When to visit Lourdes:
Visiting Lourdes is not part of the Fanjeaux Program. If you would like to visit Lourdes, the best way to do so would be to arrive a few days prior to the start of the Fanjeaux Program and visit Lourdes on one's own time. The closest major city to Lourdes is Toulouse, the city into which everyone flies to begin the Fanjeaux Program. (Visiting Lourdes at the end of the program is not logistically feasible because the Fanjeaux Program ends in Paris.) I really wanted to visit Lourdes. In addition to being able to enjoy Lourdes, arriving a few days early gave me the opportunity to adjust to the time change in a serene environment where I was not in a rush to do anything. By the time I met up with the group in Toulouse to start the Fanjeaux Program, I had already acclimated, was well rested, and ready to go. How to get to Lourdes: Fly into Toulouse a few days or so before the Fanjeaux Program begins. Some people spend a day in Lourdes, and others spend several. There is direct train access from Toulouse to Lourdes. You may either take a taxi or a bus from the airport to the train station. It was very easy to take the bus as it departs regularly right from the airport and costs little money. After arriving at the train station, purchase the train ticket to Lourdes. I could have saved a little money by purchasing the ticket in advance (online), but I didn't want to risk wasting a train ticket if my flight ended up being delayed. Do your research before leaving the USA. Know the train numbers and times and know which ones are direct. I printed the train schedule at home and brought it with me to France. It would have come in handy if I would have needed to take a different train than I was intending. It's much better to take a direct train because it is faster, and there is no need to change trains in the middle of the journey. Since I do not speak French, I didn't feel like fooling around with a non-direct train and getting lost during a transfer.
Advice for those who do not speak French:
I do not speak French. So, before I left, I printed a few different messages in French that I knew would come in handy. One can simply go to Google Translate and type a message in English and have it translated to French. The translation is not always exactly perfect, but the messages sure come in handy. Here are a few examples of the messages I brought with me...already typed out in French:
- "Good Day, I need to take the bus to the train station. Do you know where I need to go to buy a ticket for the bus?"
- "Good Day. I need to take the bus to the train station. Do you know where the bus is located? Thank you for your help."
- "Good Day, I need to buy a round trip ticket to Lourdes leaving today on train #xxx departing at xxp.m. I'd like to return on train #xxx departing at xxp.m. on (day and date). Thank you for your help."
When I realized the man selling me the train ticket could not speak English, I simply pulled out the piece of paper with my pre-printed message and gave it to him. It was simple. Once I was in Lourdes, so many people spoke English I had few issues; but I found it very helpful to have the signs for those times when I needed to make sure the person would know exactly what I needed in terms of locations, dates, times, etc. I also carried a map showing the place I was staying just in case I would need to get a taxi to take me home. It was helpful to carry a pocket translator as well. If I had the time, I would have hired one of our French professors to teach me basic French words for the trip. I ran out of time so I learned the most useful thing I could...and I used it tons of times with great results. Plug this into Google Translate and have it translated to French. It would be good for you to hear what it sounds like in French...so simply click the correct button on Google Translate, and it will pronounce it for you. "Good day. I'm sorry, I do not speak French. Please, do you speak English?" This respectful approach worked extremely well when approaching French speakers during the entire program. It encouraged them to be helpful in a very gentle, respectful manner. It's much better than abruptly demanding assistance by saying "Do you speak English?"
Where to stay in Lourdes:
Note: It's extremely important to book a room as early as possible. Outside of Paris, Lourdes has the largest number of hotels in the country. Prices vary from reasonable to completely unreasonable. I was by myself and really did not have the money for a hotel. There are several places run by religious sisters for pilgrims that are very economically priced. For example, I paid roughly 22 euros a night where I stayed (no meals). Some others charge 35 euros or a little more for the room and meals. They vary. In any case, you can save a lot of money by staying with the Sisters . I originally wanted to stay with Dominicans, and found there were two possibilities. One was a bit too far out of town. The walk back is a little dicey, and they want people to get back early. I decided not to stay there because I wanted to be able to attend the evening candlelight processional (a highlight of a visit to Lourdes). The candlelight processional takes place in the evening. The other place run by Dominicans is close to the sanctuary grounds, but the house was full. It's wise to book in advance. When I found out the places run by Dominicans were not going to work, I was able to get a list of places run by other religious sisters. I've attached that list to this email. I sent emails to those with email addresses. A few responded indicating they were available on my dates. I ended up staying with nuns who spoke Spanish - Sœurs de l’Amour de Dieu. It worked well for me because I know no French, but I speak basic Spanish. Most of the nuns there speak only Spanish; but one, Sister Gloria, is fluent in English. I really liked staying there. I had my own room and my own bathroom and shower. It was right around the corner from Lourdes City Tourist Information and was on the bus route. It did require a 15 minute walk to the sanctuary grounds (rather hilly); but again, one can always take a taxi or the bus.
- Housing option run by Dominicans that is close to the Sanctuary grounds: foyer familia email@example.com
- Housing option run by Dominican Sisters far outside of town (not recommended b/c of the location and time they want you to return in the evening): firstname.lastname@example.org
- For a list of places run by other types of religious sisters, read the attached list. (I stayed at the one that indicates Spanish is spoken.)
