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Visit the caves of Dordogne

In the Vézère valley as throughout the territory of Périgord, you will find many caves to visit, famous throughout France and even in the world. Some leave a testimony of the prehistoric heritage of the Dordogne: the Lascaux cave is one of them, but she is far from being the only one! Others contain geological treasures which defy gravity and millennia. Which caves to discover? How to organize and prepare for your visit? Follow the guide, from Lascaux to Lacave!

Prehistoric cave or geological cave? 

Caves, like chasms, are part of the heritage of Périgord. In the Vézère valley in Dordogne, you can visit prehistoric caves (Lascaux) and geological caves (Proumeyssac ou Maxange). But you will not discover the same treasures in both! 

Prehistoric caves

Prehistoric caves are cavities that have formed naturally, over time. They were borrowed by our ancestors as Neanderthal man or the first Cro-Magnon men. In these caves, paintings, rock carvings, animal bones et tools were discovered. The reason for their use is still a subject of research for specialists although many believe that these caves would be like sanctuaries. Not to be confused with shelters occupied as a refuge. Les Eyzies for example, the Cro-Magnon shelter gave his name to “Cro-Magnon man”. Specialists also speak of decorated caves, in reference to the drawings of prehistoric artists. Lascaux is one of the most famous.

Geological caves

These contain other wonders and treasures, created by spectacular geological processes. You can observe there stalactites, stalagmites, columns, draperies and other limestone formations. These caves, like Dumb ou Proumeyssac, allow us to discover concretions, sometimes a few dozen meters underground, which were formed over thousands, even millions of years. The discovery of access to these caves is often due to chance. It's the case des caves of Maxange, visited for the first time in 2000!

Good to know :

There is a difference between caves and chasms and it is evident upon entry. The cave is a more or less deep horizontal cavity, it is accessed via a wall. The Cro-Magnon man left many traces there.

The entrance to the chasms is vertical: it is formed by collapse or dissolution of rocks, as at the Padirac chasm or the Proumeyssac chasm.

Which caves to visit in Dordogne? 

There are a very large number of caves in the Vézère valley, which have been arranged to facilitate the visit. Some are particularly popular, others offer amazing experiences: caving notably. So you're spoiled for choice, but here are some ideas to help you decide!

What are the most popular caves in Dordogne?

The Lascaux cave

The Lascaux cave, Montignac-Lascaux, is one of the most famous in the world. A must-see during a stay in the Dordogne! The original cave, currently closed to the public, features spectacular cave paintings. They are considered the most important examples of Paleolithic cave art

  • Visit Lascaux II, the first facsimile of the original Lascaux cave, also in Montignac-Lascaux. An intimate torchlight visit is proposed.  
  • Don't miss the International Center for Cave Art, also called Lascaux IV, the last facsimile, where you can admire the entirety of the paintings of the famous cave and the majority of engravings never represented before. Many activities await children and adults to discover all the mysteries of prehistory.

The Rouffignac cave

It is one of the largest caves in Périgord Noir, also known as “cave of a hundred mammoths". This cave, which houses a wide variety of cave paintings, is to be discovered by electric train. This makes it a place easily accessible for all.

What are the most spectacular caves? 

The Grand Roc cave

Very close to the Vézère and the village of Eyzies, the Grand Roc cave is a concretion cave. You will come across stalactites and other stalagmites during a accompanied visit of a guide.

The Font-de-Gaume cave

Still in Les Eyzies, the cave of Font-de-Gaume offers an unforgettable spectacle. This site, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is in fact the last cave decorated with polychrome paintings of Europe open to the public. On the program: no less 200 representations of animals.

The caves of Maxange

The caves of Maxange have a particularity: its discovery is relatively recent since it dates from the year 2000. This concretion cave offers a magical show, with thousands of eccentrics : limestone formations that go in all directions. The kids will love it!

The cave of Lacave

Lacave is located in the Dordogne valley, in the Lot department, all near Rocamadour. This other geological cave, which houses lakes and a room of wonders, is accessible by little train then on foot.

And also: visit the other sites of the Dordogne Valley

Many caves and caverns are worth the detour in the Périgord noir ! Here are other ideas that could liven up your vacation:

  • Bernifal Cave, to see with children, by the light of a torch;
  • Bara-Bahau Cave, classified as a Historic Monument, also called the Bear Sanctuary;
  • Domme's cave, one of the “Most Beautiful Villages of France”;
  • The Tourtoirac cave, in the Auvézère valley;
  • The Beaussac cave, in caving mode.

Do you want to see chasms? So see you at the Proumeyssac chasm ou at the Padirac chasm, to take in the depths of the earth.

Organize a visit to a cave in Dordogne

How to buy tickets to visit the caves?

To come to International Center for Cave Art of Lascaux, or to see other emblematic places of Périgord, such as the caves of Maxange, it is strongly recommended to reserve online tickets. This will allow you to save time on site by choosing a time slot, but also to benefit from a preferential rate. But be careful, this advice does not apply everywhere. In sites where it is not possible to book online, such as Rouffignac, remember to come in advance to be sure to visit the cave(s) that interest you.

You can also opt for a combined ticket, with different activities: Lascaux IV , the Thot park et the prehistoric shelter of Laugerie-BasseEg.

Choose a visit: free or with a guide?

Some prefer to wander freely, however, for the sake of preservation, the caves of Périgord can be discovered on a guided and commented tour: 

In Lascaux, for example, you can opt for a audio-guided discovery from the cave, for narrated visits (for children) or accompanied visits of a guide. In certain caves like the Great Rock, on the other hand, the visit is always done with a guide. Remember to find out when you prepare your stay!

How to dress to visit the Dordogne caves?

In the caves, it is always cool: this is a real advantage in the summer season! But this also means that temperature differences are significant. So remember to take away a little wool and cover you when you visit the caves. Comfortable shoes and suitable for walking are also recommended.

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