First direct air link inaugurated
By Marian Curd
rr HE pilgrimage town of Lourdes, the surround ing beauty spots of the Pyrenees and the magnificent coastline from Biarritz to the Spanish frontier were launched into the holiday swim last week when a party of travel writers and journalists flew direct to Tarbes (Lourdes) on the first ever scheduled air service between London (Gatwick) and Lourdes.
British United Airways in taking the initiative of putting 60-seat Viscounts on to this route every Thursday have ensured that in addition to Lourdes, hundreds of miles of fascinating Pyrennean mountains, dozens of valleys, towns and villages plus a handsome coastline are now on the end of a
simple London-Lourdes flight of less than three hours.
Until now there has been no direct air service between London and Lourdes except for parties travelling by charter plane. Now. a traveller can book through any agent to leave London (Gatwick) any Thursday at 11.10 a.m. and set foot in Lourdes shortly after lunch.
In warmly welcoming the British journalists and travel writers M. Viron, Mayor of Lourdes, along with officials of the Chamber of Commerce. the airport, and the tourist trade, expressed the hope that I,ourdes besides being a great religious centre would soon become a holiday centre both for the summer months and for Winter sports.
For the individual or family that wishes to make a pilgrimage to Lourdes followed by a few days or a few weeks holiday among snowcapped mountain peaks, beautiful flower strewn valleys, waterfalls, pinewoods and beautiful sandy beaches (watch those currents though!) this flight is tailor-made.
In the course of only eight days last week we "pioneer" journalists swam at Biarritz, tried the thermal springs (and the dance hall and Casino) at Cauterets. went on horse-back to the snowline of the famous Cirque do Gavarnie and enjoyed the exhilarating atrrio
sphere of many centres as well endowed for their winter sports facilities as for their summer attractions.
Such were Luchon with its boulevard-style main street, its quaint rack and pinion railway to Superhagneres atop the mountains, and St. Lary in the Vallee d'Aure with its jet-speed telepherique, its smart new church and not least its fresh and attractive hotels.
Interesting village churches are everywhere though few can equal one with a truly uncanny air of mystery which we discovered standing about a km. from Aragnouet (on the D118, for the routeconscious). This church stands alone in a flower filled field beside a long valley.
It is a 12th century Knights Tempters church. It is abandoned. dirty and crumbling. There is a damp-soaked missal on the altar. Stained Mass cards, gutted candles, and a rough rag covering the altar stone show that sometime in recent years Mass has been celebrated there.
On a low bench stand a group of forlorn but beautifully carved statues of the type that once gazed upon pilgrims who passed this way en route to Campanella. But why such dirty abandonment for such a gem of a church?
All the attractions of this area are not above ground. In the pil
grimage section of your trip you will be amazed at Lourdes own manmade underground basilica of St. Pius X opened by the late Pope John, when Patriarch of Venice, only five short years ago.
Although many of the most astonishing potholes in the world, explored by France's Norbert Casteret are still reserved for the experienced, there are plenteous wonders and "Grottes" for anyone who cares to walk a mile or two into and under a mountain--such as at Betharram (a few kms. from Lourdes) which must be unique in giving its customers a ride up the mountain in a cable car, a tour of magnificent caves on five levels, and a boat ride down at the deepest level of the Grotto.
It was refreshing to find that many hotels in this area can be recommended from the four-star to the small and adequate which will accommodate you en pension or without meals. Bus and coach services are good, cars can be hired locally in Lourdes or in
nearby historic cum shopping centre of Pau.
True they're trying to put Lourdes on the tourist map. If this new service brings tourists who will also be pilgrims as well as attracting more pilgrims to stay on as tourists. there's no reason why all should not benefit.
• Return excursion fare by B.U.A. London (Gatwick) io Lourdes (Tarbes): £34. 9s. Service every Thursday from now to October 24.