Today I was one of over 5 million tourists and pilgrims to visit the town of Lourdes each year. Yes, 5 million. Lourdes is a famous little place because of 14 year old Bernadette Soubirous who, back in 1858, saw a vision of the Virgin Mary in a cave (she saw the vision 18 times actually). It then became a centre for pilgrais. Now there are so many visitors each year, that Lourdes actually has more hotels per square kilometre than any place in France other than Paris (270 hotels).
It was obviously low season when we went because not only were we part of only a few dozen people visiting the Sanctuary built over the famous cave, but it seemed that every single café was closed. Parts of Lourdes looked like a ghost down but in the centre where the 15,000 inhabitants do their living, things were more alive.
We chose Brasserie La Belle Epoque right across from the train station. The place was empty and we interrupted the staff drinking coffee together on the terrace out back before the dinner service started. Café Belle Epoque is a wonderful mixture of charming and tacky. Large gold chandeliers hang from the ceiling. Throughout the eating area are clear class columns filled with bubbling water. Each have a white statue of the Greek Goddess Athena in the centre of the column illuminated by multicoloured lights.
They got the hot chocolate right though. This is the type of hot chocolate I could drink every day. It is light with just a touch of chocolate and even came with a little cookie.
Verdict: While visitors to Lourdes must see the Sanctuary and the fort, I would easily add a hot chocolate at Belle Epoque as another must do while in town. Brasserie La Belle Epoque 16 ave de la Gare, Lourdes, France