MORE than just a romantic and leisure destination, French tourism representatives are positioning the European country as a religious tourism site to Filipinos.

Morad Tayebi, regional director in Southeast Asia for ATOUT France, the promotions arm of the France Ministry of Tourism, said Filipinos are currently the largest market in Southeast Asia for religious and spiritual tours.

France is home to 50,000 religious buildings, among which 10,000 are listed as protected historical monuments and some are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites like Chartres, Mont Saint Michel, Rocamadour, and Vezelay.

However, Tayebi said only a few in the Philippines know about this. For most Filipinos, France is famous for the Eiffel Tower.

“I want them to have a better knowledge about France because we have so much to offer,” said the French tourism official.

Tayebi was in Cebu yesterday for a press conference and met with some Cebu-based travel agencies to conduct training about French destinations.

Joining him were promotions and communications officer of Lourdes, Corine Laussu; Lisieux promotions manager Sandrine Papini; Avignon Tourisme sales and marketing manager Stephane Blanc, and French travel agency Bipel assistant manager Samuel Guirguis.

Laussu promoted Lourdes, a city in the southwestern part of France, where the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes is located. The place welcomes six million visitors from more than 140 countries a year.

Lisieux, meanwhile, is popular among devotees of Saint Therese. Tourists can visit the Basilica Sainte Therese and the Saint-Pierre Cathedral.

Avignon in the southeast of France is also an ideal religious travel destination, it being hailed as the “City of Popes” when it became home to the popes in the 14th century.