When I first started forming plans for walking the Camino, one of the things I knew for sure was that I wanted to bookend our Camino pilgrimage with visiting two of the Marian apparition sites in Europe. Lourdes, France is only a few hours away from St. Jean Pied de Port where we started the Camino and Fatima, Portugal is a 7 or 8 hour bus ride south of Santiago, where we ended the Camino. So after our 48 hours in Paris we took an overnight bus to Lourdes, France and arrived mid-morning on Saturday, June 23rd. We walked from the bus stop to our airbnb and after a stop at the grocery store and a nap we decided to just rest on this first day. We were worn out from all our traveling and had two full days ahead of us in Lourdes. We ended up making pasta and just sitting on our little balcony soaking in the sunshine and views that evening. The next morning we went to the Grotto for the English Sunday Mass. We spent a little bit of time walking around the Sanctuary grounds before heading back to our airbnb for lunch. We had bought tickets the night before to take a trip up to Pic du Jer, the gorgeous mountaintop that overlooks Lourdes and the surrounding Pyrenees mountains. You take a one hundred year old funicular train 1000 meters up the mountain and when you get to the top there are these gorgeous trails leading up to the highest point of the mountain for even more spectacular 360º views. I absolutely LOVE mountaintop experiences and the feeling of being on top of the world looking out at the amazing landscape sprawling out beneath you and it was the perfect thing to do on a Sunday afternoon. Although this was my second time in Lourdes, the first time I was in Lourdes was for a mission trip during my semester studying abroad and we basically lived in the sanctuary of Lourdes the entire week so I never had a chance to explore the town or make it up to Pic du Jer.
It was crazy (and daunting) to stare at these Pyrenees mountains and know that in just a few days we would be crossing them on foot at the beginning of our 500 mile walking pilgrimage.
We really loved our airbnb in Lourdes. It wasn’t the closest to the Sanctuary, but it was honestly only a 20-25min walk from it and we got to walk straight through the historic town of Lourdes to make it to the Sanctuary so we enjoyed it. It was a two minute walk from the grocery store and it had this little balcony with the most gorgeous views of some of the mountains. We enjoyed most of breakfasts and dinners on this little balcony. The photo below on the left shows what our typical meal was through our time in France and even several days on the Camino: fresh baguettes from a local bakery, brie cheese, apples, orange juice or wine (or both haha), jam, and yogurt. Seriously I couldn’t even tell you how many times we ate this same meal. One reason was the price, we could get this meal for under 3 euros per person, but then even more than how inexpensive it was, we kept eating this meal because it was just so dang delicious and easy.
Another staple while in France was fresh French pastries.
On our second day we again spent the morning in the Lourdes Sanctuary, starting with Mass in the Grotto and a trip to the Baths. Then after lunch back at our airbnb, we visited the Château fort de Lourdes, the historic 1000 year old castle and fortress in the center of Lourdes that has never been conquered. It as an official historical monument and now a museum on the history of the Pyrenees culture and well worth the ticket price to explore the fortress and learn a lot about the fascinating history of the town of Lourdes itself as well as the history of the Spanish and French Pyrenees.
You get a beautiful vantage point to look out over the Sanctuary of Lourdes from the top of the fortress. Visiting the fortress was another thing that I wasn’t able to do on my first trip to Lourdes so I was very grateful to get to do it this second time around.
The church in the picture below on the right is the parish of Lourdes and is where St. Bernadette was baptized.
I really love how our schedule ended up working out while in Lourdes: starting our days in the Sanctuary, exploring and sightseeing in the afternoons, and then returning to the Sanctuary at the end of the day. The Lourdes Sanctuary was the whole reason we had come to Lourdes in the first place. For those of you unfamiliar with Lourdes, it is a huge Catholic pilgrimage site because it is believed that the Virgin Mary appeared numerous times to a young woman, St. Bernadette, in 1858. The site of the apparition is now known as the Grotto of Lourdes and the beautiful Shrine was built on top of it. If you’re curious to read more about the apparitions you can check out a detailed history here. During our few days in Lourdes we were able to attend Mass and Confession, take part in one of the nightly candlelit processions, a Eucharistic procession, and enter the Baths. I also got to walk through the Stations of the Cross that go up the small mountain directly behind the sanctuary which is another thing I never got to on my first trip to this sacred place and was amazing. My second visit to this place was vastly different from my first, but just as powerful and peaceful. I honestly think this is one of my favorite places on earth and I hope and pray I will return again someday.