Situated at the foothills of the Pyrenees in south-western France, the city of Lourdes now hosts around 5 million Roman Catholic pilgrims annually and is the place of numerous alleged miraculous healings.
Local teenager Bernadette Soubirous witnessed the apparition of the Virgin Mary 18 times, with the first appearance in the Grotto in 1858. Since then, Bernadette has been recognized as a saint and Lourdes has transformed from a sleepy market town into the largest Marian pilgrimage destination in the world.
Lourdes consists of two parts: the French section centered around the Marketplace and Hotel de Ville, and the international area known as the Domaine, comprising the Grotto and Churches.
To reach Lourdes by plane, fly into Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyrénées Airport from London-Stansted, Milan, Paris-Orly, Lyon, Brussels or Rome. Another option is to take a flight to Pau Pyrénées Airport which provides flights from London, Dublin and Amsterdam, and is located just 40 minutes drive away from Lourdes with train connections also available.
If you are willing to drive for 9 hours on the winding mountain roads from Paris, take the A64 via Toulouse. Unless you are driving to Lourdes from the southwest of France or Spain, taking the train is by far an easier option, especially because once you arrive the narrow streets are usually quite congested.
The train station at the heart of town offers services on the TGV high speed rail, which is a six hour journey from Paris. Regional services linking Lourdes to Pau, Toulouse and Bayonne/Biarritz also run regularly. There are also bus services running regularly from regional centers throughout France and Spain, however most of these are charters for pilgrim groups.
The town of Lourdes itself is very easy to explore on foot, with several streets accessible to pedestrians only. Because the town is so pedestrian friendly, many of the streets provide for one-way only vehicle traffic, which can make driving through town complicated. There are plenty of parking spaces available on the city’s outskirts, and it is much easier to park and walk from there.
Pilgrims and non-pilgrims alike will find the religious sites in Lourdes fascinating. Visit the Grotto where Saint Bernadette saw the Virgin Mary. There are many Bernadette attractions throughout town as well, including a museum and her former home. Masses are offered in a variety of languages. Visit the Basilica of Saint Pius X, a church constructed entirely underground.
Also visit Château fort de Lourdes, which dates back to Roman times. Or get out of town and take in the scenery of the Pyrenees on a road trip or hike.