As one of the most sacred towns in Europe, Lourdes is a place of pilgrimage for Catholics from all over the world. This town in southern France is nestled in the spectacular Pyrenees Mountains. For hundreds of years its main attraction has been the grotto where Catholics believe the Virgin Mary appeared to St Bernadette Soubirous. Thousands of people come on holiday to Lourdes to drink and bathe in the waters that are said to have healing properties, or take mass in one of the many churches. There is a strong tourist infrastructure to cater for the flow of visitors, including hundreds of hotels and restaurants. Whether or not you are a Catholic, a holiday in Lourdes is a memorable experience.
The Sanctuaires Notre Dame de Lourdes is the spiritual centre of Lourdes, and this is the site of the underground grotto where the Virgin Mary is believed by Catholics to have appeared to St Bernadette Soubirous no less than 18 times. Committed pilgrims queue for hours in the summer months to enter the grotto and bathe in the healing waters of the cave. Many more are content to light a candle outside the grotto. Directly above, the gleaming spires of the Basilica du Rosaire and the Basilica Supérieure are well worth a visit. The atmosphere at the mass is truly special, and every evening at 9pm there is a torch-lit procession down to the grotto itself.
Mass is held across the town every Sunday morning, and this is an important part of a holiday in Lourdes for most visitors. Particularly unique is the International Mass which is held in six languages simultaneously at the Underground Basilica of St Pius. Arrive early; this service is extremely popular. Anyone is welcome to come a couple of hours early, rehearse with the choir and then sing with them during mass.
Aside from the fascinating religious history of Lourdes, there is plenty to see and explore in the town of Lourdes. The impressive castle on a hill above the town is a must-see, both for its medieval design and for the museum of local life and art contained within it. The town itself has countless shops offering souvenirs of your Lourdes holiday and themed bottles to collect and keep the holy water of the grotto.