More than one-fifth of the 90 million foreigners touring France annually visit the country for spiritual or religious reasons, according to the country's Association of Shrine Towns, and almost one-third of pilgrims to the country's 15 leading shrines come from abroad.
Belgians, Britons, Germans, Italians and Spaniards make up the lion's share of the tourists, Géraldine Ballot, head of the association, said. But there has been a strong rise in visitors from countries such as Russia and the ex-Soviet republics, China, South Korea and India.
Among the sanctuary towns, Lourdes is by far the most frequented, with six million pilgrims annually. Mont St Michel monastery draws three million visitors and the cathedral town of Chartres and the hillside Marian site of Rocamadour each see 1.5 million visitors a year.
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