Famous for its healing waters and miracles, Lourdes France is remarkable…
Spiritual energy breathes through this small village in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains. To date, there have been 70 confirmed miracles at Lourdes since the first apparition appeared to a 14-year-old peasant girl in 1858.
Not surprisingly, the pull of the city is powerful, encouraging six million people annually to visit Lourdes, many hoping to be the next miracle.
Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes
The centre of all religious activity and religious tourism in Lourdes, the basilica is a masterpiece in its own right. Lourdes is a Catholic pilgrimage destination along the Camino, but unlike
Santiago de Compostela, people come to Lourdes to be cured.
Approach to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes.
A closer look at some of the details of the Sanctuary. Torch-lit Marian procession
A torch-lit Marian procession begins at 9 pm every night since 1872. The overwhelming number of infirm wayfarers hoping for the miracle brought a tear to my eye.
They walked for nearly 1.5 hours, candle in hand, praying and singing in 6 languages to receive a blessing from the priest. And, they just kept coming. So many of them.
While it was emotional to watch, there was also an unexplainable power, a motivating strength emanating from their belief.
Every night thousands of pilgrims joined the candle-lit procession.
Rosary tree at night.
Lourdes healing water
The healing waters of Lourdes draw people from around the world. They come, they pray, they drink, they bathe, and all the while they hope for the miracle.
While many hoped for medical miracles, others came for moral or spiritual healing. Importantly, drinking the water is easy, as it is free-flowing from taps labelled in six languages. Therefore, we joined hundreds of visitors and filled our water bottles at the side of the basilica.
One of our girls, and many tourists, filled bottles moulded in the shape of the Virgin statue to bring home. They seemed to be for sale in nearly every shop close to the cathedral. And to my surprise, they now ship these same bottles filled with the Lourdes
holy water from Amazon.
Grotto in Lourdes, France
The Lourdes grotto is the spot where Saint Bernadette experienced 18 apparitions in 1858. Today, it is open to the public for candle lighting and, at specific times, to bathe in the healing water.
There are two queues, one for men, the other for women. Pilgrims and other visitors wait patiently. Once at the front of the queue, they stand naked, and two same-sex aids guide them into the icy water. One quick dunk and it is over. Many walk away feeling cured, or at least better than when they arrived.
We joined the queue on a rainy Sunday during the peak of the season. It crawled along slowly. The queues tend to be longer on Sunday as they are only bathing people who join the queue from 2-4 pm, rather than also having a morning time slot.
Staring at a several hour wait, and already wet from the rain, we backed out and opted instead to drink the water.
The women’s queue to enter the water at the grotto.
Pilgrims and other visitors light candles at the grotto.
Lourdes healing water miracles
What constitutes a miracle?
The answer is more complex than I imagined. It is defined by rules from the Vatican and summarized here:
To be a miracle:
The illness must have been incurable without medical treatment or medication that can be shown to have been effective.
Healing must be immediate, instantaneous, complete, and without relapse.
The church must sanction each miracle through a rigorous process.
Over 8,000 claims have been made to date, but only 70 meet the strict criteria of a miraculous cure, less than 1% of all claims.
The most recent of these was declared a miracle of Lourdes in February 2018. Click here for a detailed list of the first 67 Lourdes miracles.
The venerated image of Our Lady of the Rosary granted a Canonical Coronation by Pope Pius IX on 3 July 1876.
Other things to do in Lourdes France
The massive size of the Underground Basilica surprised us. Here, we found modern religious symbols and the illustrated story of Bernadette and the 18 apparitions that appeared to her.
Inside the underground Basilica and one of the series of illustrations. Château Fort
A Roman fortification, the castle on the rocky hill overlooking the city is one of the few secular attractions in Lourdes. While energetic visitors can hike to the chateau, there is also a funicular or a free elevator. Here you will find beautiful views of the city and a museum featuring folk art and local artefacts (Musée Pyrénéen).
Château Fort on the hill overlooking the city. Birthplace of Bernadette Soubirous (Moulin de Boly)
Bernadette was born and lived here until she was 10. It was originally a watermill. Today it is a museum offering insight into the life of peasant families in the 1800s.
