Despite having only a 40km square area and a population of around 15 000, Lourdes is the second highly-visited city in France after Paris. In fact, among French cities, only Paris has more hotel capacity. Famous for its Marian apparitions in 1858 to a village girl named Bernadette, Lourdes is also the 3rd most important site of Catholic pilgrimages following Rome and the Holy Land, respectively.
Lourdes reminds me of the little French town Belle sings about, but of course, sans the little-mindedness of the villagers. Although tourism is focused around the Sanctuary, this unassuming town in southwest of France offers you unbelievable sights of landforms and a river around you. It is surrounded by 3 Pyrenean peaks and 3 summits, one of which, the Grand Jer, can be visited via the funicular railway of Pic Du Jer. What more to do in this town, you ask? Well, in my 4-day visit to Lourdes, these are the places to visit and food to eat that I believe you must try for yourself.
Where To Go
Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes
Most of the tourists visit Lourdes for religious reasons, but even when you’re not a Catholic, the Sanctuary houses some of the most beautiful churches in the world. The sculptures and architectural designs around this massive shrine are so beautiful. Every corner you look at, there is always an interesting detail to peer upon, it’s as if you’re walking to an art museum. As a Catholic, it still blows my mind how the Massabielle rock, where the actual apparitions happened, is still accessible a century and a half later. However, to appreciate the miraculous waters and the existence of the Grotto, you need to have faith. I suppose, you do kind of have to have an inkling of how to perceive this knowledge or a religious side to fully appreciate the shrine.
For 45 minutes, you may cruise through the old streets, uptown area and tourist sites of Lourdes. A 7.5 km hop-on-hop-off ride, stopping at museums and other significant spots, Little Train offers you a reduced entry rates to these sites. You may go to these places without having to ride the little train, but thinking back, I, actually, don’t remember their mode of transportation. There were cars, but I think most people walk because some of the streets, especially the ones around the hotels area are quite narrow.
Pic du Jer
One of the Little Train stops, you may ride the funicular or a cliff railway, which is a type of cable railway, to transport you to the steep peak of Pic du Jer, one of the summits surrounding the Hautes-Pyrénées. Views of the town and nearby peaks can be seen on top, as well as the giant cross that marks Pic du Jer. More of my summit experience here.
In a historical place, it is not surprising to have multiple museums in such a small area. From wax museums (Musée de Lourdes and Musée de cire) to a miniature display (Le Petit Lourdes), and a museum for calligraphy (Musée Christhi), to a thousand-year-old fortress turned museum of 18th century ceramics and costumes among others (Musèe Pyrénéen). You may read about 3 of them here.
A villager of Lourdes in Musée de Lourdes.
Jesus Christ during palm Sunday depicted in Musée de cire.
A view of Lourdes from the top floor of Musée de cire.
Miniature figures can be seen in Le Petit Lourdes.
Scenes Around Town
Appreciate the quaint and unassuming beauty of Lourdes as you walk along the river and on their narrow cobbled streets.
The sunset shines at the hotels near the Sanctuary, along the river, one of which is Mercure Hotel, where we were staying.
Before the apparitions, Lourdes is best known for Château fort de Lourdes. A historic castle that is strategically placed at the heart of Pyrénées’ mountainous region.
I fell in love with Lourdes je ne sais quoi, there’s so much delicate beauty to see in hotels and shops.
What To Eat
They have since moved to a bigger place and is no longer in a small corner near Musée de cire but this shop is owned by a couple (Frenchman married to a Filipina) that is, you could say, close to our hearts (and taste palette) because it offers Filipino food. The dishes are similar to Chinese takeaway, so a lot of Asians visit the place. The food is familiar and tasty, what more can I ask for?
I don’t think they have a Facebook page but here is the owner’s personal Facebook account (as I have no idea where their current location is). Is that bad? I hope she doesn’t mind, most of her public posts are about the restaurant.
They serve value meals and ala carte dishes.
Hotel La Solitude and New Orleans
We were staying in Mercure but dining most of our time in Lourdes in a different hotel. I know, but man, they have the best paella I’ve ever had in my life! Their pizza and carbonara are not bad, as well.
Our first meal in Lourdes, we each had half of a paella serving, but by the end of our visit, I could already eat a whole paella by myself without any struggle. I only had a day without it and I remember moaning about it to the boyfriend, “why can’t I have paella today?” in between fake sobs. The thing is, I easily get obsessed about something (mostly food and music), and when I start doing so, I keep partaking that item until I find another to get obsessed about, and this paella was a definite obsession. I remember counting the last of the boyfriend and I’s euros just to squeeze my last paella order, haha!
We would return to our hotel late at night and have our dinner at 10pm. Since the Solitude cafe is already closed by that time, we decided to try another place within the vicinity. For what I call destiny, we found New Orleans and guess what? They serve the same paella dishes! For some reason, we just concluded that all shops have the same paella distributor, but when I researched about them now, before writing this, the Solitude cafe and New Orleans are, actually, owned by the same group of companies. Hence, the same paella menu. Oh, and they have great pork chops and chicken set meals, too!
It is quite weird to find such delicious paella in France and not in Spain. But then Lourdes is almost at the border of southern France, near Spain, so they must be highly influenced by Spanish culture and food. I remember bumping into a lot of Spanish tourists in the Sanctuary, I knew because they were quite loud, heh.
I can no longer remember their French names, so I’m just going to desribe them. This one is the cheapest at around 12 euros (and what I consumed most), classic paella with chicken.
Paella with everything from chicken to prawns, mussels and chorizo!
Instead of rice, this paella uses pasta (but look at the length of each) with seafood such as mussels and squid.
Paella in squid ink with prawns and squid.
Knowing crêpes originated in France, I was excited to find various pop up crêpe shops around the area. However, it was a bit underwhelming. They didn’t have a lot of option for non-Nutella lovers. I can only consume the classic and plain sucre (sugar) crepe or the ones with fruit jams (strawberry, etc) and whipped cream. They serve it hot so the cream melts and sadly, turns into a gooey mess. I think I’m used to the crêpes they sell here in Cebu, usually topped with fresh fruits and whipped cream.
I might be committing a crime by dissing their crêpe and preferring what might be a “that’s-not-how-crepes-work” kind, but hey, call me blasphemous and ignorant, fresh fruits are better than jams and non-melting whipped cream. Still worth a try though, that’s why it’s still on the list! Don’t mind me, I’m sure the Nutella one is nice, you be the judge.
As it was surprisingly hot (I’ve generalized European countries into one cold continent), gelato was a cold and sweet comfort. There are a lot of gelato shops, as well, and while this gelato below is delicious and has a pretty backdrop (it is located near the river), it isn’t as flavorsome as Angelo’s.
Angelo’s pistachio gelato is very pistachio-ey. Same goes to the chocolate variety ones and berries that we’ve tried, our travel party agreed that the flavors in each type lives up to its name, maybe even more intense. If it says hazelnut chocolate, it does really feel like your tongue’s being covered with hazelnut chocolate blanket.
And while I’ve always dreamed of Paris and expected it to be my first French city, Lourdes has become a wonderful surprise and now, holds a special place in my heart.