The chances are if you are coming to the tiny sleepyvillageofLourdesit is because you are coming on a religious pilgrimage. Despite being essentially just a small market town,Lourdessees over five million tourists each year because of its famous place in religious history.
In 1858 a 14 year old girl who couldn’t read or write claimed to have seen the virgin Mary in her grotto, through a series of 18 different visions. TheVaticanderided that the visions really happened and declared the girl, originally known as Bernadette Soubirious as Ste Bernadette, who then became a nun until she died some 21 years later.
As a result the site has become one of the most visited religious sites in France, and nearly 60% of those who visit head to the town from outside ofFrance.
The easiest way to make the pilgrimage is to hire a car at one of the nearby airports and to drive, or you can catch the train fromBayonne,PauorToulousefor a quick connection straight toLourdes. For around £70 you can even catch the four daily TGV service fromParis, which takes around six hours each way.
The one thing we noticed when we visited was the number of people looking to cash in on the towns draw. They were even selling empty bottles of water in the shape of the virgin Mary for visitors to fill with water from the shrine. Expect to come home with a number of souvenirs if you visit as they are everywhere.
What to do when hiring a car in Lourdes
Sanctuaries Notre Dame de Lourdes
It only took ten years after Ste Bernadettes sightings for the town to become an attraction, and the site has two main entrances. The most stunning is the Porte St-Joseph which sweeps past the basilica of the Rosary and the Upper Basilica before reaching the Grotte de Massabielle, the Grotto where the virgin Mary was said to have appeared.
If you are looking for something slightly less religious to look at then the stunning castle found on the top of a rocky mound could be for you. The castle has been in existence since the Roman period, but was properly built up in the 17th and 18th centuries. It’s also home to one of the largest collections of folk art, rural artefacts and other tools in the world.
Pic du Jer
If you just want to get away from the crowds then head to this mountain pinnacle, where you can enjoy views from nearly 100m above the town. With a funicular taking you to the top in six minutes, or a roughly three hour trek to the top via the paths you can get up in two ways. There’s also a very difficult but fun mountain bike trail back down again, but it’s deemed a black run, the most difficult category.