Lourdes, France, gained its fame in 1858, when the young Bernadette Soubirous had a vision of the Virgin Mary near the grotto of Massabiel Rock. Since then, pilgrims (about 6 million annually from France and worldwide) have flocked to this town 85 mi/135 km southwest of Toulouse in hopes of a miraculous cure for their ailments.
Few nonpilgrims bother to go to Lourdes—it's a rather gray town, well off the beaten tourist trail. However, the basilica and underground setting of the shrine are spectacular. The area surrounding the grotto, church, castle and museum should also be visited (you can ignore the numerous souvenir shops). There's a good viewpoint on the rocky 310-ft-/95-m-high pinnacle of the Pic du Jer, offering sweeping views of Lourdes and the surrounding Pyrennees. There's a 100-year-old funicular that whisks you to the summit in about six minutes.
Lourdes also makes a good starting point for a trip through the Pyrenees. The nearby town of Pau (30 mi/50 km northwest) has a fabulous castle with a beautiful courtyard, museum, tapestries and tortoise-shell cradle. King Henry IV was born in the castle.
As for the body of Bernadette Soubirous, it now lies in a glass coffin in the St. Gildard Convent in the town of Nevers, in Burgundy, south of Paris.
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