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Europe > France > Occitanie > Hautes-Pyrénées > Lourdes

Lourdes

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Panoramic view of Lourdes with the Rosary Basilica.

Lourdes is a large town in the French Pyrenees. It is a global centre of Marian pilgrimage, receiving hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Many Catholics believe that the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, appeared 18 times at the Grotto to a young girl, Saint Bernadette Soubirous.

Originally a sleepy market town on the road to the spas of the Pyrenees, Lourdes has grown into the largest Marian pilgrimage centre in the world. The town has two sections: the international portion by the river, consisting of the spiritual area containing the Grotto and churches (known as the Domaine or the Sanctuaries), and the "French" portion, centered around the marketplace & Hotel de Ville.

Understand[edit]

History[edit]

In prehistoric times, assorted nomadic tribes had made Lourdes one of their settlements, of which one of their legacies include the still-standing Château Fort. The castle was then made into an estate jail throughout the 17th Century and again during the Napoleon era.

Lourdes was the victim of a number of power struggles. In the 8th century, skirmishes erupt between Mirat, the local leader of the Muslims of Al-Andalus and Charlemagne, King of the Franks. According to legend, an eagle unexpectedly dropped a trout at the feet of Mirat. Seen as a sign of bad omen, Mirat eventually surrendered the fort and converted to Christianity, taking the name Lorus of which was the origin of the name of this city, Lourdes.

In the Middle Ages, for 45 years, Lourdes belongs to England as France surrenders from the Hundred Years War. In 1405, King Charles VI launched an operation to capture the city in an 18-month siege. The next century, the town witnessed another conquest between the Roman Catholics, the Protestants, and the Huguenots; the former of which eventually won and claimed the town in 1592.

Until the apparition of the Virgin Mary in 1858, Lourdes is just a sleepy town of 4000 residents and a transit town for tourists hiking into the Pyrenees.

The Apparition of Mary[edit]

On February 11, 1858, 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous along with her sister, Toinette, and a friend named Jeanne were gathering firewood near the grotto at Massabielle when the former heard the sound of a gushing wind. Lifting her head, she saw a small lady, bathed in light, looking at her and smiling. This would be followed by a near-daily apparition for 17 times until that July. Progressively, the whole town believed the story. The grotto was soon barricaded however, as reportedly 9,000 people witness the 15th apparition, but was reopened by the order of Emperor Louis Napoleon III that October.

The effects of the apparition are certainly enormous, especially after the Catholic Church confirmed the apparitions in 1870. A shrine was built there and was soon designated as one of the pilgrimage destinations of Roman Catholics around the world. People also take home or bathe in its spring water which is believed to have healing effects. The term Immaculate Conception was said by Mary as she introduced herself to Bernadette. As for Bernadette herself, she entered into a religious order 8 years later and celebrated as one of the saints of the Church.

Climate[edit]

Lourdes is mainly mild, especially compared to Paris or northern France, and relatively rainy, regardless of the season. That said sunny or partly cloudy days can be especially easier to be found in the summer. Winter is usually cool though nighttime temperatures below 0°C are not unheard of and can last for a couple days.

Get in[edit]

There are several trains and buses connecting Lourdes to other French cities. It is also easily accessible by car, and close to the border with Spain.

By car[edit]

Lourdes is about 9 hours from Paris via Toulouse and the A64. Lourdes is easily accessed by car, although the narrow streets around the holy sites can become quite congested at weekends and holy days. Roads from the Southwest of France and from Spain are also good. On your GPS, make sure that you put the silent s with no apostrophe or you may end up in a village far away (there are several of them). Many foreigners make mistakes to the amusement of the other villages.

By train[edit]

Retour gare de Lourdes

Lourdes station (Gare de Lourdes) is just a few hundred metres from the town centre, and offers easy access and clear signs to the Domaine area(look for signs indicating "La Grotte" and "Massabielle"). For information on trains to and from Lourdes, visit the SNCF website.

Several trains travel to Lourdes, including TGV service from Paris (six hours) and [{Tarbes]] in addition to intercity trains from Pau, Bayonne/Biarritz, and Toulouse. The small SNCF station offers minimal services, but there are free toilets, a small coffee/pastry counter, vending machines, and an adjacent cafe and quick service restaurant (service can be rather surly, even for France). Accessibility is excellent due to the large number of infirm and disabled pilgrims who visit Lourdes and many trains passing through Lourdes offer special services for the disabled.

By coach[edit]

Organized tour groups from all around the world may have dedicated coaches (and even priests as tour guides) that take them to town. Coach arrivals from the UK and Ireland into Lourdes are charters, run by specific travel agencies or charity organisations for organised Pilgrim groups.

