Honey coloured medieval villages, rolling hillsides and towns clinging precariously to the cliff out crops are the magic of the Dordogne. But some of it’s most stunning treasures are underground, decorated by early man, carved and hacked by hand; hidden for thousands of years until bravery and daring coerced the courageous into the depths of the ground. Discover just a few of the Caves, Quarries and Gouffre of the Dordogne.
Pans De Travassac Slate Quarries Of Travassac
Walking down the narrow shale scattered ground I stare up at the slit of light 200 feet above my head. The creeping chill and pervading damp are reminders of that depth, but the beauty and extraordinary majesty of this quarry is awe inspiring. Seven massive vertical slate walls (Pans) each parallel to the other, are evidence of the endurance of the mining which began in the 1600s. Having now reached depths of up to 980 feet this part of the mine is no longer working, but is open to the public. (The last working mine in France for this high quality slate is nearby)
Young trees find hold amongst the huge grey gold boulders, which are capped with downey moss and feathered with ferns edging pathways dwarfed by the sheer slate walls rising behind them. Our voices ring clear and true in the confines of the walls as we slowly wander through this majestic site. The sun slides down the incline warming the stones and casting strong horizontal shadows which accentuate the sharp greens of the vegetation.
The gently sloping wooden walkway crossing the pit of black water emphasises the depth of the original workings, ultimately leading up and up through winding pathways to the small lookout balcony. Steel rails and spindles welded over the cliff edge giving a vertiginous view of the 200 foot drop.
Take your time here, enjoy the unspoilt majesty, this is a land of giants, a Jurassic Park of beauty.
Lascaux IV (The Lascaux Caves)
The dim lights warm the walls around me, shadows dance as the artists move across the scaffolding, meticulously copying the original palaeolithic paintings with tiny brush strokes. I’m in a cave large enough for 50 people, a sloping path takes me past huge bulls painted in reds, oranges, ochres and black. Abstract lines and dots add shape to the animals in the carefully recreated cavelike setting. This is Lascaux IV being constructed, a modern architectural home for a replica of the Palaeolithic cave paintings originally discovered in 1940. The caves opened to the public for a mere fifteen years from 1948 until 1963 and were permanently closed to preserve them and are now designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Lascaux II was created, a meticulous copy of the Hall Of Bulls, the largest of the ‘rooms’ of the original caves, but since 1963 very few people have seen any of the remaining stunning works of art.
Hugging the hillside and matching it’s contours Lascaux IV, ten years in it’s inception, is a mixture of the interactive, informative and visually stunning. Life-like in every way right down to being lit by flickering lights, imitating those that early man would have used, even the chill of the original caves has been reproduced giving a total immersive experience. As you move through the caves you will discover room upon room of stunning drawings, paintings, scratches and simple daubs depicting, horses, deer, bison, elk, lions, a rhinoceros and a bear.
Using bang up to date tablets the visitor is taken into the ‘caves’ to explore. Once the tablet is held up to a particular painting all the information is there on the tablet in the language of the visitor. After exploring the caves, there’s further areas discover the anthropologist’s laboratory, the original discovery of the caves, video and 3D film. The interactive link with modern art is a wonderful way to explore form, creating your own collage of modern and ancient art and sculpture all of which is saved to your tablet and ultimately to the web page where you can relive your day and get more information on the displays that most interested you.
Finish your tour with a walk across the roof of the building which seamlessly links into the hillside, take a seat and contemplate the valley around you and the plethora of other caves you can visit. Lascaux IV opens December 2016
Gouffre De Padirac (River Caves Of Padirac)
the legend of Padirac is that the devil formed the 99 metre round Gouffre with a lick of his heel in a challenge to Saint Martin. Lucifer would give him all the souls of the dammed peasants if the saint could cross the gaping abyss. Saint Martin, sitting astride a mule, spurred it across the gaping hole, reaching the other side safely leaving behind imprints of its hooves which can still be seen in the rock today. Defeated and angry the devil swept 75 metres into the depths of the Gauffre De Padirac. In fact the cave system was created by a river and the chasm by the fall of the cave roof sometime before the 3rd century.
We descended the eiffel inspired stairs to the lift and arrived at our flat bottomed boat. With low lighting there is an eeriness to this trip but also a tranquility as were punted along the 2 kms of river by our guide. We arrived at the second landing stage and began a gradual ascent and descent of some 300 steps getting astonishing views of the caves and rock formations from above and below. Azure water lit from below highlights the stack of disc like forms known as the pile of plates, out of the rock looms a lions head, huge stalactites, metres in length and breadth drip continuously into the water below, evidence of their continual growth.
After skirting by stairs, this cathedral like wonder, we again carefully got into our skiff for the punt back to the chasm. Arriving at the top, blinking slightly in the sunshine we mused over the creation of the Gouffre. Whether Lucifer or landfall it’s certainly an astonishing sight.
Pans De Travassac is near Danzenac In the Dordogne France
Lascaux IV is near Montignac, it opens on the 15th December 2016
Gouffre De Padirac is in Padirac in the Dordogne France
Disclaimer and Thanks
I visited the Dordogne as a guest of Dordogne Valley Tourism Boards and We Like Travel. All transfers, transport, food drink and accommodation were included in the media trip. I was not paid to publish this piece; all views and opinions are my own. Thanks to Hannah from We Like Travel for translating for us, Clemence from Brive Airport for her patience in driving us everywhere and all the teams from the tourism offices at Sarlat, Correze, Bergerac, Lot, Brive, Perigord, Welcome To Dordogne Valley and Dordogne Valley