Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hike, Eat, Drink, and Contemplate the Pyrenees near Lourdes, France

There is no question that Lourdes in southern France, on the edge of the Pyrenees, is a powerful spot. Indeed, the entire stretch of mountains, from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, possesses several mystical spots, many associated with Mary.

I have traversed several of them, and also a few in northern Spain. All are remote places in overwhelmingly beautiful natural vistas of mountain, ocean, or forested valleys.

Maybe because of this, on my pilgrimage to Lourdes, I felt overwhelmed by the number of other visitors. After paying my respects to Our Lady, I sought to return to the quieter contemplation of the pilgrim’s road.

The tourist office in Lourdes had just the answer. The voie verte, the green hiker’s and biker’s path, from Lourdes south, went right into the Pyrenees. I could take it from the town edge or I could catch a local bus and pick it up deeper into the mountains. I opted for the local bus so that I could start in the midst of the wild and then trek back into Lourdes on my own foot power.

I now realize that the two activities are the perfect balance for the sacred traveler who wants both to pay a visit to one of the world’s great shrines and to partake of the landscape that Saint Bernadette herself would have seen as more familiar than the Lourdes of today. It is a landscape that still inspires transcendent experience.

To take to the path, visit the tourist office for a good map and advice, asking for La Voie Verte des Gaves, the name of the walking and cycling route south of Lourdes.

Culinary Miracles: Hidden in those hills is a culinary miracle, the restaurant Le Viscos in the village of St-Savin ( I dare say, hiking will never be the same after resting my feet and ordering chef Jean-Pierre Saint-Martin’s shorter—five course instead of seven course—walker’s menu, Le Menu de Retour Balade.

Other Marian Routes: If you are interested in powerful but little known Marian sites along coastal northern Spain, fishermen’s shrines dedicated to Mary, please see Chapter 9—San Vicente de la Barquera to Navia in The Spiritual Traveler Spain (

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