When you travel to France there are many caves to visit. I’ve seen some great ones including Lascaux IV in the Dordogne, and Caverne du Pont d’Arc and Aven d’Orgnac in the Ardèche, but THIS one is quite different. Gouffre de Padirac (Padirac Cave) is an immense cave system with impressive rock formations and a subterranean river where you can take a boat ride-103 metres below ground. I liked it so much that I bought my god-son a children’s book about it. Hopefully, he’ll get to visit one day.
Gouffre de Padirac
The French word “gouffre” means chasm or gorge and in the case the Gouffre de Padirac is a gigantic hole that is 75 metres deep. It’s a cave like no other. It doesn’t have prehistoric paintings like Lascaux or Pech Merle, but what it does have is a network of caves you explore by foot….and by boat! Yes, there is a river down there, another 103 metres below the ground. This is what makes Gouffre de Padirac such a unique cave experience in all of France.
History Of Gouffre de Padirac
In 1889 lawyer and explorer, Édouard-Alfred Martel (1859-1938) discovered this amazing place with his cousin. He is considered the father of modern speleology—the study or exploration of caves. For the next 10 years he went to work having a staircase installed, boats added, and structures in place so the public could visit. Tourists have been visiting Gouffre de Padirac for the past 120 years.
Your Visit To The Padirac Cave
Gouffre de Padirac is located just 18 kilometres (30 minutes) north-east of Rocamadour. It is located in the Lot department and is part of the large area of the Dordogne valley. I booked my ticket in advance but for the same day and suggest you do the same. You choose the time you want to go into the cave and the visit is unguided, except for the boat ride.
Walk Down Into The Padirac Chasm
This chasm was once thought to be the work of the devil; hence, the name, “The Devil’s Hole”. In fact, the chasm came to be when the vault caved in, forming a huge cavity. While you can take the elevator, it’s much more interesting to walk down to the start of the cave. A rainy day won’t get you wet on your way down. Water that seeps into the cave goes into the river.
There are over 42 kilometres of galleries and while your visit will only barely touch part of it (2.7 kilometres), it will be spectacular. There are many stairs but when you get to the main entrance to the cave you’ll be amazed by how far you’ve gone. Just look up.
Once inside, you descend down more stairs that are lit by floodlights and you’ll weave your way through the galleries or cavities of the cave. The layers of limestone and the numerous stalactites and stalagmites (which were formed from rain mixing with the limestone) give some indication of how old this place is….millions of years old.
Source of the river: Puits de la Fontaine
During your walk through the cave, you will see water flowing alongside and eventually you’ll reach the source of the subterranean river: puits de la Fontaine. There are boats docked and approximately 10 people take the 0.5 kilometre journey to the next gallery of the cave. No photos are allowed during this part of your visit.
There are English-speaking guides and they explain some of the features of this cave and the Rivière Plane, such as the 60 metre high Grand Pendeloque (Grand Chandelier) which is a formation of calcite (stalactite) that hangs down from the ceiling, like a chandelier.
Salle du Grand Dôme and Lac de la Pluie
The next section you will encounter is the “Underground Cathedral”, Salle du Grand Dôme (Hall Of The Great Dome). The ceiling reaches 94 metres and everywhere you turn, the sight is remarkable, especially due to the presence of a lake— Lac de la Pluie—which has been formed from the water that falls into the vault. It is said that one day, the ceiling will cave in, creating another chasm; however, you’ll have to wait a few centuries for that to happen.
When you reach the lake you can turn back and take the boat, or continue on. When you approach the exit you can either climb up the (many stairs) or take the elevator.
All throughout this region, in addition to plenty of chateaux like Beynac-et-Cazenac and medieval villages such as La Roque Gageac , there are many, many caves to see but if you’re looking for a really unique cave experience in the Dordogne, don’t miss Gouffre de Padirac.
Advice For Your Visit
- The cave’s temperature is 13 degrees Celsius, so bring a jacket
- Don’t take the return boat ride as you will continue to see more amazing creations
- Book your ticket in advance to ensure you get to visit when you want
Duration of my visit: 1.5 hours
Cost (as of June, 2019): 14.5 €
If you’re interested in caves, check out these other posts:
- Exploring The Caves at Aven d’Orgnac (In the Ardèche)
- What Can You See And Do For 2 Days In The Ardèche?
- Why You Should Line Up For Tickets To Font de Gaume Cave
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