Lourdes Tourist Activities
Lourdes Airport is located approximately halfway between the two cities of Lourdes and Tarbes, in southern France, and is an important gateway for international tourists. It is also known as the Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyrenees Airport, and has the official code of LDE. The airport serves the attractive Hautes-Pyrenees department of France, known for its ski resorts and many other attractions, and provides access to other large conurbations in the Midi-Pyrenees and Aquitaine regions of the country, including Pau, Bayonne and Toulouse. Lourdes attractions are mainly of the religious variety, with a number of very significant buildings and locations which are visited by millions each year. However, there are also a number of interesting museums, historical buildings, castles and beautiful natural wonders to be seen.
Lourdes was once just a small and sleepy town in France, nearby the border of Spain, but is now famous for being the largest Marian pilgrimage centre in the world. Since the vision of the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirious in 1858, Lourdes became a site of spiritual importance in the Catholic religion and is visited by millions of Roman Catholic believers every year. It is believed that Mary, Mother of God, appeared eighteen times at the famous Grotto of the city, and there are several other churches and sites which make up the spiritual area of the city, known as the Domaine or the Sanctuaries. This is one section of Lourdes, while the other is the ‘French’ portion that is centred around the Marketplace and the Hotel de Ville. Due to the large numbers of pilgrims and tourists who crowd the area each year, Lourdes is the second largest city in France in terms of hotels and places of accommodation. Although small, it is well equipped to handle its vast number of visitors.
In general, Lourdes is a pedestrian-friendly city with a town centre that is best explored on foot or bicycle, as it has a complicated one-way street system which can be difficult to navigate in a vehicle. There are a number of parking areas on the outskirts of the city, from where all the main attractions can be reached on foot. In Lourdes, there is plenty to see, including the Grotto of our Lady of Lourdes, the Rosary Basilica, the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, the underground Basilica, the La Source and the popular Lourdes Castle. Nearby Lourdes is also the famous natural attraction of the Gavarnie Falls, which is the highest waterfall in France. Within the city, a number of important museums are worth the visit, including many which depict the history of the spiritual importance of the city.
Each religious building mentioned is of great importance to the city of Lourdes, but the Grotto and the underground Basilica are of particular interest to tourists. International Mass is held in six different languages in the Underground Basilica of St. Pius X on Sunday mornings, and its fascinating to see the astonishing number of pilgrims from all around the world. If you arrive early enough to rehearse, you can even sing in the choir and have an excellent view of the Mass! This church is built entirely underground, and is therefore very interesting in an architectural sense. It is the largest and most controversial of the Domain’s churches and was built in anticipation of the large crowds expected after the apparitions of Mary. It’s ceiling is only 33 feet high, supported by a number of concrete pillars, and its entirety is about 130,000 square feet, holding up to 25,000 worshippers. However, although a magnificent construction, it is considered as quite gloomy and uninviting, as the walls are bare and there is almost no natural light inside.
In Lourdes, there are also nightly candlelight processions held around the main square and in front of the Basilica, processions of the sick to the Underground Basilica each afternoon, confessions, adorations, stations of the cross and candle lighting nearby the Grotto. An enormous number of shops within the city sell all kinds of religious souvenirs. Another place of particular religious importance is the La Source, or the Lourdes Spring, where it is claimed that miraculous healings have taken place. A number of these have even been documented by the Lourdes Medical Commission. It is a mountain spring, not far from the Grotto, and its waters are said to cure any ailment. The spring’s waters can even be bought in bottles or cans.
The Lourdes museums which are devoted to the spirituality of the city include the Musée de Lourdes, the Musée de Cire de Lourdes (or the Lourdes Wax Museum), the Musée du Petit Lourdes and the Musée de La Nativité – La Crèche Animée. The Petit Lourdes Museum is quite interesting with its little masonry houses, rivers and old mills, and here one can discover the true story of the time of Bernadette and the real birth of Lourdes in 1858. The Museum of Lourdes has permanent sound and light shows teaching its visitors about the fabulous city of Lourdes, and there are over 4,000 items which used to be the old trades of yesteryear. Possibly the most famous of the Lourdes attractions is the Wax Museum, with over eighteen scenes and more than one hundred life-sized wax figurines. The scenes depict the story of Jesus Christ and the life of Bernadette. Tourists can also visit the Centre de Diffusion de La Medaille Miraculeuse, at 3 Rue du Porche. It is a theatre with 100 seats, and the show of twelve scenes offer much insight to the events which paved the way for the Apparitions of Lourdes. The sound and light show is about fifteen minutes.
Additional attractions in Lourdes include the Little Train of Lourdes, which offers a 7.5km tour of the old streets and sights of interest, and nearby, is the Gavarnie Waterfall, described as a true natural miracle. It is one of the tallest waterfalls in France, and also one of the major waterfalls of Europe, with an overall drop of 422 metres. The Lourdes Castle is a must to visit as well. It dates back to the Roman times, and was used as a prison from the 17th century onwards. Today it is a museum, and is listed as a ‘monument historique’ since 1933.
Further details regarding the attractions of Lourdes and the surrounding areas can be found at the tourist information desk. There are also several tourist offices in the city.