Hotel Gallia & Londres – dining
That evening, I enjoyed a Virgin Mojito on the terrace before dinner in a private booth in the Gallia & Londres’ elegant dining room. With smartly dressed waiters, silver service and a superb menu, I devoured my starters of baby salad, apple and smoked fillets of duck breast. This was followed by delicious sea bass with red pesto and superbly cooked veggies. Dessert was a tasty Bulgarian yoghurt with raspberry ice cream. The extensive menu also includes many meat options (foie gras, steak, veal) and an eclectic wine list. Sancerre and Chablis feature, alongside Bordeaux and Côtes de Provence varieties, and some excellent Bourgogne in addition to wines from the south-west of France.
The following day, I joined the international mass at the underground Basilica, standing among thousands of other pilgrims. What an experience! The singing alone gave me goosebumps. Do not miss the largest-attended Mass you’re ever likely to see. Suitably spiritually refreshed, I followed my bliss to Lourdes’s other attractions, starting with the castle. It’s easy to reach from the Hotel Gallia & Londres; simply walk across the Pont St Michel, turn immediately right and walk uphill past Bernadette’s paternal house on the left (also worth a visit) then take Rue Bourg up to the entrance.
This splendidly preserved castle boasts 1,000 years of history and was formerly a count’s residence, a royal prison, and an army barracks, and has its original keep and portcullis.
There’s a museum on Pyrenean history and a small botanical garden here. I loved the stunning views over Lourdes and the surrounding mountains.
Pic de Jer Funicular
Another great vantage point with views over the Sanctuary, Lourdes lake and beyond is the Pic du Jer at a lofty 1,000 metres above the city. Catch the S4 bus from the St Joseph gate at the Sanctuary or walk 20 minutes along the main street past Les Halles market.
The funicular is over 100 years old, but will still take you safely to the top in a few minutes. Stop for lunch as I did at the Haut de Lourdes restaurant and mingle with mountain bikers, day-trippers and locals over your salade de chèvre chaud and local beer.
The views are glorious, but what I loved most was watching the daredevil bikers descend like bullets from the starting gate next to the restaurant. Lourdes has regularly hosted the Downhill Mountain Biking World Cup and the hotel Gallia & Londres is a popular base for cycling groups tackling the hairpin climbs and descents of the Pyrenees.