For Great Britain, ACROSS organizes all-inclusive tours every week between Easter and end of October for special needs travelers.

By plane[edit]

The nearest airport is Tarbes-Lourdes, approximately twenty minutes' drive from the town itself. Air France and its low-cost subsidiary HOP! operate daily flights from Paris Orly airport, while most other destinations in western and central Europe and the USA's east coast are served by charter flights. During the summer season, Ryanair operates flights from London (Stansted) and Milan (Bergagmo). Maligne runs public buses from dawn to dusk every day except Sunday between the airport (in the Juillian area) and Lourdes town center (2€ per person for a one-way ticket).

There are other nearby airports with more flights, all of which require a transfer by train to Lourdes at the respective cities' train station:

  • Pau Pyrenees Airport. Air France and HOP operate multiple daily flights from both Charles-de-Gaulle and Orly airports in Paris. Pau airport is approximately 40 minutes' drive away from Lourdes; a taxi would cost from 80€ one way.
  • Toulouse-Blagnac is a bigger airport that is two hours away by car. To take the train to Lourdes, transfer by bus or taxi to Matabiau station.
  • Biarritz Airport is accessible from Lourdes by train and has flights from Paris, the UK, and Ireland by Air France, HOP!, Easyjet, and Ryanair.

By minivan[edit]

  • If you arrive in Toulouse there is also the possibility of a transfer by minivan. Some operators, such as Ophorus and Toursud also organize guided day tours to the city.

Get around[edit]

Due to the small area of the town, most destinations can be reached on foot. Some buses do seasonal runs between the train station and some of the biggest or furthest hotels.

Orientation[edit]

The Gave de Pau river splits the city into two. The east are where most of the shops and hotels are. The west part contains the Sanctuary complex and a number of high-end hotels a short walk away.

The downtown area comprises of an area south of the train station and north of Avenue Marechal Juin. Most shops and restaurants can be found south of and along the Rue de la Grotte and west of Avenue Général Baron Maransin.

On foot[edit]

Lourdes is a pedestrian friendly city with several pedestrian only streets and it is very easy to get around the town centre. It really is worth walking and exploring. The town is also used to disabled visitors, help is also readily available.

By car[edit]

Lourdes has a complicated one-way street system around town and, because many streets are pedestrian only, it can be confusing and time-consuming getting around town. There are many places to park on the outskirts of the city (especially off the rue de Pau) and walking to the grotto is easy so, if possible, park and walk is the easiest way to get around.

See[edit]

The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes

While tourists who come here will usually look for ways to immerse in the religiosity, those that need some time out can certainly seek the rich history of the town.

Lourdes Sanctuary Complex[edit]

The compound is open from 5AM to midnight daily.

  • Basilica of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, 1 Avenue Mgr Théas, +33 5 62 42 78 78. Daily 5AM-Midnight. The largest church of the compound, with a spire 70 meters tall. Above the entrance is a mosaic depicting Pope Pius IX, who defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854. The clock plays the Ave Maria hourly, and chimes the hours with a 2-tonne bell called Jeanne-Alphonsine.
The sanctuary of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary looking towards the Sorrowful Mysteries. Note the mosaic of Mary on top.
  • Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary, 1 Avenue Mgr Théas, +33 5 62 42 78 78. Daily 5AM-Midnight. A Byzantine style church finished in 1899. The nave, surmounted by a dome, contains the fifteen decades of the traditional Rosary. Surrounding the nave are each of the traditional mysteries of the Rosary (from left to right, Joyful, Glorious, and Sorrowful mysteries), each featuring a mosaic incorporated with smaller images of related themes and Latin scripts. A mosaic of Mary, whose appearance is based on Bernadette's depiction, can be seen in the upper wall of the sanctuary and written Par Marie a Jesus which means "From Mary to Jesus".
  • Basilica of St. Pius X, 1 Avenue Mgr Théas. A basilica almost entirely underground, with a capacity of 25,000 people, and usually used for major events and notably, the International Mass (see Do). On the walls are 52 images in the gemmail style of overlapping stained glass. On the west ramp are the 15 traditional Mysteries of the Rosary, and on the east ramp are the 15 Stations of the Cross, designed by Denys de Solère. On the lower part of the east side is the series "Bernadette's Way of Light", based on sketches by René Margotton, which depict the eighteen apparitions together with two scenes from her life. There are two further images, one on each side of the entrance to the sacristy.
  • Church of St. Bernadette. The most modern church, across the river from the basilicas. It was built on the exact spot where Bernadette stood during the final apparition.
  • The Grotto of Massabielle. Down the large basilica is where Bernadette saw Mary, and out comes the spring water. People young and old, healthy and sick, flock from around the world to drink or wash with the miraculous water, or obtain the water for their keepsakes. You are asked to be respectful, however, to the people praying for their wishes to come true, by not speaking.

Other Churches[edit]

  • The Wax Museum - Discover the life size wax figures. Relive the fascinating story of St. Bernadette’s life and Jesus Christ.

Do[edit]

Keep in mind that many of the activities in the city are only available from April to October, though visitors are of course welcomed all year round.

Don't miss the nightly candlelight procession (buy your candle beforehand from one of the souvenir shops) in front of the Basilica and around the main square, with singing, prayer and a rosary said in many languages (alternating half-decades in English, French, Italian, etc.). The procession of the sick to the Underground Basilica each afternoon is particularly moving, as well. Other religious activities available include confession (available in French, English, Spanish, Italian, German, Dutch), adoration, stations of the cross (in the underground basilica), candle lighting near the Grotto, and rosary in front of the Grotto each afternoon (in French) and at other times/places in other languages.

If you have a car, spend a day in the wonderful Pyrenees. Roadtrips to Pont d'Espagne, Gavarnie or de Col de Tourmalet offer breathtaking mountain scenery and lots of opportunities for hiking. There is a historic chateau on a hill visible from the town, as well.

Religious events[edit]

If you're Catholic (or even if you're not), you can go to a Catholic Mass in any of the churches of the City. Unlike Vatican in which most of the service is held in Italian or Latin, you can find Mass held in some of the major languages of the world. And they are of course, free.

At the Sanctuary Complex, Masses are offered at various times of the day and in various languages. For the Mass schedule while you visit, please look at their calendar.

  • [dead link] International Mass, St. Pius X Basilica (97 Boulevard Rémi Sempé) (held at the Underground Basilica). April-October Sundays, Wednesdays, Ascension & Assumption day 09:30. Held in six languages (English, French, Italian, Spanish, German, and Dutch) simultaneously. Arrive early to get a seat. One wonderful experience is to arrive about 90 minutes early to be part of the choir (open to anyone who arrives early to rehearse). You get to sing with people of all 6 languages and have an excellent view of the Mass.

A Mass in English is also held daily at 9AM and Saturday nights at 6:15PM at the Chapel of Sts. Cosmas and Damian, which is on the same building as the Chapel of Reconciliation along the river.

  • Torchlight Procession, Starts from the grotto.. Between Easter and October: Daily 21:00. Buy a candle for an Euro at the shop and participate in a bright night full of prayers. Pilgrims will recite the Rosary mysteries depending on the day in various languages and singing Ave Maria that tells the apparition stories. You are also invited to say your own intentions in between prayers and get to know fellow pilgrims. The procession starts at the grotto and ends at the sanctuary entrance.

Buy[edit]

Lourdes has an enormous number of shops selling all sorts of kitsch and religious souvenirs like statuettes of saints, rosaries, candles, containers for storing the water from the source near the Grotto, mugs and fridge magnets. If items like these are your thing, the large Palais du Rosaire offers an enormous selection and will wrap items for you to take home. Rue de la Grotte is perhaps the most crowded street in Lourdes as that is where most of Lourdes' stores and restaurants are located.

Many shops will close for 1 1/2 – 2 hours around lunch; be prepared to be shooed out of the store or hurried along with your purchases if you are shopping around 12:30pm. On Sundays, a few shops and supermarkets should remain open, though maybe with reduced hours and staffing, to take a chance on foot traffic to or from the churches.

Shops often have flags or signs outside indicating the languages (besides the obvious French, usually English, Spanish, and Italian, although sometimes German and Dutch) spoken there.

  • Les Halles, 11 Place du Champ Commun, +33 5 62 42 54 11. Daily 6AM-1:30PM. The local merchant market that sells fresh produce and an opportunity for savoring some French snacks.

Eat[edit]

  • Brasserie de la Grotte (rue de la Grotte, in the Hotel de la Grotte). A good brasserie with a pleasant atmosphere, dishes are excellent, but expensive.
  • Café au Roi Albert (Near St Joseph's Gate, on the Pont Vieux). Reasonable inexpensive food, concentrating on the standard snacks of pizzas, croques monsieur & madame and sandwiches.
  • Little Flower Café (Near St Joseph's Gate, on rue de la Reine Astrid). Reasonable inexpensive food, concentrating on the standard snacks of pizzas, croque monsieur & madame and sandwiches.
  • New Orleans Café, 13 Rue Sainte-Marie (Near St Joseph's Gate, on rue Sainte-Marie), +33 5 62 42 13 97. Daily 08:00-01:00. Though the name says the namesake American city (and it speaks from the design), the food is ostensibly European. Dishes include sandwiches, pastries, soups and salads. For something more filling, opt in for the paella, pizza, or lasagna. Alcoholic drinks also offered. Food from 5€, beer from 3€.
  • Pizza da Marco, 47 Rue de la Grotte (rue de la Grotte, at the top of the hill), +33 5 62 94 03 59. Tu-Sa 12:00-14:00, 19:00-22:00. A popular Italian pizzeria that also offers other classic Italian fares. Owner often personally greets customer or otherwise baking the pizzas. Especially busy at dinnertime. Staff are friendly. Pizzas from 11€, seconds from 20€.
  • Restaurant Alexandra (rue de Fort, off the Rue de la Grotte). This small family-run restaurant specialises in local delicacies and has an intimate atmosphere.

