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Prehistoric caves in Dordogne

Can anyone give guidance on how to decide which caves to visit and any advice? We have contacted a guide recommended in the RS book and she has offered a half day and all day tour. The Lescaux caves are not included in either tour and it’s a place we wanted to see. Thanks for any help!

Posted by
6608 posts

The gold standard is the Font du Gaume -- we visited it twice before it became so difficult to get in. Last I knew they were not doing reservations and you had to arrive at the crack of dawn to line up for one of 60 tickets for the day. Things change -- maybe there are guides who have access.

Lascaux II and IV are fabulous and not to be missed but they are recreations not the real deal -- so see Lascaux because it looks the way it looked when discovered and see the Font du Gaume because although weathered it is the real deal. WE also enjoyed Roffignac but the art is nowhere near as interesting as either Font du Gaume or Lascaux. You take a little train underground to see the drawings; they have great souvenir T-shirts.

The museum in Les Eyzies not far from the Font du Gaume is also quite wonderful if you have a serous interest in our ancestors who settled in that area.

Posted by
2133 posts

I’ll second @Janettravels44 - Lascaux is really worth a visit, even if it is a re-creation. The museum there is really well done. We coupled that with Rouffignac and really enjoyed that site as well - that one is the real deal and the little train ride in is fun.

On a related note, we also did Gouffre de Padirac while we were in the area. No prehistoric art or carving - just a huge cave system, underground river and ethereal lighting. Here’s the site: https://www.gouffre-de-padirac.com/en/home

Posted by
3340 posts

We did not have the opportunity to visit the
Lascaux caves on our tour of the Dordogne. It sounds like a great opportunity to hire a guide for Lascaux! That said, I would agree with Valerie that the Rouffignac was well worth the visit. We enjoyed it very much.

Posted by
3304 posts

One more heads up. There is a huge frieze of horses, carved in high relief, l’Abri du Cap Blanc, not too far from Font de Gaume. As I recall, it is now enclosed, and you have to go in with a guide. It’s a short stop, but highly worthwhile and easy to combine with FdG.
Just my opinion, but hiring the guide may be the way to avoid the complications of gaining admission to the caves.

Posted by
26 posts

We visited Dordogne in May 2017, so conditions may have changed since then. In mid-May, we were able to get into Font de Gaume with no problem, but by later in the month the line was very long by 8 AM. So the time of year you're planning to visit will make a big difference in how busy things are. Lascaux 4 is certainly well worth visiting, but (for me) not nearly as atmospheric as Font de Gaume. I am very claustrophobic, and didn't have any problem at Lascaux but definitely felt uncomfortable at Font de Gaume! I'm really glad I pushed through, however. Even more challenging, because tour group was larger, was Pech-Merle. This is in a slightly different area, east of Cahors, but the art is absolutely astonishing and again, I'm so glad that I forced myself to get through it. The museum at Les Eyzies is also very worthwhile. And there's many many things to do in Dordogne besides caves. We spent two weeks there and felt we'd barely scratched the surface, and could easily spend two more equally interesting weeks with no repetition.

Posted by
113 posts

Lydie
Can you tell me what caves are included in the guides tours? Thank you

Posted by
8390 posts

That sounds right because you don't need a guide for Lascaux. First, it's a reproduction and Lascaux guides give the tours.

A guide for all the other prehistoric sites would be excellent. When we went to Font de gaume in May a few years ago, after reserving on January 2, the day reservations opened, let's just say that I saw two private guides able to get their people in with a lot fewer hoops to jump through. You will learn so much.

Posted by
6608 posts

We just walked into Peche Merle a few ears ago with no crowds at all due to its relative isolation.

It is worth seeing but there is very little cave art in it of interest -- nice cave though. The spotted horses are spectacular (and apparently authenticated a few years ago -- when I saw them I was dubious that they were not some later work by pranksters). They are lovely but there isn't much else of interest in that cave IMHO None of this is in the class of Lascaux, Chauvet or Peche Merle. Chauvet is located in the Ardeche in absolutely stunning countryside. The original cave is of course not open to tour, but there is a very nice recreation. You can see a 3D film of the real deal. 'Cave of Forgotten Dreams' -- well worth viewing.