Note: When I emailed these places, I always included two versions of my message within the same email - one in English and one in French. That way, the recipient would be able to read my message even if she/he did not know English. Again, I used Google Translate for this. If someone emailed me back in French, I simply copied the message and put it into Google Translate in order to translate it into English. If you don't speak French, it would be wise for you to ask each place if anyone who works there knows English. That way, you'll know what to expect.
A quick word about meals: Many of the places run by religious sisters offer meals with the stay. I have special dietary needs so I was in charge of getting my own meals in town. Looking back on it, I'm glad I did so. Having breakfast included is helpful. If you pay to have lunch and/or dinner, it can be inconvenient depending on what your schedule is. The place I stayed was a pleasant 15 minute walk (with hill) away from the sanctuary grounds. I found I was busy enough all day that I had no desire to walk back for meals. I just went to a little grocery store each day and also packed food in my backpack. If one stays in a place very close to the grotto, then the meal option would make more sense. To each his/her own.
A few comments about sanctuary activities:
- The Baths - Many people visit Lourdes in order to drink of or bathe in its waters - waters which are said to have healing capabilities. The water is chilly. Don't expect a luxurious spa situation. There was significant flooding in Lourdes in the late fall of 2012, and the baths were damaged so some of the following details may have changed. When I went, there were one or two windows of time each day when the baths were open. I waited as little as 10 minutes one day, and I waited over 5 hours another day (Pentecost Sunday) to bathe. It just depends on the day. If it is an extremely busy day, the line to bathe will close early. For example, the baths may be scheduled to be open from 2:00 - 4:00 p.m.; but if it is an extremely busy day and the line has exceeded capacity, the workers will close access to the line early. If you really want to bathe, get there early to avoid disappointment.
- How to Bathe - If you are interested in bathing and you are hesitant to try, realize it involves a very respectful process of disrobing. Volunteers from all over the world assist those who bathe. If you have questions about the process and you need to speak with someone who speaks English, find a volunteer with a British Flag on the name tag. All of the volunteers wear name tags with at least one flag on it. The flags indicate the languages the volunteer speaks.
- Drinking the Water - There is a bank of water taps on the side of the Rosary Basilica just down from the Grotto. That is where you should fill up any containers you want to fill. Reasonably priced containers of various sizes may be purchased all over town so you do not need to bring any with you. It is less expensive to purchase containers when you are off of the grounds. If you do not want to carry the water with you while you are in France, you may actually pay to have some shipped back home. There is an office near the water taps that can assist. There is no fee for the water itself.
- Candlelight Procession/Torchlight Marian Procession - A highlight. Buy a candle with a protective paper sleeve (so the melted wax doesn't drip on you) and participate. Candles are readily available for purchase in most stores in town and from little carts in the grotto (more expensive). The processional happens rain or shine every evening. If you prefer not to walk the route, grab a spot on the upper basilica so you can watch the procession from above. (I've attached a postcard photo that shows the route of the procession from this spot.)
- Grotto - Where Mary, the Mother of God appeared. People line up to slowly walk through the Grotto and touch the rock on which Mary appeared. This may take just a few moments or several minutes. I was there when it was very busy and noticed the line tended to be shorter for a brief window around dinner time. There are also benches at the Grotto where one may sit.
- Blessed Sacrament Procession - This procession ends in the underground St. Pius X basilica. Once in the basilica, they do the blessing of the sick. This may be of interest to some.
- Important! Get a schedule of events before you go so you'll have a sense of what is taking place once you get there. Also, when you are actually there, stop by the information booth (marked with an "i" on the sanctuary map) to get a more precise schedule of what will take place the exact days you are there. There are large, regularly scheduled events that take place each day as well as events that seem to just pop up out of nowhere. There are many things to do. That is why it is best to have an understanding of the regularly scheduled events before you go. Upon arrival, go to the sanctuary's information building for an up-to-date schedule for the day(s) you are there. (Note: The sanctuary's information building is totally different and separate from the tourist information center for the city of Lourdes.)
To get information about Lourdes - the city and the sanctuary:
- To learn all about the sanctuary and the daily activities on the sanctuary grounds, visit the official sanctuary site: www.lourdes-france.org/index.php?goto_centre=ru&contexte=en&id=405 This is the official site of the sanctuary and contains all of the helpful information regarding it. Be sure to click on the British flag at the top right of the page to have it translated into English.
- You can also go online and visit the Lourdes Office of Tourism at www.lourdes-infotourisme.com Again, be sure to click on the British flag. This site includes information about other things to do in Lourdes and more. (Hint: Great bicycling/hiking opportunities)
- Map of the sanctuary grounds. This is helpful to keep in one's pocket. It also has an outdated 2012 schedule of events. (You will want to print out a current map/schedule or get one from the information center in Lourdes when you get there.)
- Listing of the accommodations run by religious sisters
- Postcard showing Torchlight Marian Procession/Candlelight Procession
Meet up with the group in Toulouse to start the Fanjeaux Program: Simply schedule your return via train to Toulouse. Once at the Toulouse train station, take the bus or a taxi to the airport. Time it well so you arrive at the airport when you are supposed to meet up with the group. You may also choose to arrive in Toulouse the night before meeting the group, but you'll then need to find a hotel in Toulouse. I do not have recommendations for that.