Vue plongeante sur le Lac Supérieur de la Salle du Grand Dôme.Vue plongeante sur le Lac Supérieur de la Salle du Grand Dôme.
©Vue plongeante sur le Lac Supérieur de la Salle du Grand Dôme.|Louis Nespoulous - SES de Padira

What lies beneath

Exploring caves and Prehistory

There is an entire hidden world just under your feet in the Dordogne Valley. Home to the most famous Paleolithic art on the planet there is also the art of mother nature to discover.

Cave exploring and Prehistory

Water filtering through the limestone floor over the centuries has created the most amazing cave systems. Some of them are home to incredible prehistoric paintings, others contain stunning stalactites and stalagmites and some are still being discovered today. The question is, unless you want to spend weeks underground, how do you choose the right cave for you? 

Here’s a little guide to shed some light on the underworld. Please note that the temperature inside hovers around 13 and 14 degrees Celsius all year round, making the caves a great place to hide away from the rain or a summer heatwave! Open from March until early November, cave exploring is a great activity, on and off season.

Prehistoric Caves

A chance to peek at the lives of early human civilisations that thrived here over twenty thousand years ago, these ancient cave galleries offer invaluable insight into the art, beliefs and daily rituals of humanities’ prehistoric ancestors.

Lascaux IV

The UNESCO Heritage Site of Lascaux is famous across the globe for its incredible collection of Paleolithic art.

Discovered accidentally by a group of young boys in 1940, the cave of Lascaux near Montignac in the Vézère Valley is one of the world’s most important archaeological discoveries. The wealth of primitive paintings have since led Lascaux to be dubbed the ‘Sistine Chapel of Prehistory’.

The original cave has been closed to the public for decades in order to preserve the artwork. A first replica was opened on site in 1983 (Lascaux II). In 2016 a second and full replica of the cave was created along with an international centre of Paleolithic art called Lascaux IV.

In order to achieve this perfect carbon copy, a team of 50 expert artists used digital photography and laser imaging to reproduce the paintings stroke-for-stroke. These 20 000 year old drawings are extraordinary, remarkably lifelike in their detail, which depict animals and even hunting scenes rich in colour and relief.

Open all year round it’s fair to say that no other site can compete with the cave paintings of Lascaux in terms of their sheer quality and quantity.

Visits to Lascaux IV can be booked in English and it is definitely a good idea to remember to book your visit ahead of time on the Lascaux website:


Original cave art

There are still a few caves in the Dordogne Valley where you can admire original prehistoric paintings and drawings. We recommend to book early as only a small group of people can enter at one time.

Grotte de Rouffignac

Also named the Cave of the Hundred Mammoths, Rouffignac is an 8 km long network of underground galleries. A guided train ride takes visitors through the caves to discover the 250 prehistoric drawings and engravings of mammoths, bison, ibex and a woolly rhinoceros that date back 13,000 years.

Les Eyzies

Dubbed the ‘World Capital of Prehistory’, the village of Les Eyzies boasts major Upper Paleolithic sites. Both the Font-de-Gaumeand Combarellescaves display original drawings and engravings.

Grotte des Merveilles

Original Paleolithic drawings of horses and deer dating back to 20,000 B.C. Located in Rocamadour, the cave is easily accessible with just a few steps to take on entry.

The Great Classics

Drop after drop, throughout millennia, water has created the most mesmerizing underground world carved from the limestone floor. Kilometers of galleries, some of them still unexplored, crisscross the Dordogne Valley. No paintings, just the most beautiful art created by Mother Nature herself.

Gouffre de Padirac

A breathtaking natural wonder 100 m deep, the chasm of Padirac is an otherworldly experience. First, visitors take a unique boat ride on an emerald green underground river that winds through a labyrinth of colossal galleries.

Then the journey carries on by foot deeper into huge caves, some as big as cathedrals. These galleries, some 94 m high, feature underground pools and gigantic stalagmites and stalactites which tower to stunning heights, the largest 60 m.

Personalised audio guides are on hand in English to accompany and explain all of the finer points of the visit.

The caves of Lacave

Opened in 1905, this popular cave of Lacave is 15km from Rocamadour, with visiting periods from February until November. Unusually, the trip begins with a ride on an underground electric train that actually travels upwards in order to access the starting point.

12 galleries (1.6km long) include impressive stalagmites and stalactites and natural rock pools throughout. One gallery features a perfectly lit mirror reflection of the cave in water.

Another highlight is a space lit entirely by ultra-violet light so that the cave is made phosphorescent and glows spectacularly.

Gouffre de Proumeyssac

Located next to the road between Sarlat and Bergerac, the strategically placed sink hole was used as a place to dump murdered stagecoach passengers frequently robbed en route in the 1700’s.

