The candlelight procession at Lourdes. Photo: Pierre Vincent

Lourdes: A place like no other

‘HAVE you been to Lourdes before? I’ve been there 15 times. I love Lourdes.” The woman in the seat behind me on Ryanair Flight 5079 from Dublin was speaking to the person beside her in a voice too loud not to overhear.
The answer was inaudible, but the question was enough to remind me that there are people reading this who could lose and find me in this pilgrim site beloved of Irish people for decades.
My first and only visit to the shrine was an hour or so spent while passing through on a bicycle tour a few years ago. We were aiming for the Col du Tourmalet, one of the highest points on the Tour de France circuit, and lighting a candle in front of The Lady seemed a prudent precaution.
This time it was different. The Ryanair service began on April 1 and flies to and from Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyrenées airport every Friday and Monday until October. This familiarisation trip was a far more comfortable way of getting there than pedalling along the foothills of the Pyrenées.
Lourdes is different from any other city I have visited in France, and the difference starts in the airport.