Nestled at the foot of the Pyrenees, Lourdes is synonymous with the pilgrimages made by millions of Catholics to this picturesque town each year. In 1858, Bernadette Soubirous, the 14-year-old daughter of a local miller, claimed to have witnessed a series of apparitions of the Virgin Mary in a remote cave near her home. After initial skepticism, the Catholic Church certified the visions as authentic and Lourdes has since evolved into one of the most visited pilgrimage sites in Europe. For a town of only 17,000 inhabitants, Lourdes has a wealth of facilities for tourists, geared, as one would expect, almost entirely around the pilgrimage sites. Nevertheless, there is plenty of scope for exploring the less overtly religious aspects of Lourdes and its surrounding area.


Six years after the sightings of Bernadette Soubirous, a simple statue was placed at the mouth of the grotte Massabielle for the benefit of the occasional pilgrim that passed by. Today, the pilgrimage site consists of a vast complex measuring 51 hectares containing 22 places of worship. This area is known as the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes and is the main assembly point for the millions of visitors Lourdes welcomes each year. The original grotto remains at its heart, surrounded by a series of pools and springs whose water is renowned for its healing properties. Every day at Lourdes, pilgrims form long queues for the chance to bathe in its famous waters.

Towering over the grotto and the surrounding pools is the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Built in a Byzantine Romanesque style, the altar is located directly above the claimed site of the apparitions. Beautifully ornate, the basilica forms the centre-point of the famous candlelight processions in which thousand-strong lines of pilgrims participate. The basilica is also famed for its large ornamental mosaics depicting various religious figures.

As well as the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, the Sanctuary contains numerous other churches such as the Lady of the Rosary, the Basilica of Saint Pius X, the Chapel of Saint Joseph and the Church of Saint Bernadette. Testament to the sheer volume of visitors that pass through its doors each year, the sanctuary also operates a variety of tourist services including its own dedicated radio station and magazine.

Beyond the walls of the sanctuary and the rows of souvenir shops selling glow-in-the-dark statues of the Virgin Mary, Lourdes has plenty more to offer its visitors. An enjoyable way to explore its picturesque surroundings is to take in a walking tour of the many medieval castles that lie within close range of the town. These include the Chateau de Mauvezin which dates from the 11th Century and rewards its visitors with panoramic views of the Pyrenees. The castle’s ancient dungeons contain a small museum and interpretative centre with exhibits on the history of the local Occitan language and culture.

The area around Lourdes is famed for its hydrothermal springs which, rather like the pools of the Sanctuary, are famed for their health-giving properties. Indeed, there are over a hundred such springs within a thirty minute drive from Lourdes. The closest are in Argeles-Gazost and Beucens-les-Bains.


Lourdes may not immediately spring to mind as a destination for an activity holiday. Yet its proximity to one of Europe’s favourite ski destinations, as well as the many lakes and woods in the surrounding area, means that there are plenty of opportunities to get active during your trip.

The popular ski resort of Hautacam is a mere twenty minute drive from Lourdes. With its fairly gentle slopes, it caters primarily for families and beginner skiers. More challenging pistes can be found in Cauterets at the Cirque du Lys and Pont d’Espagne – a thirty minute drive from Lourdes.

The picturesque Lake of Lourdes offers waterskiing, windsurfing, kayaking and canoeing as well as adventure trails in the surrounding forests. An 18-hole golf course has also been recently constructed on its shores.

Nightlife and Eating Out

There are several traditional restaurants in the town which serve the specialties of the pays d’Oc region. The best-known dish is probably garbure; a rich soup made from vegetables and local ham for which the recipe differs from village to village. Other local favourites include confits of duck and goose and touradisse; a simple bread traditionally eaten in the evening. For the best selection of restaurants, head to the rue de la Grotte in the centre of Lourdes.

Outside Lourdes, the majority of the Hautes-Pyrenees region remains largely rural with shopping existing mostly in the form of traditional French markets and village boulangeries.

Despite its renown as a pilgrimage site, Lourdes cannot claim to be a mecca for shoppers. This being said, the number of retailers in the area has increased significantly in recent years. Only five minutes’ walk from the Sanctuary, the recently-opened Halles et Marchés de Lourdes contains a vast array of stalls selling the best of local produce. The town centre contains over 200 outlets with a good range of men’s and women’s clothes shops in particular.

No visit to Lourdes would be complete without a visit to the vast array of souvenir shops dotted around the Sanctuary. Products range from the traditional (rosary beads, holy pictures and statues) to the downright tacky (musical Virgin Marys). Souvenirs are big business in Lourdes, to the extent that the booming statue factory is now open to visitors. Tourists can avail of a thirty minute tour of La Fabrique and watch the designers and craftsmen in action.

Tourist Information

For those planning pilgrimages, the official website of the Sanctuary provides a useful, multi-lingual guide to forthcoming events.


Tarbes-Lourdes airport (http://www.tarbes-lourdes.aeroport.fr/) is situated 10km from Lourdes. As well as daily scheduled flights to Paris Orly, the airport is served by regular charter flights from Ireland, Belgium, Germany, Italy and the U.K.

All car hire locations in France