Posted by
187 posts

Aug 2021 we visited first Lascaux IV, and then Font-de-Gaume a few days later. We found it to be a good combination. Be aware that beginning in July 2021 Font-de-Gaume entry tickets are sold ONLY online (http://www.sites-les-eyzies.fr/en [EDIT]: English version appears broken at the moment on Jan 30, but available dates/times are visible and available for purchase on the French and Spanish versions. I posted instructions as a later reply to this topic.). More info in our trip report posted in RS Forum (part 3): https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/trip-report-france-28-days-aug-sep-loire-dordogne-languedoc-roussillon-lyon-burgundy-honfleur

Posted by
3340 posts

@clawssmith- Thanks for mentioning your reference to claustrophobia. When we visited
Rouffignac one of our tour members reported she was claustrophobic and decided not to enter. We were all respectful of that. In addition RS Tours also endorses opting out of activities.

Posted by
113 posts

Hi. I am interested in getting tickets for Grotte de Font-de Gaume as well. The website does not show any tickets available, just a blank page when I click on get tickets. Wondering if they are all sold out for the entire year?! I am not sure how to go about getting the tickets. Any thoughts? Thank you

Posted by
6608 posts

The rules for tickets on Font du Gaume change constantly -- when we were there 5 years ago you could not reserve but had to line up at the crack of dawn; before that you had to make reservations ahead. Then there was a time when they were siphoning tickets off to local tour guides. So while they may have gone back to reservations in 21, who know what is next and they may well not be doing tours during COVID. I know CERN stopped its tours during this time. So keep looking for information -- maybe it will change before you are there.

Posted by
9682 posts

The thing I connected most with in Pech Merle were the footprints! Well, and they used a lot of negative hand images which just really made a human to human link for me. That was my favorite cave! So…tastes vary! Liked the “Appaloosa” style horses too…as the local Nez Perce tribe bred them.

I also did Rouffignac and Lascaux 4 plus the excellent museum at Les Eyzies.

Slightly off topic but I recommend reading a few of the Chief Bruno mysteries beforehand!!

Posted by
498 posts

I, too, will second Janet. Or is that third? In any case Font du Gaume would be my number 1 choice. It smells and feels like a real cave, of course because it is. Fantastic art. Lascaux II is also well worth visiting. We've also enjoyed Roffignac and Pech Merle. I also thought that traveling by boat in a cave was exceptional at Gouffre de Padirac. It was very otherworldly with serious stalactites and stalagmites. I would very much recommend Gouffre de Padirac if you have time. Don't forget the very much above ground Château in the Dordogne. Beynac, Castelnaud, château Milandes (with falconry show) and Fenelon are all well worth visiting. Have a great trip!

Posted by
187 posts

Karen: I just went through (most of the) process of buying ticket for Font-de-Gaume at the website. Both the French and Spanish versions appear to work, though in slightly different ways. The English version appears to be broken, but it is possible to see dates and make a purchase using the French or Spanish versions. As of today (Jan 30), I can see reservable dates/times up to Mar 4. (JFYI, in July last year I successfully purchased tickets using the site.)

Seeing the calendar and buying a ticket on the French version of the site:
1. access site at http://www.sites-les-eyzies.fr/
2. click on "achetez votre billet à l'avance" in the green box.
3. in the box labelled "La Grotte de Font-de-Gaume", click on the black box labeled "CHOISIR".
4. in tab labelled "1 Votre Billet", scroll down and enter the number of tickets you would like to purchase. ("Tarif Individuel" for adults. "Gratuit - 18 ans" for those under 18 that are visiting with their parents.) THEN, click on the black box labeled "Mettre à jour le panier". This will update the shopping cart and open up tab 2 labelled "Date & Horaire"
5. In tab labelled "2 Date & Horaire": if you want an English tour, select "Anglais"; if a French tour, select "Français". THEN select your desired date and time. (The number after "reste" for each date/time indicates the number of places available.)
6. Click on black box "Valider votre commande".
7. (Assuming you don't want to open an account), enter your email address in the top box, and THEN click on black box labelled "Poursuivre".
8. I didn't proceed past Step 7, but assume you would complete the transaction on the next page by providing credit card info.