Bartrès[edit]

  • La Petite Bergère (Bartrès, a 10 min drive from Lourdes). Family-run. Good food from the region.
  • Restaurant Au Bon Accueil (Bartrès, a 10 min drive from Lourdes). Family-run and specialise in good food from the local region.

Drink[edit]

While there are not a whole lot of bars in the city, it is worth noting that despite being an overwhelmingly Catholic city, the religion itself doesn't necessarily prohibit alcohol - even Jesus turns water into wine during a wedding and a couple Benedictine seminaries worldwide brew their own beer! What is frowned upon (and sinful), however, is excessive drinking to the point of being disturbing to everyone else.

Bistros usually offer a wine bar while brasseries would usually offer a full lineup.

  • Au Roi Albert, 109 Rue de la Grotte, +33 5 62 94 00 11. Daily 7AM-2AM. European comfort food and snacks, with a seemingly extensive pub and drinks ranging from wine to beer.
  • The Munster Bar, 43 Rue de la Grotte, +33 9 67 10 26 28. Daily 09:45-23:00. Authentically Irish bar with Guinness beers on tap and Tayto chips as one of its snacks. Also serves British and Irish breakfast. For something non-alcoholic, try the tea with pastries that taste just like home.

The famous water that gushes out from the springs are of course free. People would usually drink it for healing and spiritual purposes. Bring your own bottles, or buy one of the thousands containers or jerrycans (or one of the tasteful plastic bottles in the shape of a Mary statuette) available at almost every shop in town.

Sleep[edit]

Being one of the center of Catholic pilgrimages, with both backpacker and suitcase style, the town offers multiple hotel options that fits every level of budget. Because of the large supply, accommodations can be found for extremely cheap, with double rooms in hotels comparable to hostel prices (for example, 40 euros for a double room). Prices however can soar during the summer and significantly around Christmas and Easter, religious events, and Tour de France.

There is a special youth village on the left side of the Gave river offering accommodation and facilities to young people.

Budget[edit]

  • Hotel Lutetia, 19 Avenue de la Gare, +33 5 62 94 22 85. A modest family-run hotel near the train station with rooms overlooking the Pyrenees. Breakfast available for a fee. Near some of the cheapest eateries in town. From 35€.

Splurge[edit]

  • Grand Hotel Moderne, 21 Avenue Bernadette Soubirous, +33 5 62 94 12 32. A big hotel only a crosswalk away from the Lourdes shrine. Rooms range from singles to families with interconnected doors. Cavernous dining rooms with breakfast buffets and all-day Mediterranean offers. The seemingly friendly staff are proficient especially in English, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. Doubles from 130€.

Stay Safe[edit]

Being a pious city doesn't mean that there's zero pettiness. As with anywhere else, be sure to use common sense and street smarts. Pickpockets may be common especially on streets with plenty of pedestrians. Do not leave your stuff unattended.

As many attractions may involve queuing, kindly do not cut the line.

Connect[edit]

The code area for Lourdes is 562 with 5 being the code for southwest France. Telephone numbers for the region are usually written as 33 5 62 (the phone number) using two digits after every space. Be sure to put in every single number, including the area code, when making a call.

All of the major French telecom companies are supported within the city proper; coverage may be spotty if you are on the rural area of the Pyrenees. However, if you need to call the emergency number (112, that is), by law your call should go through regardless of the telecom company. If you use an international SIM, check your telecom company to see if it has roaming partnerships with France. Alternatively, use a short term SIM card if you will be here for a while.

The same operator should also provide fast 4G LTE connection for Internet on your phone. WiFi (read Wee-Fee, NOT Wai-Fai) is usually provided by your hotel and at some restaurants (usually indicated with the @ symbol), but hardly ever at churches; reserve your time there to pray, sink in to the liturgical events, or talk to fellow pilgrims.

Go next[edit]

This city travel guide to Lourdes is a usable article. It has information on how to get there and on restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.