A Day in Lourdes by Rosario Albar
This article was published in the Philippine News on December 18, 2002.
The grotto of Lourdes
Bayonne is the ideal home base for explorations in the Atlantic southwest of France (the Basque country).  This town has distinctive architecture characterized by colorful window shutters.  It also has an impressive Gothic cathedral with a medieval cloister.  Bayonne reminds me of Zurich without the glitz.  From Bayonne, it is an easy 15-minute train ride to Biarritz, the surfing capital of France and an elegant seaside resort.  Biarritz has a long promenade with breathtaking views of the Atlantic as it crashes into the rocky shores below. St. Jean de Luz is a picturesque village just south of Biarritz.  It has a vibrant harbor, ornate iron balconies and a protected beach  And I love its sleepy, small town feel that is suddenly transformed after siesta.  But my main destination during this trip was Lourdes, the second most visited city in France.  I wanted to see the grotto where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to the young girl, Bernadette Soubirous (this story was popularized by the movie, Song of Bernadette).

Approaching Lourdes, I could see the majestic Pyrenees mountains extend for miles into the countryside.  Arriving in town and walking towards the grotto, my attention was drawn towards the hill on which sits the medieval Chateau-Fort de Lourdes.  Then to my dismay, I saw shop upon shop selling all kinds of religious articles and souvenirs lining the street leading to the basilica.  Thankfully, as I entered the gate into the pilgrimage grounds, I was welcomed by a long expanse of green lawn and a fast moving river to the right.  The Upper Basilica is a striking three-story structure built above the grotto where Mary appeared.  There is also a cavernous underground basilica named after Pius X. 

As I stood in front of the grotto, I felt peace and tranquility wash over me.  It was easy to imagine how beautiful and wild it must have been in 1858 when Bernadette was tending her sheep in this setting.  Today, people were standing in line to walk under the grotto - to touch its walls, to pray, and to feel the presence of Mary.  I took my plastic bottles and filled them with water from the spring that Bernadete had once scraped from the earth with her hands.  Then I drank the cool, refreshing water, washed my face, dubbed my neck, arms and legs with the water then took my candles to the designated spot where I lighted them as I prayed for my friends and loved ones.  I felt truly blessed!


Geting there: 
Delta Airlines has direct flights from San Francisco to Charles de Gaulle Airport to Paris.  There is a train service from De Gaulle to central Paris.  Alternatively, Air France has a shuttle service that will take passengers to several points in the city.

There is TGV  train service from Paris to Bayonne leaving from Montparnasse station daily.  Trip time is approximately five hours.

There are serveral trains per day from  Bayonne to Lourdes.  This is a two-hour train ride.  There are bus and train services from Bayonne to Biarritz and St. Jean Luz.

Hotels:  Mercure Agora Bayonne
On the river Nive and within easy walking distance to the old town and Cathedral;  restaurant in premises; quiet location.  For more info on this hotel, check their website at

Itsaski in Bayonne - seafood specialty; on Quai Jaureguiberry overlooking the river Nive
Cafe Leffe in Biarritz - view of Plage du Port-Vieux

Bayonne has distinctive architecture characterized by colorful window shutters.

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