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Lourdes is situated in southern France, near the boarder of Spain, on the edge of the Pyrenees. At a height of 1,380 ft above sea level it sits on the River Gave. It has a population (excluding pilgrims) of around 15,000. Prior to the apparitions of 1858 it was a quiet market town, frequented by mountaineers going to climb in the Pyrenees, visitors to the mountain spa towns, and pilgrims on their way to Compostela. Since 1858, the town has become world-renowned for the apparitions of the Virgin Mary to St Bernadette, and welcomes some 5 million pilgrims from all over the world each year.
With around 270 hotels, Lourdes has the second greatest number of hotels per square kilometre in France after Paris.
The Grotto, site of the Apparitions, sit within the Domain, a large area owned and run by the Church. The river Gave runs through the Domain by the Grotto. Above the shrine sit the Basilicas which were built as requested in the apparitions from Our Lady. She also requested that people should come in procession, and so every day in the pilgrimage season, people process twice a day, once for the Blessing of the Sick, and every evening for a
torchlight procession. Pilgrims can also bathe in the spring waters at the Baths, celebrate Mass in the many chapels, pray the Stations of the Cross, and join in a number of the large celebrations, including an International Mass every Sunday and Wednesday.
Outside of the Domain, there are other sites of interest to visit in Lourdes. These include the parish church where Bernadette was baptized,The Cachot (or jail house) where she was living at the time of the apparitions, the hospice where she made her first Holy Communion, and other sites relevant to her life. You can also visit sites relevant to the town’s history, including the medieval fortified castle which dominates the town centre today.
Most pilgrims will balance their time in Lourdes with visits and excursions to a range of locations in the local area. Close by pilgrims can go to the village of Bartrès, where Bernadette spent some of her childhood looking after sheep for a local family. They can also relax at the local Lourdes lake, with pedalos and a lovely jetty and cafe.
Further afield, the Pyrenees await discovery, including the Cirque de Gavarnie, a spectacular mountain amphitheatre with the highest waterfall in France, also the start of the river Gave which flows through Lourdes. Throughout the area visitors can enjoy breathtaking mountain views.