Today it is better known as the ‘Crystal Cathedral’, an enormous underground gallery with a multitude of stalactites hanging from the ceiling.

Accompanied by a spectacular sound and light show, it is also possible to descend into the chasm in a unique and exciting way: Just like the original explorers, up to 11 people can be lowered into the depths below in an iron basket for an unparalleled bird’s eye view.

Smaller yet perfectly formed

Should you fancy a smaller and more intimate caving experience, there are many options throughout the Dordogne Valley, each with their own distinct characteristics and attractions.

Gouffre de la Fage

Just a stone’s throw from Turenne, visitors can journey down the cavity of the Gouffre de la Fage, surrounded by lush fern vegetation, and explore its underground abyss of calcified columns and draperies. The cave is also home to one of the most important bat caves in Europe and bat activity can be seen first-hand at certain times of the year.

Grottes de Presque

Buried in the Dordogne Valley’s rolling countryside and encircled by a trilogy of stunning villages, Autoire, Loubressac and Saint Céré, the Grottes de Presque is the ideal place to take a breather from a hot afternoon of village hopping. The hillside cave is the proud owner of the tallest stalagmite in Europe measuring a whopping 30ft from floor to vault.

Wheelchair Friendly

Grotte de Tourtoirac

A magnificent natural fresco!  As you follow the underground river, the LED lighting brings to life wonderful columns and draperies, eccentrics and fistulas. Fully accessible to people with reduced mobility.


Grotte de Carbonnières

This beautifully lit cave seems almost ethereally otherworldly with its light show and accompanying filmic music. This relative newcomer on the scene of natural caves was only discovered and opened a few years ago.

To access it, you have to traverse a section of a prehistoric park, passing by some dinosaur exhibits and a moving T-rex for a fun experience for the whole family.

Reduced mobility friendly: There are absolutely no steps and a ramped path extends throughout the cave which is almost entirely flat.

The only caveat is that you have to walk a good 15 minutes along a slightly hilly path that whilst completely wheelchair accessible may be hard work at times.

Coming out of your cave

Ready to see daylight again but want to hear more about your distant ancestors?

Here are some unmissable stop-off places to gain a greater understanding of what life would have been like in prehistorical times.

The Musée de la Préhistoire

Since its creation in the early 20th century, the Musée National de la Préhistoire has been collecting, studying and learning from prehistoric artefacts, making it a benchmark for prehistorians and visitors alike.

La Roque Saint-Christophe

A unique troglodyte site in the world. Carved into a limestone wall, these natural caves have been occupied since prehistoric times. They were subsequently modified to become a fort and a city from the Middle Ages to the early Renaissance.

This site is a setting of rare and savage beauty, unique for the number of dwellings and the length of time it has been occupied by humankind.

More Underground Adventures

Needing a boost of adrenaline or simply looking for something a bit different? What about cave exploring…in a radically different way!

Digging deeper

Several professional companies take thrill-seekersdown under. Limestone formations have been eroded over thousands of years to create a network of intricate caves, tunnels and caverns. This natural environment provides the perfect setting for potholing enthusiasts to delve deep into this fascinating underground realm.

The extensive cave systems throughout the Dordogne Valley cater to all levels. From family friendly to experienced thrill seekers that want the whole rope dangling, abseiling, climbing and squeezing experience!

Not for the Claustrophobics!

The Dordogne Valley is also world famous for being one of the top three cave diving destinations on the planet.

Adrenalin junkie heaven this extreme sport combines two thrilling (/mad?) activities into one. Divers in full scuba gear can explore kilometres of submerged cave systems, up to 80 metres in depth!

These extreme dives require a level 2 minimum diving certificate:

Concerts, picnics and more

Soirées Explorateurs

On selected dates from April to October, the Gouffre de Padirac invites visitors to (re)discover its spectacular underground galleries in a whole new way. A lantern-lit journey 103 metres underground, in the footsteps of the site’s first explorer, Edouard-Alfred Martel, in 1889.

Once dubbed the “Devil’s Hole”, the Gouffre de Padirac has long been the stuff of mystery and legend. Equipped only with candles, ladders and ropes, the explorer and his team set off into the depths of the Earth to discover the uncharted underground of this abyss.

Today, the “Soirées Explorateurs” or “Explorers Evenings” brings back to life the same experience, with the cave lit only by candlelight.


Unusual underground

The caves of Lacave go the extra mile in putting together unique events throughout the year.  Here you can enjoy jazz and classical music concerts or a special visit followed by a local producers’ picnic basket and even a chance to hire out the cave privately for 3 hours to try out your photographic skills…

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