What You Need To Know
Lourdes is a small market town lying in the foothills of the Pyrenees. It is part of the Hautes-Pyrénées department in the Occitanie region in south-western France. Prior to the mid-19th century, the town was best known for the Château fort de Lourdes, a fortified castle that rises up from a rocky escarpment at its center.
In 1858 Lourdes rose to prominence in France and abroad due to the Marian apparitions claimed to have been seen by the peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous, who was later canonized. Shortly thereafter the city with the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes became one of the world’s most important sites of pilgrimage and religious tourism. Today Lourdes hosts around six million visitors every year from all corners of the world. This constant stream of pilgrims and tourists transformed quiet Lourdes into the second most important center of tourism in France, second only to Paris, and the third most important site of international Catholic pilgrimage after Rome and the Holy Land. As of 2011, of French cities only Paris had more hotel capacity.
Population: 15,254 (2009)
Lourdes is located in southern France in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains near the prime meridian. It is overlooked from the south by the Pyrenean peaks of Aneto, Montaigu, and Vignemale (3,298 m), while around the town there are three summits reaching up to 1,000 m (3,280.84 ft) which are known as the Béout, the Petit Jer (with its three crosses) and the Grand Jer (with its single cross) which overlook the town. The Grand Jer is accessible via the funicular railway of the Pic du Jer. The Béout was once accessible by cable car, although this has fallen into disrepair. A pavilion is still visible on the summit.
Lourdes lies at an elevation of 420 m (1,380 ft) and in a central position through which runs the fast-flowing river Gave de Pau from the south coming from its source at Gavarnie, into which flow several smaller rivers from Barèges and Cauterets. The Gave then branches off to the west towards the Béarn, running past the banks of the Grotto and on downstream to Pau and then Biarritz.
On land bordered by a loop of the Gave de Pau is an outcrop of rock called Massabielle (from masse vieille: “old mass”). On the northern aspect of this rock, near the riverbank, is a naturally occurring, irregularly shaped shallow cave or grotto, in which the apparitions of 1858 took place.
The climate of Lourdes, given the proximity of the city to the Atlantic, is of sub oceanic element, and is quite mild for the most part of the year and relatively rainy all year (about 120 rainy days and more than 1,000 mm (39 in) of average annual precipitation). The summers are warm, the autumn and spring mild, while winter is cool or cold, but generally not hard. Because of the proximity of the city to the Pyrenees, Lourdes, like other areas of the Pyrenean piedmont, however, can be affected, in the winter months, by sporadic waves of frost: in January 1985 the thermometer marked -17, 9 °C (historical record from 1934 to the present), and, conversely, was recorded in summer temperature of 39 °C in August 2003. The reference station of Lourdes is to Tarbes-Ossun-Lourdes, located approximately 9 km (5.6 mi) from the city, in the airport area of Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyrénées, 360 m.
Lourdes is served by Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyrénées Airport although many visitors also fly to Pau Pyrénées Airport. The town’s railway station Gare de Lourdes is served by SNCF and TGV trains, including overnight ‘sleeper’ services as well as a high-speed TGV service from Paris which takes five hours. Many pilgrims also arrive via bus service from France and Spain.