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A small market town at the base of the Pyrenées in south-west France, Lourdes is France’s second most popular tourist destination behind Paris. Just over 150 years ago it was a reasonably insignificant place on the route to some Pyrenées spas. Then, in 1958 a 14-year-old nun, Bernadette Soubirous, saw a series of visions – later confirmed as bona fide by the Vatican – of the Virgin Mary in one of the town’s grottos.
Now, Lourdes sees more than five million tourists – the vast majority to see the pilgrimage sites – from all over the world. While it is renowned for religion, and much of the town is devoted to religious tourism, the town is a tourist hot-spot for other reasons, as well. The Catholic cathedral Basilica of the Rosary can be appreciated by any one, and Lourdes is also perfectly placed for active Pyrenées tourism – hiking, skiing and mountain biking, etc.