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At an altitude if 1,375 ft (420 m), in the heart of the French Pyrenees lies the pilgrimage destination Lourdes. Every year during the main pilgrimage season (which normally lasts from Easter until November) more then 5 million visitors from all over the world travel to Lourdes. With over 230 hotels, apartments and 13 campsites, Lourdes has the second largest number of hotels in France.
Lourdes was not always this busy. Up until 1858, Lourdes was a quiet and sleepy village with approximately 4,000 inhabitants. This all changed when on 11 February 1858, Bernadette Soubirous, a 14- year old local girl, saw the virgin Mary. The Virgin appeared in total 18 times, in a small grotto called Massabiele along the banks of the river Gave de Pau. In this vision Bernadette was told to go to the village priest and tell him to build a chapel on this holy place. Since the apparitions, Lourdes has become one of the world's leading Catholic Marian shrines destinations and the number of visitors is still growing each year.
During one of the apparition Bernadette walked in trance and fell over. At the place were she fell on the ground she started digging and a small puddle of water appeared. The puddle became bigger and bigger, and formed the famous sacred spring of Lourdes. Over the years a lot of ill and disabled people which tour the spring claim to be healed by the therapeutic powers of it.
The tourist destination Lourdes might surprise you because of the blatant commercialism. Practically every shop is dedicated to the sale of indescribable religious kitsch: Bernadette in every shape and size, key rings, empty bottles that you can fill with holy Lourdes water, bellows, candles, sweets and illuminated plastic grottoes. But despite all of that, Lourdes is an incredible and impressive place to visit in France!