Ever since 1858, when a local girl claimed that the Virgin Mary had appeared to her in a nearby grotto, the quiet market town of Lourdes, nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees, has played host to more than 200 million pilgrims. But this venerated Catholic shrine is also an excellent base to explore the beautiful surrounding mountains of the Pyrenees.
- Passing through?
If you've a head for heights and you like a spectacular view, jump in one of the city's egg-shaped cable cars (Les Bulles). You'll end up at La Bastille, a series of ancient fortifications that overlook the city.
- Staying a while?
The main reason to visit Lourdes is to experience the candlelit serenity of the grotto where the apparitions are said to have taken place, and to drink or bathe in the waters of the spring which grew up at the same time. Many Catholics believe the water has healing properties, and there are many stories of cures.
- The inside track...
13km outside of Lourdes is the Parc Animalier des Pyrénées where you can watch otters, brown bears, chamois and lynx in the wild.
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