Lourdes Beyond Pilgrimage Paths

June 30, 2024 Travel

Lourdes, nestled at the foot of the Pyrenees in the Occitanie region of France, draws six million visitors annually, many of whom seek spiritual growth, divine favor, or atonement—reasons that also led me to Lourdes. 

Lourdes was once a sleepy town, but in 1858, it gained widespread recognition in France and beyond due to the Marian apparitions to the peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous (later canonized for her virtuous life). Shortly thereafter, the city and its Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes rose to prominence as one of the most significant pilgrimage sites and centers of religious tourism worldwide. 

Despite my primary purpose being the pilgrimage, I knew I couldn't miss allocating a day to explore the town.

Lourdes is a quaint old town also renowned for its rich history, culture, and natural beauty. Its narrow, winding streets are lined with houses boasting pastel-colored stone facades adorned with flower boxes and ornate ironwork balconies. Cafes, markets, and historic buildings add to its allure, all framed against snow-peaked mountains.

My exploration began at Pic du Jer, a scenic 20-minute walk from Chalet Saint Louis, my hotel. At an altitude of 900 meters, Pic du Jer offers breathtaking panoramic views of the Lourdes Valley and its surrounding mountains. Accessible by funicular, it is the starting point for numerous hiking, mountain biking, and running trails. 

The funicular was one of the first to be built in France.

The scenic footpath to the summit offers sweeping vistas of Lourdes, neighboring Tarbes, Pau, and the majestic Pyrenean peaks, which straddle the border of France and Spain.

Naturally, I couldn't pass up a hike.  It was a peaceful respite, and I am fond of solo hikes. Before leaving Pic du Jer, I had lunch of salad with duck, followed by coffee at the café, all while soaking in the stunning panoramic views. The main dish was part of the package I availed.

From Pic du Jer, I walked to Château Fort Musée Pyrénéen. And in between, I saw more interesting Lourdes sites, even parades.

Château Fort Musée Pyrénéen, also known as Lourdes Castle, was a fortified stronghold for over ten centuries, commanding the town from its rocky perch. I had been intrigued by its structure, visible from the Lourdes sanctuary, so I included it in my itinerary. 

I had been walking for hours already, so I was thankful the castle is accessible by an elevator. 

Château Fort Musée Pyrénéen houses the Pyrenees Museum, which has significant collections on the region's history. These include rooms furnished as they were centuries ago, examples of local peasant dress, and an impressive model village. The museum also has a botanical garden brimming with aromatic and medicinal plants.

After the castle, I walked back to the sanctuary and was just in time to hear mass and attend the evening torchlight procession. 

Around the hotel where I stayed, there were also many interesting sites that I explored. 

Chalet Saint Louis is only a 10-minute walk to the sanctuary, and the road leading to it is lined with many interesting souvenir shops and restaurants. There is also a Filipino restaurant where I enjoyed my first meal in Lourdes—a taste of home after ten days in France—at The Asian Delices, just steps away from the sanctuary. Lourdes caters really well to tourists.

Another nearby attraction was Maison Paternelle de Sainte-Bernadette, Saint Bernadette's childhood home. To this day, Bernadette's descendants manage it and showcase their family's furniture, belongings, and photographs. 

I explored Lourdes entirely on foot, which allowed me to immerse myself deeply. While most online Lourdes pilgrimages I came across allotted only a day, I strongly encourage visitors to take the time to explore this enchanting town thoroughly.

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