Basque-ing [and other French travels]

While in Biarritz, Bobby I and I decided to take a couple day trips to neighboring towns near the French Basque region.  Lourdes, the first of the two cities, sits at the base of the Pyrenees mountains an hour and a half south of Biarritz.  It is known as a pilgrimage site for the Catholic faith.  Over a span of time (beginning in 1858), “Our Lady of Lourdes”, better known to us as the Virgin Mary, appeared to a young girl 18 times.  Now, some 5 million visitors flock to the town each year to see the grotto where the apparitions took place and drink its holy water, which is said to have natural healing powers.

The second of the two cities, Bordeaux, is well-known for its vineyards.  According to some sources, Bordeaux earns 14.5 billion euros each year with its wine sells/exports alone.  The city is also a large university town, which boasts a young vibrant culture with many bars, shops, and restaurants.


Streets of Lourdes

Our Lady of Lourdes cathedral was built shortly after the apparitions noted in 1858.  An estimated 200 million people have visited the shrine since 1860, and the Roman Catholic Church has officially recognized 68 healings considered miraculous.  The church itself is “new” by Italian standards, but the mosaic work is absolutely gorgeous.

Our Lady of Lourdes cathedral

View from the rooftop terrace of the cathedral

The top of the Cathedral

View of the grotto below (where the seats are)

One of the many mosaics


Inlaid mosaic steps depicting the natural spring water

Up close of the steps


Joan of Arc

The mosaic had thousands of pieces and interesting layers

The actual grotto was rather small, but people waited patiently in line to pass underneath the cave, run their hands over its surfaces, and then drink the water from the spring.  A statue of the Virgin Mary was placed above the grotto to symbolize the apparitions.

The grotto

Afterwards, people would take candles that they had purchased on site, light them, and say a prayer.  Each country/language had a designated spot for their candles.  Of course, we couldn’t believe that for the largest candle you could buy, the church wanted 140 Euros.  Yikes!

American section – each country had “This Flame Continues My Prayer” inscribed

Italian candle section (who knows why there is a Swiss candle in there)

As I stated before, the water from the spring is said to have healing powers.  All around town, you could buy special water jugs to fill up and bring home with you.  I think its a little sad that the church allowed the religious experience to become so incredibly commercialized.

“Come and drink at the spring and wash yourself there” – saying of the grotto’s healing power

People taking healing water from the spring

“Italian Shop” – they make a few Euros off the Italians

Along the pilgrimage path…..Who knew a religious pilgramage could be so lucrative?

A lot of times, pilgrims leave behind a piece of themselves as remembrance of their journey.  Some leave rosaries and others (generally religious groups and/or churches) come bearing a cross (no pun intended) to place on the church grounds.

Thousands of rosaries are left every year


View of the crosses with the cathedral in the background

Each region of a country leaves a cross for their pilgrimage; there were 20 + from Italy alone



The city of Bordeaux was much larger, much younger, and a lot less religious.  We spent most of the day walking around, enjoying the weather, and seeing some of the “top attractions”.

Our view from lunch – we had Thai food in France :)

One of the most beautiful parts of Bordeaux (which sits on the Garonne River) is the riverside park.  They have done a wonderful job of planting flowers, keeping the gardens beautiful, and making a reflecting fountain/splash pad that kids love to play in.  A German Navy boat happened to be on the river, but unfortunately they were finished giving tours for the day.

View of the riverside park (with German Navy boat in background)

Park by the river

German Navy boat

German Navy Boat

Bummed they couldn’t give us a tour

The stitching software for this panorama made me chuckle…anyone see something strange?

Beautiful fountain/reflection

One of the largest public plazas in Bordeaux is home to the Monument aux Girondins and its fountains.  The fountains are dominated by horse figures, which are 1/2 horse and 1/2 fish.

Monument to the Girondins and its fountains


Half horse/ Half fish with bird claws

Our last stop of the day was in the Bordeaux public gardens and nearby Roman ruins.  It seems like every trip we take, we cannot escape the Romans and their ancient edifices.

Public gardens

Public gardens

Roman ruins

Roman ruins

Leaving the city (on either end of the “old town”), there are impressive gates.

One of the gates in the city

Another gate into the city