This world-famous pilgrimage centre is a place of magnificent churches and abbeys. Visit the Sanctuaries and sample the water reputedly possessing miraculous healing properties. 2008 was the 150th anniversary of Bernadette Soubirous’s claims to have seen the Virgin Mary after discovering the healing spring in a cave near the town. The religious sites are usually closed in winter but you can still visit the first-class Pyrenean Museum housed in Lourdes’ foritified chateau which guards the Vallees des Gaves. ( A ‘gave’ is a mountain stream). The fortress has a history going back to the eighth century and the museum includes indoor and outdoor exhibits of the mountain dwellers’ home life and culture, a history of mountaineering in the Pyrenees and wildlife. Guided tours last 1hr (daily in summer). Tel: (00 33) 5 62 42 37 37 for more details of tariffs and times or contact Lourdes Tourist Office. Visitors should be aware that with millions of visitors each year, Lourdes is the world’s most popular place of Christian pilgrimage and has necessarily become commercialised.
To see the town from another angle, take the chair lift to the top of Pic du Jer for fabulous panoramic views over Lourdes, Tarbes, Pau and the mountains.
The historic military stronghold of Tarbes, capital of Hautes Pyrenees, is home to more than half the department’s inhabitants. A history of conflict and destruction shows in the lack of architecture prior to the eighteenth century even though Tarbes has origins going back to the third century. The town, on the banks of the Ardour, gained a new elegance and extended beyond its walls during the 1700s.
Tarbes is the traditional garrison town of the hussars and they still parade for visitors. In 1806, Napoleon I built his famous national stud here to breed the Anglo-Arab cavalry horse, the cheval Tarbais, and Tarbes is known as the city of the horse. Visitors can see flat racing and trotting and the Haras (stud farm) covering 8 hectares in the centre of town organises events throughout the year, such as the July Horse Festival. The family can enjoy guided tours in July and August to see the stables, forge, saddlery and horses, along with exhibitions and sculptures. Pre-booking is necessary out of season - tel: (00 33) 5 62 56 30 80.
Visit the home of Tarbes’most famous son, Marshall Foch, supreme commander of the Allied Forces in WWI. View his medals and memorabilia - including the armchair in which he died - at his birthplace on rue de la Victoire. Pyrenean panoramas form a backdrop for picturesque garden walks. Make for the Jardin Massey where rare plants mix with contemporary art and where you can also visit the hussars’ museum. In town, there’s good shopping, a daily morning market and Thursday flower market. Look for the sculpture of a swan killing a bear in the cathedral cloisters.