Take a Lourdes tour
The biggest mistake we made in Lourdes was not taking a tour. Not so much for the sites, as they are easy to access, but rather for the history and legends. While we can get a lot from reading, there is something quite powerful in hearing about a miracle in the place it happened. If we get back, we will choose one of these two tours:
Lourdes: Half-day guided walking tour of the sanctuary
This tour starts at your city centre hotel. Explore the town and discover the history of the Marian apparitions that occurred only 150 years ago, dramatically reshaping this small town. This three-hour tour will walk you through one of the most spiritual places on earth. You will visit three basilicas and the grotto where the Virgin appeared 18 times.
Lourdes city and sanctuary walking tour
This tour starts in the city centre at the front of the world war II monument. Follow the footsteps of Bernadette Soubirous as you learn about the Marian apparitions of the 19th century. This two and a half hour walking tour will visit three basilicas, the grotto, the place where Bernadette lived with her family, and walk along the Gave de Pau Riverbank.
Check price and reviews for this city and sanctuary 2.5-hour walking tour Driving in Lourdes France
Despite having driven in countries all around the world, we were not mentally prepared for driving in Lourdes. We rely on our GPS or Google Maps on our phone. However, it was consistently sending us the wrong way down narrow one-way streets.
As it turns out, every 15 days the city of Lourdes turns some of the one-way street signs the other way (no kidding). This was a decision made after the one-way streets were initially instituted and several businesses lost customer traffic. The solution was to turn the streets. So if your GPS is confused, it is because the signs are turned. Be patient and vigilant.
Look closely at the sign. You can see that half flips, locking in place and changing the direction of the street every 15 days.
Where is Lourdes, France?
If you are brave enough to face the streets of Lourdes in your own vehicle, we recommend
RentalCars.com. A conglomerator, they will provide a list of cars and pricing available through local and well-known companies. It’s quick and easy, and they provide English speaking customer service. We needed a vehicle, as Lourdes was the first stop on your French Pyrenees mountain road trip.
Otherwise, you can arrive by
Eurail train, plane, or on a tour.
Take a day tour from Toulouse
This eight-hour adventure will bring you from Toulouse to one of the world’s most spiritual cities where you will walk in the footsteps of Bernadette Soubirous.
You will see the basilica, attend a mass at the Sanctuary, and discover the site of the healing waters. Lourdes is a city not to be missed, and if you are staying in Toulouse and have a free day, this tour is ideal.
Check price and reviews for this private walking tour from Toulouse
Our first view of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes
Where to stay in Lourdes, France
While there are many options, we don’t recommend where we stayed. Had we planned in advance, or not visited during the peak of the season we would have stayed at one of these two four-star hotels or at an Airbnb.
Grand Hôtel Moderne: My top pick, this example of classic late 19th century French architecture and decor is perfectly located. An interior mix of Art Nouveau, elegance, and modern convenience, it boasts comfortable beds and delicious meals.
Check price and reviews for the Grand Hôtel Moderne
Grand Hôtel Belfry: Built in 1873, this pet-friendly four-star accommodation looks comfortable and lovely. Superior rooms face the Sanctuary, while standard rooms face the city and fort hill. The buffet breakfast includes organic local products, and the hotel has onsite parking (not an easy thing to find in Lourdes).
Check price and reviews for the Grand Hôtel Belfry
Airbnb Tips for visiting Lourdes
The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes and the Grotto is always open.
Bring your water jugs to the cathedral to fill them from one of the taps with the healing Lourdes water. Water bottles in the shape of the Virgin Mary are available for sale at many locations in town.
Travel planning tips
Flights: We use Skyscanner to find all the available flight options at the best prices.
Rental Car: We always use RentalCars.com, a rental car search engine with no hidden costs.
Accommodations: We use Booking.com or HotelsCombined to find all levels of accommodations when we travel.
Travel Insurance: We purchase insurance that covers medical and travel emergencies when we head overseas. We start with World Nomads.
Packing Tips: Get a free copy of our packing light checklist when you sign up for our mailing list. (We pack light, yet have everything we need.)