This scenic town at the foothills of the majestic Alps may have just been as quiet and calm as its fellow neighbors, but in reality it is always buzzing with tourists, particularly pilgrims and curious onlookers. It is a beautiful town that maintains much of the Hautes-Pyrenees style even with all the infrastructure and development.
Some pilgrims opt to fly in from seasonal or regular routes to the Tarbes-Lourdes Airport. It can depend on how much time one has allotted, but it is a particular destination that can be costlier than regular routes. Many pilgrims opt to arrive by car and train. The roads are excellent and what a better way to see the surrounding countryside than in a rental car? Parking is not too bad, it is better on the outskirts than in the historic center. Coming from Northern Spain is as common as driving from elsewhere in France. Trains are well connected especially from Paris Bayonne and Toulouse. Buses are often chartered pilgrimages.
Many people come to see the sanctuary who are believers, curious or of no faith at all. There is no requirement of faith to experience the shrine, places are very well marked and one can observe processions, religious services, vigils and the sick who come to bathe in what is considered by some to be miracle working water. Some come as volunteers, others as guides, some on their own, others on guided tours. There is no shortage of activity most of the day and night. Many visitors purchase religious souvenirs, water, bathe in the water, light candles and explore the various churches on the grounds. This area comprises the built up section of the town which has expanded since the religious experiences were recorded.
This is the more laid back and historic part of the town. It is wonderfully French and is where many squares, cafes and hotels are located. There are hundreds of hotels in the city, but it certainly can be done just as a day trip. Everything from posh residences to affordable hostels are available. One of the main things to do is enjoy lunch at one of the many restaurants, walk the pedestrian streets, buy your own lunch for a picnic and go souvenir shopping. Almost any religious item in Christianity is available and sold here.
Overall Lourdes has a peaceful vibe and a unique snapshot of faith, wonder and longing. It is a unique site in France and Europe in general and it is worth putting on any great Southern France itinerary.