JFYI, the same steps using the broken English version of the site:
1. access site at http://www.sites-les-eyzies.fr/en/
2. click on "we wish you a very good visit" in the green box
3. click on "buy your ticket" (or "e-ticket") in the red box. HERE is where the site seems to break, as the next page does not show ticket options, but only allows donations.

JFYI, the Spanish version works:
1. access site at http://www.sites-les-eyzies.fr/es/ , THEN click on "preparar tu visita" near top of page (or at very bottom of page).
2. click on "Comprar tu boleto" in the green box
The remaining steps are the same as for the French instructions above --- but in Spanish.

I give top marks to Viator for an excellent tour I went on in September 2018. The guide picked me up at 8:00 near my air B and B in Sarlat and drove me and three others, first, to the fascinating prehistory museum in Ezies (where the five of us were practically the only visitors there at that time), then to privately owned Rouffinac, to view original prehistoric cave paintings. We broke for lunch in a quaint village before visiting Lascaux IV. All the while, our guide told us interesting things about the area and the caves. When he dropped me off at 5:00, he told me about a lot where I could park my rental car for free located about two blocks from my B and B. (Parking is at a premium in charming Sarlat, a wonderful town in which to spend a few days.)

Posted by
9682 posts

Just a remark about Viator…it’s a 3rd party company owned by Trip Advisor. It is possible to find the name of the company that is actually providing tours and book directly with them. The provider will thank you as it will save them the 20-25% fee they pay to Viator OR if they pass that on to you with a higher fee on a 3rd party booking you’ll save.

To me local guides have really suffered without work through the pandemic and I’d like them to get as much return for their knowledge as possible.

Posted by
2133 posts

@Pam - We were having the same thought at the same time:)

I’ll add this tip. If you’re looking on Viator at a tour, you can often scroll down to the details of the trip and the actual tour operator name will appear. Sometimes it’s kind of hidden but it’s often there.

Then you can contact them directly and make sure more money goes right into their pocket.

Posted by
21 posts

Thanks for all the great info everyone. We are meeting this week to go over all the choices.

Posted by
113 posts

We went to Font de Gaume & Peche Merle in 2019.

For FDG, you have to get there before the ticket window opens & grab a numbered seat. If you get a seat, you get to buy a timed ticket & most likely have to come back later to see the cave. That was inconvenient & hard to do anything else but grab a coffee in town & kill time. (If we’d gotten a later time slot, we could maybe have fit in a visit to the museum of prehistory in Les Eysies). The cave itself is a hike up the hill & relatively small. Good guide but not a lot to see inside. The bonus is that you are up close to the cave art.

PM is a proper huge cave (we even got a cave bat flying through at one point) and you can make a reservation in advance. Good introduction before you head in for your tour, lots of art, cool formations, and our guide was excellent. Extra points for the fact that they had a cafe.

I’d return to Peche Merle, personally. I wouldn’t return to Font de Gaume. Hope that helps.

Posted by
113 posts

Jeff! You are the bomb! Thank you so much for those very detailed instructions. Now I just apparently have to wait a bit until more dates come up, as we will be there the first week of June. The help here on this forum is just incredible. Thanks again!!

Posted by
6608 posts

Lisa -- the rules are different now. Last time we were there it was numbered seats at dawn -- apparently they are doing it differently now.

Interesting that you would return to Peche Merle and not Font du Gaume. Font du Gaume was by far the most interesting experience we ever had in France and Peche Merle was just another ordinary pretty cave. The spotted horses are gorgeous but that is about it. To each his own. In the Font du Gaume I felt like I was in the presence of great artists reaching across 15 or more millennia -- it was awe inspiring. But then I loved the neolithic sites of Brittany and my husband's response was 'oh goody, more rocks.'