Caves to visit in the Dordogne

Due to the number of rivers and the local geology it’s no surprise that the Dordogne has some  magnificent cave complexes which are open to visit.  You will find two different types: “Gouffres” are underground caves, whilst “Grottes” are usually accessed from a rock face.

Most offer traditional stalagmite/stalactite formations, although some are famous for their ancient cave paintings.  The Gouffres de Padirac and Proumeyssac are our favourites.

Gouffre de Padirac

Description: This spectacular cave complex is impressive on a large scale. Part of the trip is by gondola and the complete trip will take around one and a half hours. Unfortunately not only will you probably spend time queuing to get in, there is the possibility of further queuing inside whilst you wait for a gondola and then later for a guide. But it is certainly worth visiting if you are in the area.

Location: Really out of the way on the D90, 15km north east of Rocamadour.  But quite special and worth a trip.

General Info: Open from 1st Apr – All Saints Day. Open 08.30-18.30 in August without interruption. Otherwise times vary. See website.

Our recommendations: Very popular so you are advised to get there first thing if at all possible to avoid the queues.  Don’t forget your jumper!  If you have to travel to get here, you could combine it with a visit to Rocamadour.

For the children: Of interest, but not likely to excite them overly much!  An alternative destination for the children is the adjacent Insectopia (especially when the queues are too long!).

Gouffre de Proumeyssac

Description: Also known as the Crystal Cathedral this is one of the most popular caves in the region. It starts with a Son et Lumiere (sound and light) show. If you’re feeling brave you can be lowered in a basket with a few other people, through a hole in the ceiling of the cave. For the cowardly it is possible to walk. There are some attractive stalagmites and stalactites and some unique crystal structures.

Location: Situated 3km south of Le Bugue on the D31E.

General Info: Open all year, except January. Open 9AM – 7PM in peak season (July and August).  At other times please call 05 53 07 27 47.

Our recommendations: These caves can get very busy in season – you may have to wait as long as 3 hours for admission!  So if possible ring in advance as tickets are timed, so then you are able to plan your arrival and bypass the queues.

For the children: Kids will find it interesting – the guided tours are only conducted in French, but English audio guides are available free of charge.

La Grotte du Grand Roc

Description: The Grand Roc cave opened in 1927. It is remarkable that it was discovered at all for the entrance is half way up a cliff face. The caves boast some unusual triangular crystallised rock formations as well as the more usual stalagmites and stalactites.

Location: This delightful cave is situated about 1km north of Les Eyzies on the D47.

General Info: There is ample parking across the road and queues are quite reasonable.  All tours are guided and last about 30 minutes.  The guides are usually able to provide commentary in both French and English.  Not suitable for disabled visitors at all.  Open in July and August from 9.30AM – 7PM.  For other opening times please telephone 05 53 06 92 70.

Our recommendations: Try to combine it with a visit to another attraction in the area such as the Village du Bournat as this will only be a short visit.

For the children: They will probably enjoy it as it is a short tour.  But it is not really oriented to kids.

La Roque St-Christophe

Description: La Roque St-Christophe is a pre-historic troglodyte site dating from the Mousterian era, which has been lived in by successive generations of man. Its situation is very dramatic with good views, rising vertically 80m from the Vezère valley. The whole site is half a mile long and rises in five galleries dug out from the rock. The fascinating remains of some of the buildings can be seen – like the Church, as well as some medieval weaponry, while other parts of the site have been excellently reconstructed.

Location: Just off the D706 at Le Moustier, 10km NE of Les Eyzies. Free parking, small café and picnic tables at the site with lots of shade.
General info: Opening times – daily in peak season 10.00 -7.00.
Tel: 05 53 50 70 45 other times.

Our recommendations: For children this  is possibly the most interesting above ground pre-historic site – particularly for those who are not keen on either underground visits or families who prefer an unguided visit (leaflet provided with an English translation).   It is possible to take a light-weight buggy around the site although care is needed in places.

Lascaux 11 Show Caves

Description: Discovered in 1940, these show caves feature paintings claimed to be 17000 years old. What you actually see is a replica of the real thing – this is located on the same site but was closed to visitors in 1963 as the original cave paintings were being slowly eroded by the combined effects of the visiting hordes. However the detail has been faithfully re-created in the Lascaux II caves which took 15 years to construct.

Location:  Near Montignac, off the D704, 25km north of Sarlat.
General Info: Open daily from 10.00am April-mid Nov, rest of year daily except Mondays and January.  You should buy your tickets in Montignac first.  These are timed tickets.  There is ample parking at the site.

Our recommendations: A fascinating and unique place – perfect if you are interested in historical attractions.  Not so much entertainment value though.  Try to take one of the guided tours in English.  And take a pullover – it is only 13deg C in the caves.

For the children: These caves are undoubtedly a fascinating pre-historic site but they may not be of interest to all children. Only you as adults can decide whether to take them.

Here’s more information to make the most of your visit to the Dordogne: