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Visiting caves in the Ariege Region, near Foix

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Dec 27th, 2012, 05:22 AM
  #1
ESW
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Visiting caves in the Ariege Region, near Foix

We have a week based near Foix in May. I am beginning to read up about things to do and see while we are there, and was amazed to find how many prehistoric caves there are in the area which are open to the public. I'm finding it difficult to decide which to see....

It is the cave paintings which are the attraction rather than stalagmites and stalactites.

I understand that Grottes de Niaux is the best for paintings. The web site says it is still the original surface which can be wet, uneven and slippery. Someone else made a comment that there were low and narrow bits. (Humm, husband is 6'4" tall with 44" chest and dislikes caves which are very narrow or he has to bend double for long distances...) I then found another review which said you have to clamber over boulders and jump streams.... I use a walking stick and days of doing this are long gone.

Has anyone been and what is it like underground for walking? I'm beginning to wonder whether we ought to give this one miss.

The other three caves (Grotte de la Vache, Grottes de Bédeilhac and Grottes de Lombrives) don't sound as interesting from what I can find on the web and don't seem to have as many paintings. Again has anyone visited and can they give me a run down on them and if they would be a reasonable alternative?

After Foix, we move north into the Dordogne stopping near Sarlet-la-Canada which is about an hours drive from Peche-Merle. I think conditions underground here may be easier than at Niaux. Can anyone give any advice on this? I was wondering if it would be prudent to miss Niaux and just visit Peche-Merle.....

I've discounted Lascaux II. Are there any others in the area which I ought to consider?

Decisions, decisions.... Any help or advice woud be appreciated.
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Dec 27th, 2012, 07:44 AM
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I haven't been to the Grotte de Niaux, but I've been in and out of every cave in the Dordogne for 20 years now, so have some perspective on that. First off, Sarlat is not an hour's drive from Pech-Merle - more like 2 or 2.5. Pech-Merle isn't even in the Dordogne. There are countless caves and abris and prehistoric sites that ARE actually in the Dordogne and easily reachable from Sarlat: Font-de-Gaume, Combarelles, La Grotte du Sorcier, and Lascaux II being the major chromatic ones (though there are dozens more that are not chromatic but equally interesting - and aren't just stalagmites and stalactites, either, but rather full of engravings and other remnants of Magdalenian and Mousterian man).

And "conditions" in the chromatic caves in the Dordogne aren't much different from "conditions" in chromatic and other caves anywhere - they're all cool, slippery, bumpy, and narrow, and many, like the Grotte du Font-de-Gaume, require a steep hike up to the starting point on a rocky path (caves aren't necessarily "underground").

Why have you discounted Lascaux II? It's absolutely amazing. If you're thinking of passing it by because "it's just a reproduction," you're doing yourself a big disfavor (although because it's an absolutely faithful reproduction, it also is narrow and bumpy and cool).

Given the physical limitations you've described, though, maybe chromatic caves aren't a good fit for you. Perhaps you should consider other types of prehistoric sites, like La Roque-St-Christophe, Le Village Troglodytique de la Madeleine, La Grotte du Grand Roc, l'Abri Pataud, Cap Blanc...though even these require some physical agility.
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Dec 27th, 2012, 10:22 AM
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We visited Niaux this past July while staying in a gite near Foix for 1 week. It is indeed a somewhat difficult cave to navigate. Plus, it is not lit - you must carry a flashlight which they issue to you at the start of the trek.

We spent many hours at the Parc Prehistoric near Tarascon, which has replicas of the cave and lots & lots if info about cave paintings. I highly recommend that you visit the Parc if you are interested in cave paintings.

We have also visited most of the caves in the Dordogne area. I don't recall Pech (no "e") Merle being difficult to walk through. Why no Lascaux II?

Stu Dudley
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Dec 27th, 2012, 10:46 AM
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I visited Lascaux in the 1960s and can still remember the sense of excitment and awe.

A trip to the Parc Prehistoric is definitely on the list.

We are actually stopping near the small settlement of Borrèze which Google maps reckons is about 30minute drive from Sarlet. I was using the Google map drive time from Borrèze to Pech-merle which is 1hr 9min. Via Michelin is a bit more generous with a drive time of 1hr 20min.

I'll check out the other places you mention.
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Dec 27th, 2012, 11:05 AM
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Sorry, I just realized the last time I drove to Cabrerets was before the A20 was finished, so it was back roads all the way (and I was coming from west of Sarlat). It looks like nowadays it's just over an hour's drive.
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Dec 27th, 2012, 11:42 AM
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That's a relief as I was thinking I'd need to readjust estimates of driving times.
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Dec 27th, 2012, 12:50 PM
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Which ever you chose you will experience awe and wonder...As a very mobile 72 year old (several years ago) I didn't find the caves prohibitively difficult but the guide was constantly asking if I was ok.. Yes I was and certainly did want to do it again BUT tempus fugit and I don't think I would now (or maybe even could now)Interesting country. Surprises in that the caves were not dwellings as such. Jean Auel was at Naiux the same day we were on a reseach trip so that added a bit of excitement. The visits are tightly controlled as to #s of cavers and times..Hope it all works out for you. BTW our guide's english presentation was excellent.
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