Pilgrim’s Guide To France. How To Travel To Lourdes. Part 1.
Town of Lourdes in southern France where Marian apparitions took place in 1858 and where miraculous cures are still happening today is visited by millions of pilgrims every year. Surrounded by high Pyrenees mountains and with the nearest large city (Toulouse) more than 100 miles away, Lourdes may seem as a difficult place to travel to. But in reality it is easier to travel to Lourdes than it seems by looking at it on the map – international airport (Lourdes-Tarbes) is only 7 miles away, buses run between the airport and downtown Lourdes hourly, nearly 100 hotels, dozens of restaurants and stores are available for visitors, all within a walking distance from the Sanctuary.
Lourdes Apparitions and Miracles
Our Lady appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous for the first time on February 11, 1858 at the Grotto near the river Gave in Lourdes. St. Bernadette described the Lady as a very beautiful young woman who was wearing a white dress and a white veil, a blue belt and a yellow rose on each foot. On that cold February day, after making the Sign of the Cross, St. Bernadette said the Rosary with the Lady and as soon as the Rosary ended the Lady disappeared. During the next few months 17 more apparitions happened at the same place. The last apparition took place on July 16, 1858, the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.
Some of the apparitions were completely silent. Others included Our Lady and St. Bernadette praying Rosary together, Our Lady giving a personal message to St. Bernadette or teaching St. Bernadette a personal prayer. Despite the fact that some of the Lourdes apparitions had personal character (i.e. included personal messages from Our Lady to St. Bernadette that were never revealed), there were two important messages and one generous gift from Our Lady for all of us. First, Our Lady’s call for penance and conversion during the apparition of February 24, 1858: “Penance! Penance! Penance! Pray to God for sinners. Kiss the ground as an act of penance for sinners!” Second, on March 25, 1858 Our Lady revealed her name which not only described who she was but at the same time confirmed the dogma declared by Pope Pius IX four years earlier: “I am the Immaculate Conception”. Third, on February 25, 1858 Our Lady helped St. Bernadette find the spring of water which has been associated with miraculous healings until today.
More than seven thousand unexplained cures associated with the devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes have been reported since apparitions. Seventy of them have been officially recognized by the Catholic Church as miraculous. The latest cure was recognized in February of 2018; Sr. Sister Bernadette Moriau was suddenly cured from a decades-long sciatic nerve pain after her pilgrimage to Lourdes. Below are some of the other examples of the recognized miraculous cures. Serge Francois lost the mobility of his left leg due to herniated disc but after praying at Lourdes Grotto in 2002 he was suddenly cured and later even made a 975-miles-long pilgrimage on his feet to Santiago de Compostela in thanksgiving for the cure. Jean-Pierre Bely was completely paralyzed due to multiple sclerosis but after pilgrimage to Lourdes in 1987 he returned home able to walk. Vittorio Micheli was diagnosed with sarcoma (malignant tumor) of his left hip which was causing destruction of the hip. After pilgrimage to Lourdes in 1963, not only his cancer disappeared but previously damaged hip was miraculously reconstructed. You can read more about the miraculous Lourdes cures recognized by the Catholic Church here.
How to Travel to Lourdes
Majority of pilgrims arrive in Lourdes by airplane or by train.
Most frequent direct flights to Lourdes are from Paris, France and London, UK. Hop! airline (subsidiary of Air France) has 3 daily flights from Paris Orly airport to Lourdes all year round. Flights can be booked on Air France website. Ryanair flies from London Stansted airport 4 times weekly during summer season and 2 times weekly during winter season. Flights between Paris and Lourdes cost around $55 one-way during winter/spring/fall months and a little more during summer season. Flights between London and Lourdes cost from $35 one-way during winter months to around $70 during summer.
There are also direct summer flights from Brussels with TUI Fly Airlines, from Milan with Ryanair airlines, from Rome with Ryanair and Air One airlines, and from Krakow (Poland) with Ryanair.
When I was traveling to Lourdes in February 2018, I flew from Boston to Paris Charles de Gaulle airport with Aer Lingus (flight was paid with British Airways points and Barclays Arrival Plus points (card is no longer available but similar cards can be found here). Then from Charles de Gaulle (also called Roissy CDG) airport I took a direct bus (Le Bus Direct Line 3) to Orly airport and spent a nigh at the hotel near Orly airport (airport hotels can easily be found on booking.com or hotels.com by entering airport’s name as a destination). The next morning I flew from Paris Orly to Lourdes (my airport hotel and Paris-Lourdes-Paris flights were also paid with Barclays Arrival Plus points so I did not have to pay anything for my flights with the “real money”). You can read a few of my previous articles on how to fly to Europe cheaply or even for free here.
Lourdes-Tarbes airport is less than 10 miles away from Lourdes and it is well connected with downtown Lourdes by public transportation (bus). The airport bus station is located outside the arrivals hall, on your right. You will need to take a bus no. 2 (Maligne Des Gaves line). The bus schedule can be found on Airport’s website here.
The schedule can be a little confusing as it also includes transportation from airport to Tarbes city. Make sure that you are looking at Vers Lourdes/Direction Lourdes part of the schedule to see a schedule from airport to Lourdes. For a schedule from Lourdes to airport look at Direction Aeroport (with “Lourdes” on the left of the schedule).
Gare SNCF on the schedule means Lourdes Train Station. It can be helpful to look at the map of Lourdes before you go to see how your hotel and Sanctuary can be reached from Lourdes Train Station. Lourdes map can be found here.
It takes about 5 hours to travel by a direct train from Paris to Lourdes and longer if you have to change trains. Train ticket prices are about the same and sometimes even higher than flying from Paris to Lourdes. Train schedule can be seen and ticket reservations made here.
Comfortable 3 star hotels can be booked for $50-60 per night in Lourdes, often even cheaper if you are booking well in advance, travel during winter months or for at least 3-4 nights. My favorite websites for hotel reservations are booking.com and hotels.com. You can also reduce the cost of your hotel stay by using these strategies.
There are a lot of gift shops and restaurants in the area surrounding Sanctuary. If you want to save money by buying your food at a supermarket, one of the closest supermarkets to the Sanctuary is Monoprix located at 9 Place Du Champ Commun in Lourdes (hours and map are here).
You can read about what pilgrims can see and do in Lourdes in my another article here.