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Published: April 20th 2019
Today we travelled from Mont Dore to Rocamadour. Along the way we visited the wonderful Gouffre de Padirac, a limestone cave that one accesses down a big sink hole, 74 metres wide and 33 metres deep. It was impressive to look down into the hole to see the people on the paths entering the cave. It's quite a descent down the hole to the cave, including the large stairway you can see in the picture. The cave is basically one long tunnel, which extends more than 20km. The tour takes in about the first 1km. The first stretch of the cave has no real decorations, following the underground river, but not subject to groundwater entering. Then one transfers into gondolas for a ride further into the cave – very interesting and different. Alighting from the boats, our guide took us into a huge gallery with stunning calcite decorations on an enormous scale. The gallery is about 75 metres high! I have been in many limestone caves, but I’ve not seen anything on this scale before, nor some of the types of decorations, like the “pile of plates” you can see in the photo below. We had an excellent
guide who is involved in studying the caves as well, and he gave us a lot of very interesting extra detail. Returning back via foot, gondola and foot, followed by stair-climbing (there are some lifts), brought us back to the daylight. If you travel to France, put this high on your list – an amazing experience.
We then continued on to Rocamadour, which is like something out of a movie, with the old medieval village on the side of a chasm, with religious buildings clustering up the side, culminating in the old monastery which towers on the edge of the precipice overlooking the village. Our hotel was right in the middle of the old town. The whole place was crowded with tourists (even though it’s very early in the season). After lunch we went to a bird show, which included birds of prey, vultures and parrots. Very colourful and interesting, but I don’t think it was as good as the bird show at Provins, which I have visited before (see the 2015 blog). One could also see the birds in cages – the huge, colourful South American parrots were a highlight.
Dinner was at the hotel’s restaurant and
included duck, specialty of this region. The village was very quiet at night, most visitors being day trippers, and this was the most comfortable hotel of the trip so far, so despite my terrible cold, I slept pretty well.
This morning we visited the Château de Beynac, an outstanding medieval castle which is largely intact, and was used in the filming of “Joan of Arc”. It is perched high on a clifftop (seems to be the done thing!) overlooking the River Dordogne and the village below. There are four other castles or former castle visible from the ramparts. I am sure they had enmities and alliances coming and going between the lords back in medieval times. The castle was quite interesting and in pretty good condition – they are restoring more and more of it. The view from the towers was spectacular, commanding a sweeping vista over the river and its surrounding farmlands.
In the afternoon we visited the Rouffignac Prehistoric Cave. One rides on a small electric train into the cave. The guide (another excellent guide who spoke excellent English) stopped at various points to describe the 15,000 year old cave
drawings, and explain as much as is known about them. The drawings include mammoths (predominantly), horses and ibex. This is one of few caves where one can still see the original drawings, not replicas. At one point we were able to exit the train and walk into a gallery in the cave where the drawings were on the low ceiling. It was extraordinary to be just centimetres from such ancient human artifacts. The drawings are fairly crude, done with sticks or using soft black rocks (manganese oxide), and the scientists have no idea why they were done so far into the cave (some hundreds of metres in). The cave was not used by humans to live in, only for the drawings. The cave also has evidence of cave bears (long extinct) hibernating inside. Another really fascinating place.
Back to Rocamadour for a second night. This area has been very scenic and very interesting.
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