's, after the Vatican, Italy's
second most-popular religious-pilgrimage destination. Located high on a hilltop,
it has an air of mystical serenity in keeping with its history. Assisi was the
home of St. Francis (the founder of the Franciscan order of friars), and the
churches and crypt that bear his name draw a steady stream of pilgrims and sightseers
every year. Although the town was rocked by an earthquake in 1997, much of the
damage has been repaired. One of the most severely damaged buildings, however,
was the treasured Basilica of San Francesco, known for its vivid frescoes by
Giotto that depict the life of the saint. The upper basilica has recently reopened
and, though restoration continues, many of the beloved frescoes can be admired
again. The lower basilica and St. Francis' tomb are also open to the public.
Other places of interest include the Church of Santa Chiara, a medieval fortress
(La Rocca Maggiore), the Piazza del Comune (the old town center) and St. Peter's
church. Or just stroll the narrow, picturesque streets and listen to the musicians
practicing nearby (though they may be drowned out by construction noises --
many buildings are still under renovation).
You may want to visit during one of Assisi's numerous celebrations: the Feast
of Calendimaggio, a five-day coming-of-spring festival with medieval costumes,
dances and songs (around the first week of May); a month of folklore and musical
events in August; or the Feast of St. Francis (4 October), which celebrates
the saint's transition from this life into the next. During this two-day festival,
the entire town is illuminated by oil lamps. If you are going to Assisi at one
of these times, reserve accommodations well ahead of time -- the city will be
filled with pilgrims.
In the heart of the Pyrenees, Lourdes receives more than 5 million visitors from all over the world every year. Spirituality, whether belonging to history or legends, is part of the present through the depth and beauty of the sight, the marks of the past, the serenity of the Sanctuaries. Lourdes was just a small market town in 1858, when Bernadette Soubirous met, along the River Gave, the “Lady” that made the town a Marian city. Bernadette saw many more of these apparitions. Many now come on religious pilgrimages. Today Lourdes has the second greatest number of hotels in France with 270 establishments. Its geographical position, at the foot of the mountains, makes it an ideal starting-point of excursions to the Pyrenees. The Fortified Castle rises at the middle of the city, leaning on the escarpment. Visit the Sanctuaries, Fortified Castle, Pyrenan Museum and more while visiting Lourdes.
The city of Fatima in Portugal is most famous for the religious visions that reportedly appeared in the early 20th century. The marian shrine attracts a large number of pilgrims from around the world every year. If shopping is your weakness you will be delighted to find a variety of local crafts such as jewelry, statues, paintings, and clothes in stalls all around the hotels. There are also a number of restaurants specializing in portuguese cuisine, including the National dish called Bacalhau (salted cod stew).
Burgos is a medieval town founded in 884, known as the “Land of Castles.” It has a charming Castilian ambiance, and is full of dominant gothic cathedrals including the Cathedral of Burgos. Enjoy exquisite cuisine, important monuments, historical remains, museums and picturesque landscapes, all making Burgos worth a visit.
San Giovanni Rotondo
San Giovanni Rotondo in southern Italy is the location of shrine Padre Pio, the second most visited Catholic shrine in the world. Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, who's tomb this shrine is centered upon, died in 1968 and was declared a saint in 2002. He was a Capuchin friar, priest and mystic known for caring for the sick and his devotion to God, as well as his supernatural gifts. San Giovanni Rotondo is located approximately 180 miles east of Rome in Puglia. Also located nearby is Monte Sant'Angelo, another important Catholic shrine visited by Pope John Paul II.
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