Lourdes is the largest Catholic pilgrimage destination in France and one of the most popular Catholic shrines in the world. The town has only 17,000 inhabitants but receives more than 5 million pilgrims and tourists each year.
Lourdes is famous thanks to a young peasant girl (now Saint) Bernadette Saubirous who, in 1858, reported visions of the Virgin Mary. The water from the spring where the virgin appeared is considered pure and many thousands of pilgrims to Lourdes have followed the instruction of Our Lady of Lourdes to “drink at the spring and wash in it”. The healing power of the water is acclaimed by Catholics the world over and, although never formally encouraged by the Church, the water has become a focus of devotion to the Virgin Mary. Since the apparitions, many people have claimed to have been cured by drinking or bathing in the water and it is provided free of charge to any who ask for it.
Lourdes now has the second greatest number of hotels in France with 270 establishments; it has its own airport (used by Ryanair) and is considered by many as the gateway of the Pyrenees; it takes about 2 hrs by car to reach Lourdes from Labenne.