When we first made plans to visit Dordogne, we had two main purposes in mind. One was the obvious food and wine tasting. The other is obvious only to those who already have a bit of knowledge about this region and know what makes it so unique as a destination for both local and international tourists.
The Dordogne department has hundreds of caverns. Some of them were discovered quite recently, while others were known as a tourist attraction already in the early 19th century. While some caverns are not open to the public, others have become popular tourist attractions and attract curious visitors from all over the world.
I visited four different caverns during our week in Dordogne and nearby. All four were unique and fascinating in their own way. The first cavern I got to explore was the Gouffre de Proumeyssac . We were given the option to walk down a tunnel together with a guide, or pay extra to be lowered down in a basket from the ceiling – the way the explorers did when they first discovered the cavern. As much as I would have wanted to choose the basket, my fear of heights made me chose the tunnel instead. The first sight that met me as I entered the cavern was a sign that said “No photos allowed”. How disappointing. The tour itself was no disappointment, though. In complete darkness, we were guided to a view point inside of the cavern. A light show entertained us as it illuminated the cavern and its different formations, in harmony with relaxing music.
The second one on the list was Les Grottes de Maxange . These two caverns were named after the man who discovered them, whose name was Angel – and in honor of his father; Maximilien. Les Grottes de Maxange was without a doubt my favorite visit. All along the narrow cavern are thousands of very small eccentric concretions. They are tiny stalactite-formations which instead of growing vertically, they grow in all directions. A display like this is very rare, and it’s as beautiful as it is unusual.
Third one up was supposed to be the prehistorical famous Lascaux , but unorganized as we were, we forgot to check the opening hours before arrival, and got there almost two hours before the first tour. We changed our plans and visited castles and nearby villages instead of caverns that day. However, the following day was a new opportunity to explore another cavern: Gouffre de Padirac .
To enter the Gouffre de Padirac, we were given the choice between a whole lot of stairs, or an elevator. As I’m terrified of heights, I chose the stairs – as it gives me a stronger feeling of control. A feeling of exhaustion and relief as I descended what I thought was the bottom of the cavern. But then there was another set of stairs. People had already gotten in line for the gondolas and we spent perhaps forty minutes in line, waiting for our turn. But it was worth every minute of the wait. The gondola ride on the lake (completely formed by rain) was romantic and felt somewhat supernatural. What a unique way of exploring a cavern!
The final cavern we visited was Les Grottes de Lacave . The cavern is entered on a small electric train, which itself was a fun experience. Inside of this large natural cavern, there’s an incredible display of stalactites and stalagmites. During one part of the tour, visitors enter an area where there’s no light except from ultraviolet – displaying the incredible formations in a whole different way. A magical way.
I never thought I’d ever see anything as supernatural looking and incredible as the things I saw while visiting these caverns. And yet, there they are, underground, in the southwest of France.
Les Grottes de Maxange
Gouffre de Padirac
Les Grottes de Lacave