Lourdes is nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains in Southwest France. Lourdes is incredibly spiritual, peaceful and tranquil.
The town is one of the world’s most famous pilgrimage sites in the Catholic faith. In the extraordinary events of 1858, a young girl named Bernadette Soubirous claimed to have seen visions of the Virgin Mary, known as “Our Lady of Lourdes.”
Lourdes is known for the Sanctuaires Notre-Dame de Lourdes, or the Domain, where pilgrims gather from all over the world. Sites within the Domain include the Basilica of Saint Pius X, the Grotto of Apparitions or the Grotto of Massabielle which is known for its healing water, and the Rosary Basilica.
Bernadette, was just 14 years old and reported 18 apparitions of the Virgin Mary between February and July of that year near the grotto of Massabielle. During these visions, the figure, whom Bernadette described as a beautiful lady, instructed her to drink from a spring within the grotto, pray for sinners, and have a chapel built at the site in her honor. She revealed her identity with the words ‘I am the Immaculate Conception’. The initially hidden spring, once found by Bernadette, began to flow with water, and this water soon became associated with miraculous healing properties.
Mary told her to dig a hole to find a spring and build a chapel on top of the spring. Today, there are 70 confirmed miracles of healing after people bathed in the holy water from the spring. Each year, millions visit the Grotto of Massabielle (Grotto of the Apparitions) where pilgrims attend mass and drink or bathe in the spring water. The spring water from the grotto is believed by some Catholics to possess healing properties.
Today, Lourdes attracts millions of visitors and pilgrims annually, who come to pray, seek spiritual solace, and bathe in or collect the spring water, hoping for physical and spiritual healing.
We drove to Lourdes from Girona Spain, on our way to San Sebastian. After settling into our hotel, we walked into the center of Lourdes and immediately noticed the town felt peaceful and incredibly spiritual. We were here in November which is the off season, so some hotels and restaurants were closed or had limited opening hours. We could imagine visiting during the summer, and we were very happy to be missing that. In this more intimate setting, seeing the assistance given to the sick and handicapped people who had made the pilgrimage to Lourdes to be healed was incredibly moving.
You cannot miss Our Lady Of Lourdes Basilica; it stands majestically in the center of town and the area of the Grotto from the Rosary Esplanade to the bridge beyond the baths, is the heart of the Sanctuary.
After exploring the upper Basilica, we heard singing and headed to the Grotto of Massabielle. We couldn’t believe our luck – outdoor Mass was just starting. Mass is celebrated daily in multiple languages.
We enjoyed a beautiful Mass which ended with us proceeding past the miraculous spring underneath the grotto. Droplets flowed from the walls allowing us to touch with our hands and wipe the holy water on our body. Walking in the grotto and moving with pilgrims from one end to the other, and touching the smooth cold rocks, brought me to tears. It gave us time to acknowledge our gratitude and seek blessings. We felt at peace and blessed to be there.
We shared an unforgettable experience in this place of prayer, healing and contemplation. To be in this holy place and actually see and touch the spring and statue of the Virgin Mary, felt overwhelming. After we left the grotto we were able to drink and collect holy water a short distance away.
The Basilica itself is worth several daily visits. A highlight of the activities was the evening procession with candles and torches lighting the sky as the sun sets behind the Basilica.
A total of 70 miraculous healings have been acknowledged by the Catholic church at Lourdes since 1858. There have been four miracles since 1978, with the most recent in 2018 when an Italian woman was said to have been healed of acute rheumatism. Over 7,000 cases of unexplained cures from severe medical conditions have been also recorded.
Lourdes gave us an ordinary sense of peace, joy and healing. If you need to reset, heal your soul, and relax, this is the place to gather yourself in quiet contemplation.
The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, the complex containing the grotto and the spring, along with several churches and basilicas, stands as a testament to the enduring faith they have inspired. Bernadette Soubirous was canonized as a saint, and her life and the messages of the Virgin Mary continue to be a source of inspiration and devotion for people around the world.
Visiting Lourdes with kids can be a profoundly enriching experience, blending educational opportunities with spiritual growth and family bonding. Here’s why you might consider it for your next family adventure:
Lourdes offers a unique chance for kids to learn about history, religion, and the power of faith outside the classroom. They can hear the story of Saint Bernadette and the apparitions of the Virgin Mary, deepening their understanding of Catholic traditions and the role of pilgrimage in religious life.
For families practicing the Catholic faith, a visit to Lourdes can be a pivotal moment in your child’s spiritual journey. It’s a place where the concepts of prayer, miracles, and devotion come to life. Even for those of other faiths or none at all, the atmosphere of hope and faith in Lourdes can be moving and offer a chance for reflection.
Lourdes is renowned for the spirit of volunteerism and the compassionate care given to the sick and disabled visitors. Children can observe these acts of kindness, learning the importance of compassion, empathy, and helping others in need.
The town is a meeting point for people from all over the world, united by faith and the search for healing. This global gathering can teach children about cultural diversity, inclusivity, and the shared human experience, fostering a sense of belonging to a larger community.
Lourdes is not just about spiritual and religious education; it’s also situated in the stunning landscape of the Pyrenees. Families can enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, exploring the countryside, and enjoying the natural beauty of the region, making it a well-rounded travel experience.
Many aspects of Lourdes, from its museums to guided tours, are tailored to be accessible and engaging for visitors of all ages, ensuring that children can interact with and absorb the significance of the place in an age-appropriate way.
In essence, Lourdes can provide a deeply meaningful family trip, offering a blend of learning, spiritual exploration, and the chance to experience one of the world’s most revered holy sites together. Whether you’re drawn by faith, curiosity, or the allure of the Pyrenees, Lourdes has something to offer every family.
Visiting Lourdes is an opportunity for a family to travel on a journey together that is both outward and inward. It’s a chance to bond, share experiences, and discuss big questions about life, faith, and purpose in a context that is markedly different from everyday life.
I’m a travel and health writer, digital brand consultant, breast cancer survivor, and supermom to two boys! I keep it real and share stories of raising an active family, life after a cancer diagnosis, and family travels around the world! Each story is shared with my dry, and sometimes naughty sense of humor.