'Eat, Pray, Love' fans retrace journey

In the book "Eat, Pray, Love," author Elizabeth Gilbert writes about visiting the Piazza del Popolo  during her stay in Rome.
In the book "Eat, Pray, Love," author Elizabeth Gilbert writes about visiting the Piazza del Popolo  during her stay in Rome.Alessandra Tarantino / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

In Bali, they're seeking guidance from a spiritual healer. In Rome, they're lapping up gelato. And in India, they're visiting temples.

Fans of Elizabeth Gilbert's best-selling memoir, "Eat, Pray, Love," have been following in her footsteps ever since it was first published in 2006. The book describes a year Gilbert spent living in Italy, India and Indonesia on the rebound from a divorce and failed romance.

But the travel industry is betting that the Aug. 13 release of a film version starring Julia Roberts will inspire even more globe-trotting. Hotels, tour companies and even guidebook publishers are offering everything from do-it-yourself itineraries to luxury trips.

The movie even has "official" travel partners: Lonely Planet created a website with recommendations for sightseeing and lodging, and STA Travel is advertising a contest for a 21-day trip to the three countries.

Naturally, it is a trip for one.

For high-end travelers, there are invitations like this one: "Eat. Pray. Fall in love with Micato Safaris' Inspirational India Tour." Price tag: $19,795.

But plenty of fans have replicated parts of Gilbert's journey on their own. Australian tourist Zoe Moran was reading the book as she stopped by the San Crispino ice cream shop near the Trevi Fountain in Rome, where Gilbert ate gelato three times in one day.

"I just got to the part in Rome, so I'm trying to follow the footsteps of Gilbert," she said.

Gilbert writes of savoring good food and soaking up sights like the Villa Borghese and Piazza del Popolo. Canadian tourist Sarah Luong, another "Eat, Pray, Love" fan at San Crispino, said she was "trying to do the same, take my time and enjoy Rome at its best."

Some "Eat, Pray, Love" devotees have found their way to Ubud, the artsy town in Bali where Gilbert seeks guidance from Ketut Liyer, a spiritual healer, and makes friends with a cafe owner named Wayan.

Gilbert notes in the book that tourism to Indonesia plummeted after a series of terrorist bombings. Liyer even says to her, "If you have Western friends come to visit Bali, bring them to me for palm-reading. I am very empty in my bank since the bomb!"

Liyer's wish came true. Since the book was published, Liyer said in an interview in his home, "I have more foreign tourists visiting me." He estimated the number of visitors to be in the "hundreds."

As seekers dropped by — including a group from Japan who said they heard about him from the book — Liyer offered cheerful palm and face readings, predicting luck, wealth and long life. And just as Gilbert described, he asked his guests to help him practice speaking English.

Ngurah Wijaya, head of the Bali Tourism Board, said it's impossible to quantify how many tourists Indonesia is getting because of "Eat, Pray, Love." But he said it has had a "great impact" in making "people understand that Bali is safe."

Amy Graff, who lives in San Francisco and writes about family travel on her blog, "On the Go With Amy," took a trip to Indonesia in 2009 with her husband, kids and another family. Both she and the other mom loved the book.

"I really was compelled to go and try and find Wayan," Graff said. The two families got "the vitamin lunch" described by Gilbert in the book, and which Graff said was "absolutely delicious."

Kathryn Alice, who describes herself as a "love guru" based in Los Angeles, ("I help people find their soul mates"), took one of her followers to Liyer's home and also ate at Wayan's cafe.

"It's really fun to go and experience what she did," Alice said.

But Alice noted that many of the tours being offered by travel companies "have very little resemblance" to the actual places described in "Eat, Pray, Love." "People can go and do it a lot cheaper for themselves," she said. "It doesn't take a whole lot to look these people up."

A number of "Eat, Pray, Love" packages are geared to India, but do not include the ashram where Gilbert is believed to have spent several months, Gurudev Siddha Peeth at Ganeshpuri in Maharashtra, about 85 miles from Mumbai.

Abercrombie & Kent spokeswoman Kelly Brewer explained that the ashram has a "process of application and approval and they do not welcome casual visitors." That's why, she said, Abercrombie & Kent offers a "similarly enriching experience" on its "Treasures of Northern India: Journeys for Women" tour "without having to go through the rigorous screening process."

Abercrombie & Kent's options include a day-trip visit to the Hari Mandir temple, with lunch at an adjacent hotel. Roberts, while in India filming, visited Hari Mandir Ashram and shot scenes in a nearby village about 40 miles from New Delhi.

For "Eat, Pray, Love" fans who lack a passport, look no farther than Texas. The Lone Star State is not on Gilbert's itinerary, but that did not preclude the creation of a "Where to Eat, Pray, Love in San Antonio" promotion.

Hotels in locations unrelated to the book are jumping on the bandwagon, too: The Benjamin in Manhattan, Five Gables Inn & Spa in St. Michaels, Md., and the Red Mountain Resort in Utah all have packages themed on the book. After all, why go flying around the world when, as a pitch from Tucson put it, "at Miraval Arizona, you can find it all in one place."

Meanwhile, not every place mentioned in the book has seen an uptick. Pizzeria Da Michele in Naples, where Gilbert says she had the "best pizza in the world," and where Roberts filmed a scene in the movie, says the number of customers they've gotten has been about the same. The Leonardo da Vinci Academy of Language Studies, where Gilbert took Italian classes, also said they have not had an increase in applications.

While Gilbert fans are finding their way to Italy, India, Indonesia, and maybe San Antonio, the author has moved on. At the end of "Eat, Pray, Love," she falls in love with a Brazilian-born Australian, whom she later marries. And in the August issue of Travel + Leisure magazine, under a headline of "My Favorite Place," Gilbert reveals that her "idea of a perfect city" is nowhere near the places touted in "Eat, Pray, Love."

Instead, she recommends Melbourne.

Associated Press Writers Amilia Rosa in Bali, Daniele De Bernardin in Rome, and Nirmala George in Delhi contributed to this story.