After leaving Gavarnie, we needed the trappings of a large town – principally affordable internet access – and headed to Lourdes, as it was on our planned route north and might be interesting to see.
I have been to a Catholic pilgrimage destination before (Fatima, in Portugal), but found Lourdes even more depressing. The sight of endless streams of wheelchair bound invalids bound for an icy dip in the holy water seemed sad – many of them had clearly spent a significant amount of money in travelling to Lourdes, but it left me feeling that their trust and faith in the Catholic church was being systematically exploited. Even by the church’s own account, they only see around one genuine miracle per decade in Lourdes – I suspect my local hospital sees more surprise cures than this.
Although access to the Sanctuaires Notre Dame de Lourdes itself is free of charge, the town clearly makes most of its money from the pilgrimage business. Lourdes has more hotels than anywhere in France except Paris and has more than 220 religious souvenir shops. Indeed, such are the amounts of money involved that the town reverses the direction of flow of its one-way road system (which runs around the sanctuary area) every fortnight in order to enable all of the souvenir shops to get an equal share of the pickings.
On a positive note, although the free wireless in MacDonalds was not working, we did find an excellent internet cafe courtesy of the Lourdes tourist information office. Cyber Cafe, on Rue de Bourg, is highly recommended. You can use your own laptop on their wireless network or use their PCs. The manager is very friendly and speaks English, should your French not be up to “Je voudrais utiliser votre WiFi [pronounced weefee], s’il vous plait”.
Lourdes also has a huge aire that’s well signposted throughout the town (sp. Arrouza) although it does cost €10 for 24 hours. Here’s a short video showing the site: