The Ardèche region, often overlooked by visitors to France, is located in the southeastern area. It has the largest canyon in Europe, numerous opportunities for outdoor activities (ie. kayaking under Pont d’Arc), and villages designated “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France” (most beautiful villages of France). But what really stands out are the prehistoric sites and caves, some dating back over 35,000 years. The most famous: the caves at Aven d’Orgnac.
Caves at Aven d’Orgnac
The Aven d’Orgnac grottes (caves), also known as Le Grand Site de l’Aven d’Orgnac, were only discovered in 1935 by Robert de Joly, a famous French cave explorer (1887-1968) and it has been open to the public since 1939. If you’re planning a trip to France and will be near this area, the caves open February 1.
English-Speaking Tour Of The Caves
The place is huge with enormous chambers and massive stalactites and stalagmites. These were formed millions of years ago and you can take an English-speaking tour which will take you 120 meters below ground to see this subterranean landscape.
Highlights In the Caves at Aven d’Orgnac
Your tour will begin with a walk down 700 stairs into three large chambers and with every turn, you’ll encounter unique formations. The mixture of water and minerals dripping down from the ceiling have formed stalactites, which look like icicles.
Stalagmites, on the other hand, grow up and can either reach the roof of the cave or meet the tip of the stalactite which is very high up. These formations are brought to life with the excellent lighting system that has been installed as well as a “son et lumière” (sound and light show) which is in the deepest part of the cave in the “Salle Rouge”.
The formations have been given appropriate names, such as:
1. Fôret des piles d’assiettes (Stacks of plates)
2. Le buffet d’orgues (Organ buffet)
3. La pomme de pin (Pine cone)
4. Les draperies (Drapes or curtains)
I really like this promotional video from the Aven d’Orgnac. It shows many of the highlights:
In the summer, when it would reach 35 degrees C outside, it is still cool inside the caves, so be sure to bring a sweater. At the end of your 1-1/4 hour tour, you’ll be directed to the original entrance to the caves. It is from here that there is a single ray of sunlight streaming through into the cave.
La Cite de Prehistoric Museum
After the tour, check out the museum, “La Cite de Prehistoric”. While not as “exciting” as a visit to the caves, it is included in your admission (13.5 Euros).
The museum is quite large and shows the evolution of humans in different parts of the world. You’ll learn about prehistoric men from 35,000 years ago and the displays have life-size animal facsimiles, archeological objects, and interactive displays that children, in particular, will enjoy. You can also get an audioguide for this museum for 2 Euros.
The large site at Aven d’Orgnac also has a picnic area, playground, restaurant and snack bar. It’s located not far from the Ardèche river and only 30 minutes from Vallon Pont d’Arc where I stayed.
Don’t overlook the Ardeche, France and add the caves at Aven d’Orgnac to your list of unique places to visit. It will be worth your while.
Open: February 1-November 15 and during the Christmas holidays