A note on Lourdes, France

Before embarking on this holiday, when I mentioned to people that we were stopping in Lourdes to watch a stage of the Tour de France I’d receive a sharp intake of breath followed by a gentle suggestion to stay outside of the city if possible. It was with extremely low expectations therefore that I entered the famous pilgrimage destination, and those expectations were certainly not exceeded.

multiple sizes & shapes of water bottles for sale

It felt as if we had stepped out of France and into a dirty, characterless, featureless town that smells like ancient incense and is full of bizarre souvenir shops displaying rosaries, virgin Mary statues and water bottles in all manner of sizes and shapes. Lourdes is famous for La Grotte, the cave where Bernadette Soubirous allegedly saw visions of the virgin Mary in 1858, and the destination where people now flock from across the world to touch the cave walls, bathe in the ‘healing’ waters and bottle the water to take home (interestingly, there is a hospital right next to La Grotte, but I won’t speculate).

the basilica above La Grotte at Lourdes

I don’t want to use this blog to push religious views, but I will just say that as a Christian I felt extremely uncomfortable with what I saw to be exploitation of a lot of very sick or disabled people…I know many people may disagree but I really didn’t like what I saw. I left La Grotte feeling quite upset and couldn’t wait to get out of the city; unfortunately though, the Tour organisers had planned a route finish in Lourdes so we were stuck for two days in a town with nothing to do besides the aforementioned tourist trap.

people filling their water bottles with Lourdes water

La Grotte

I guess what I am trying to say is this: if you’re in France, avoid Lourdes as much as possible to avoid disappointment. However, if you happen to have no other choice but to stop through, you can enjoy the myriad of cheap and extremely basic accommodation options, and possibly stop at one of the two eateries we discovered whilst we were there.

Café Leffe

The first, Cafe Leffe, was the obvious choice for us to eat dinner at as both Brendan and I love Leffe, a Belgian beer that’s considered a luxury in Australia. We browsed the menu and while the boys chose slightly ‘safer’ options (burger and pasta), I opted for beef carpaccio, very thin slices of raw beef served with salad, frites (fries), sundried tomato, parmesan and toasted bread. It was divine; fresh, full of flavour and a good lighter choice on a nice warm day.

beef carpaccio

The giant portions of Leffe were also enjoyed by all:

big beers!

The following evening we ate there again, and as the boys adventurously selected burgers (they were delicious, so who can blame them?) I chose a tartine fromage, which was basically a giant grilled cheese sandwich, with four types of delicious French cheese. We were happy to have found somewhere decent to eat for both evenings that we were in town. We also happened to find a great boulangerie nearby Café Leffe that not only sold amazing pastries for breakfast, but also remarkably fresh & tasty baguettes which we enjoyed for lunch on both days.

Brendan + pastry = happy

So I guess our experience of Lourdes wasn’t all bad. We got to see some Tour action, we ate some pretty delicious food, had some Leffe, and even managed to see a famous religious site. I don’t think I’d ever go back by choice, but if I had to, I know where I’d be eating!

Have you been to Lourdes? What were your thoughts?

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