Grotte de Pech-Merle, France: Pre-Historic Caves to Explore - PassPorter.com
PassPorter.com
Award-winning travel guidebooks

   guidebooks   |   news   |   podcasts   |   boards   |   blog   |   worksheets   |   photos   |   articles   |   updates   |   register   |  


Grotte de Pech-Merle, France: Pre-Historic Caves to Explore

by Cheryl Pendry, PassPorter Featured Columnist
Last modified 11-24-2010
  



PassPorter.com > Articles > International Travel > General Travel  

There can't be many places in the world that you can visit, where you can see the impact that man made on the planet tens of thousands of years ago. The Grotte de Pech-Merle in the Dordogne area of France is one such place that can lay claim to that fact.


This part of southwest France is literally packed with prehistoric caves, showcasing how life was thousands of years ago. As such, it was a tough choice to decide which of the caves to visit, although the help of my invaluable guidebooks gave me a shortlist to pick from. One that had attracted me from the start was the Grotte de Pech-Merle, although my concern with it was that it has strict limits on the number of people who can visit it. It's a maximum of only 700 people a day, with no more than 25 in each group that is taken on a guided tour. Another concern was its location. It’s not exactly close to civilisation, although I had no idea from what I could see on the maps exactly how winding the road would be to get there!

Eventually, after much internal debate with myself, I decided to head to Pech-Merle and we arrived just after 12.30pm. What I’d failed to notice on the website were the opening times of the ticket booths, with tickets on sale from 9:30 am until 12:00 pm and then from 1:30 pm until 5:00 pm, with tours running until they reach their maximum of 700 people. Fortunately, when we got there, the sign that greeted us told us that they did still have availability and we were able to get on the first tour of the afternoon.

Before we headed into the caves we first visited the nearby museum, which showcases some of the finds made inside the grotto and gives you some of the history to this place. The caves were discovered by two determined young boys, who had made a number of excursions inside despite explicitly being told not to. The caves' presence had been known for a few years, but it was in September 1922 that 15-year-old Andre David and Henri Dutertre, who was then just 16, finally stumbled upon the prehistoric area of the caves. The caves were then extensively surveyed, with electricity supplies put in, so that the caves could be opened to visitors.

France - Grotto de Pech-Merle photo
France - Grotto de Pech-Merle

One of the amazing cave drawings in Pech-Merle (taken from a photo board outside the grotto, as photos are not allowed inside) - photo by chezp

At the start of our visit, we learnt the stark reality of the damage that those visits were doing to the caves, hence the strict limits on the number of people allowed inside here. Our guide explained that there were fears that, eventually, the Grotto would have to close to the public in the same way that the caves at Lascaux, in the same region, had had to close. There, an exact replica was created, but somehow, in my research, that didn't appeal at all, as I wanted to see the real thing.

The tour lasts for 45 minutes and is delivered predominantly in French, although our guide spoke English well enough to point out a number of highlights in that language. Booklets are provided in a wide variety of languages, including English, and to be honest, if you're not a French speaker, you don't miss much on the tour.

This is a relatively easy tour, with remarkably few steps around the caves, apart from those to get inside and out again. That surprised me, as I had heard from relatives about other caves in the region where you practically need oxygen supplies on hand, as there are so many steps! Instead, the place is filled with ramps, although how on earth they laid the concrete for those without damaging the fragile environment, I cannot even begin to imagine! You only see around a third of the caves, which stretch for more than a mile underground.

These caves were originally carved out by an underground river around 60 million years ago. These were then inhabited by prehistoric man between 25,000 and 10,000 years ago, until they were blocked up by a rockfall at the end of the Ice Age.

Tip: Shooting in the Dark
If you want to take a photo in a very, very dark place, such as a cave, try to avoid using a flash. In place of a flash, try illuminating with a flashlight. If you set your camera to take a long exposure, you can move the light around rapidly during the exposure to get interesting details and effects in your photo. - tip contributed by Jennifer

Save This Tip


Today, you visit a number of different underground caverns, with many of them covered with imaginative drawings from all that time ago. When we entered, I will admit to feeling slightly sceptical. I knew that there would be drawings of horses, fish, bears, and mammoths, but I thought it would be a case of looking at them and desperately trying to work out what you were seeing. Not a bit of it! The images were immediately clear to everyone and it was fascinating to learn how some were created with flint engraving tools, others the result of paint being spat from the mouth on to the cave walls. It certainly gives you a good idea of the animals that these people encountered all that time ago. It was a fascinating experience to see things that had been created so long ago, still looking remarkably fresh today. Of course, you can’t touch them or photograph them, but all the same, to stand there and see them was a very humbling feeling. Suddenly you realise how old the world is and how small we all are in that.

The final chamber you go into gives you a close-up view of the Frieze of the Spotted Horses. It’s about 13 feet long and the actual shape of the rock was used to depict one of the horses. They're drawn back to back and are decorated with an amazing 252 spots and six negative hand prints. They're a real work of art, but despite that, there are fishes drawn over these in red. Tests have shown that the images of the fish are younger than those of the horses, so the experts known which was created first. Both are beautiful, but it’s a shame they had to go on the same spot.

Although the cave paintings are undoubtedly the highlights, the stalactites and stalagmites are also well worth seeing here. These things were literally about ten feet high in places, an amazing achievement when you consider that they take about 100 years to grow even a third of an inch! In the Hall of Discs, the limestone has crystallised over many years into circles that look like huge discs, about nine feet wide. Perhaps one of my favourite sights were stones that looked like marbles, having been perfectly shaped by water over thousands of years.

