Lourdes, today the most visited Christian pilgrimage site in the world, is a small town in southwest France nestled into the foothills of the Pyrenees. More than 5 million pilgrims and tourists travel to Lourdes every year to worship in the place where, in 1858, a young visionary named Bernadette saw visions of the Virgin Mary.
The pilgrimage season continues from April to October, with the main day, known as the Marian Feast of Assumption, taking place on 15th August. The actual sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes covers 52 hectares and is home to 22 places of worship that include several buildings for the pilgrims and the sick, a sacred grotto, and 2 basilicas.
My Guide to The Sacred Sites of Lourdes
Grotto of Massabielle
This tranquil setting, also known as The Cave of Apparitions or The Miraculous Cave, is the place at which Bernadette experienced her vision of the Virgin Mary in 1958. Apparently the Blessed Virgin indicated an undiscovered spring to the young girl and invited her to drink from it.
Today, it is widely believed that the water from the grotto has healing properties, and indeed the Roman Catholic Church places official recognition on miraculous healing. Pilgrims in need of healing make their way to the Grotto to bathe in the pools, of which there are 17 (6 for men and 11 for women).
What I really appreciate about this site is its spirituality. I remember the sense of calm contentedness that enveloped me when I was there, and this is something I know others have also felt.
The Basilica of the Rosary
It is interesting to note that there was once a chapel that stood on this site of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary until The Basilica of the Rosary was built between 1883 and 1889.
When I visited this incredible basilica, it was the architectural design that first struck me. Created in the shape of a Greek cross, the Byzantine-influenced Romanesque style resonates throughout, with the magnificent elliptical ramps encircling a square in which 80,000 people can gather.
According to Bernadette, when the Virgin Mary appeared at Lourdes, she held a rosary in her hand and this is the inspiration behind the Basilica of the Rosary. The three arches that you see represent the joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries, which represent events in the life of Jesus and Mary. It is these mysteries that Catholics focus on when saying the rosary. The 15 Chapels of the Mysteries boast some wonderful mosaics too.
For more information and images, follow this link.
The House of St Bernadette
This is a rather humble place to visit after you have visited the main shrines of the Sanctuary of Lourdes, but one I would recommend nonetheless. It was at this place that Bernadette lived with her family at the time she saw her visions.
Situated on Rue Bernadette Soubirous at number 2, the house has a kitchen, mill, Bernadette’s bedroom and lots of interesting objects and photographs.
If you would like to read more about Saint Bernadette, you can do so here.
The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception
Above the Grotto of Massabielle, the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception rises, stood prominently on the rock. Built between 1866 and 1872, it is sometimes referred to as the Upper Basilica.
Particularly impressive is the façade, which depicts an image of Pope Pius X holding on to the decree of November 12th 1907. This decree signified that the Mass of the Apparition of Our Lady of Lourdes was to be spread to the Universal Church. Other features include the stain glass windows that tell the story of the Blessed Virgin ending with the declaration of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854, and the Apparition of Lourdes four years later.
The sanctuary itself holds 500 people at a time, and every hour the bells of the Basilica play “Ave Maria of Lourdes”.
How To Get To Lourdes
Lourdes is very well accessed, with several major airports linking it with the UK. Pau, Toulouse, Lourdes, Biarritz and Bordeaux all offer good flight connections with London and other major UK cities. There are some excellent carriers to choose from, including easyJet, Jet2, and British Airways, with Air France flying to Pau and Ryanair serving Lourdes from London Stansted.
The flight time is between 1 hour 30 minutes and 1 hour 45 minutes, so you can look forward to a quick and easy journey. From any of the airports mentioned above, your transfer to Lourdes couldn’t be easier if you book with Shuttle Direct. Enjoy a personal meeting on arrival, a door-to-door service to the city centre or your accommodation, and a comfortable final leg of your journey. You don’t need to battle with public transport, but instead you can book in advance and have everything organised for your arrival.
Prices vary depending on your arrival airport, but start from £25 per person if you are travelling the 20 minute transfer from Lourdes airport.
Where To Stay
Hôtel La Solitude – This hotel is in an ideal location, a short walk to the beach and an even shorter hop to the Sanctuaries. Dining here is a pleasure and you have the option of French à la carte or a French brasserie. I personally enjoy the indoor swimming pool and the lovely terrace with its stunning views; the ideal spot for a pre-dinner drink.
Hôtel Chapelle et Parc – This elegant hotel, on the doorstep of the Notre Dame Sanctuary, actually offers free visits to the Sanctuary. Surrounded by a private park, the Hôtel Chapelle et Parc is a fabulous choice if you enjoy a little space and tranquillity. One of my favourite features is the lounge area with its piano that looks out onto the outdoor terrace.
Grand Hôtel Gallia & Londres – The Grand Hôtel Gallia & Londres has oodles of style and the Louis XVI style features make it a real one-off. Ideally situated at a 10-minute walk from the beach and close to the sanctuaries in the centre of town, the hotel is refined and offers an air of sophistication. The restaurant at Grand Hôtel Gallia & Londres is traditionally French and of an excellent standard.
About Shuttle Direct
Shuttle Direct are the number one transfer company for professional, comfortable and stress free transfers. Providing our reliable service to and from airports, cruise ports, train stations, and hotels across Europe and North Africa, the team offer an efficient service that includes a personal meeting on arrival. Our drivers at Shuttle Direct are there to get your holiday off to a great start. Book in advance and you can look forward to a seamless service.