Located in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains near the Spanish border, Lourdes has a population of just 15,000 (but more hotels than any other French city except Paris).
The main pilgrimage season in Lourdes runs from Easter through the end of October. The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes is open 24 hours every day, and admission is free.
Getting to Lourdes: Lourdes is 5 ½ hours from Paris by high-speed train and has an international airport with direct flights from many European cities. The airport is 10 minutes from the downtown.
Lodging: A wide variety of lodgings are available in Lourdes, including accommodations for the sick. The Best Western Lourdes Hotel offers accommodations near the train depot and within walking distance of the shrine.
If you want to venture beyond the sanctuary at Lourdes, you can tour the medieval fortress that perches atop a hill overlooking the town for insight into Pyrenees history and culture, then drive 15 miles south into some of Europe’s most spectacular scenery in Pyrenees National Park. Hiking trails wind amid 100,000 acres of jagged peaks, alpine meadows, and waterfalls.
Don’t miss the Cirque de Gavarnie, a natural rock amphitheater and World Heritage Site with the longest waterfall on the continent. At one end of the valley looms a break in the peaks called Roland’s Gap (according to legend, it was cut by Roland, nephew of Charlemagne). Rare fauna in the park include the isard—a species of antelope—and Pyrenean bear, as well as soaring Egyptian and griffon vultures.
In the ski resort town of Cauterets 20 miles from Lourdes, hot springs offer rejuvenation for footsore mountain explorers.