It’s not just nature’s wonders or human additions to the caves that you find here. Bear scratchings have been found here, along with bones from wolves and even tigers. I guess they roamed the whole world all that time ago!

The Grotte de Pech-Merle is open every day from early April until the end of October. It is located close to the village of Cabrerets. The admission fee for adults is €8, while children aged 5 to 14 years old are €4.50. Children under the age of 5 are free, although I’m not sure that this would be suitable for youngsters, as it is dark and can be scary down there. The caves are particularly busy in July and August and booking by phone in advance if you’re visiting during those times is recommended. You can find out more about the caves at http://www.pechmerle.com/


France - Grotto de Pech-Merle photo
France - Grotto de Pech-Merle

The entrance to the grotto. - photo by chezp




About the Author:
Cheryl and husband Mark live in England and love to travel, particularly to Disney, and they have made numerous visits to destinations across America and Europe. They recently completed their tour of every Disney theme park around the world, which culminated in their visit to Japan, including the Tokyo Disney Resort. Click here to view more of Cheryl's articles!


Recent International Travel Articles:
Bistro Chez Remy at Disneyland Paris - A Disneyland Paris Dining Review last updated 01-15-2015
Ratatouille at Disneyland Paris - A Disneyland Paris Attraction Review last updated 01-08-2015
The Holidays at Disneyland Paris - A Disneyland Paris Review last updated 12-25-2014
One Night in Venice, Italy - A Disney Cruise Line Port Review last updated 10-02-2014
Hong Kong Disneyland - A Disney Parks Review last updated 05-22-2014

More Related Links:
Serendipity 3 in New York City - A Dining Review last updated 12/29/2008
Hong Kong Disneyland Celebrates - A New Year In A New Disney Park last updated 12/18/2008
Valencia, Spain - Travel Tips last updated 11/27/2008
Bellagio of Las Vegas - Simply Bellissimo! last updated 1/08/2009
Hever Castle - Kent, England last updated 1/15/2009




Reader Comments:


View all comments in forum thread

So what do you think? Click here to share your comments, feedback, and experiences on this article and topic!

(Note: You must be a member of our PassPorter Message Board Community to leave comments. Join today for free!)




Updated 11-24-2010 - Article #545 



Read additional articles from PassPorter.com

Subscribe to our free e-mail newsletter, PassPorter News, published for more than 58,000 opt-in subscribers worldwide. As an added bonus for subscribing, you will receive a 20% discount coupon for the PassPorter Store -- no catch!

E-mail Address:

First Name:

E-mail Format:
-Text/Don't Know  

-HTML

 
 

We respect your privacy and never sell or rent our subscriber list. Subscribing will not result in more spam! We guarantee it.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Copyright 1999-2015
by PassPorter Travel Press, an imprint of MediaMarx, Inc.

       SEARCH
       LEARN MORE
Learn More With Our Award-Winning Guidebooks


 


RSS General PassPorter Community - Boards & Forums on Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disney Cruise Line, and General Travel - Globetrotting: General Travel Planning
PassPorter Community - Boards & Forums on Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disn...
Planning a trip around the globe, or just away for the weekend? Ask questions and share experiences! Forum Sponsored by CruisingCo.com


Disney Gift Cards
by chillepepa
22 Feb 2015 at 12:11am
Does any one know what the largest dollar amount you can get on a disney gift card at a Disney Store? Can a store just consolidate multiple disney...
(click title above to view replies)

Anyone ever sailed on the Carnival Fascination??
by sparks74
21 Feb 2015 at 2:40pm
We are looking at booking a quick cruise this summer and have found a great deal on the Carnival Fascination. Has anyone ever cruised on this ship? ...
(click title above to view replies)

Nancy, France?
by Teresa
10 Feb 2015 at 5:52pm
DD Kathryn will be living and working in Nancy next school year. I'm hoping and planning on going with her to help her get settled (and to make it...
(click title above to view replies)

New England whale watching
by chezp
30 Jan 2015 at 3:29pm
I'm having a bit of a d'oh moment... I've just realised that you can go on whale watching cruises in the fall in New England, and we're spending a...
(click title above to view replies)

Belize City ?
by disneydeva
30 Jan 2015 at 2:34pm
Can anyone reccomend a snorkle trip that I could take from where the cruise ship docks? We are sailing royal Carribbean and I am not really thrilled...
(click title above to view replies)



Total Visits: 6369

TING!
You've discovered a PassPorter's Club Concierge Tip!
Ting the bell to read your tip and save it in your Concierge Desk!


PassPorter ~ 1998-2015 ~ 17 Years of Making Dreams Come True!
Publishers of bestselling travel guidebooks and proud recipients of 13 national book awards
About PassPorter
About Us
Site Map
Press
Privacy Policy
Images & Artwork
Guidebooks
About
Previews
Buy
Reviews
Updates
Features
News & Updates
Articles
Podcasts
Photos
Message Boards
Newsletter
Concierge Desk
Desktop
Trips
Books & E-Books
Tips
Settings
Customs Office
Register Books
Book Updates
Contests
Checklists
Help & Info
Finding Answers to Questions
Help Desk
Using Your PassPorter Forum
Store Customer Service
E-Mail Us
Follow Us
PassPorter.com Front Page (Updated Daily!)
PassPorter Newsletter (weekly and free)
Latest Posts
Facebook
Pinterest
YouTube Channel
Questions? Check our Site Map and visit our Help Desk to learn how to contact us online, by e-mail, and by phone.
Please feel free to link to this page so that other vacationers can find it.