The River Vezere flows 190 kilometres from its source in the Massif Central to its confluence
with the Dordogne River near Le Bugue.
In addition to the world renowned Lascaux caves, the Vezere Valley contains numerous other
traces of prehistoric and early settlement,
according to UNESCO, who have the valley
listed as a UNESCO French world Heritage site,
there are 147 prehistoric sites and 25
painted caves in the valley.
The main prehistoric highlights of the Vezere Valley, often called 'the cradle of mankind',
are found along the lower reaches of the river, between Montignac and Le Bugue, and centred
around Les Eyzies de Tayac (usually called simply Les Eyzies).
Les Eyzies itself has little to offer the visitor, having long given itself over to tourism,
but it does make a good base to explore the region.
It does also have two interesting museums. The Musee National de Prehistoire and the
Musee de l'Abri Pataud, which between them offer a good taste of the paraphernalia that has
emerged from the surrounding countryside.
It may be preferable to use as a base, south at le Bugue or north at Montignac or
St Leon sur Vezere, or in one of the many villages dotted around the area, to visit the region.
Some of the highlights of the region include;
Troglodyte dwellings at La Roque St Christophe
Paintings at the Grotte de Font de Gaume
Also well worth visiting are:
The engravings at the Grotte des Combarelles
Prehistoric sculpture at Abri du Cap Blanc
The cave system and cave paintings at Grotte du Grand Roc
The "most beautiful village" of Saint Leon sur Vezere.
Several of the caves along the Vezere valley are designated as National Monuments
(4 out of 85 national monuments in France are in this valley!)
The famous Dordogne caves (Grottes) are situated at various sites throughout the region. Created originally by glaciation and water erosion
they take many forms and are fascinating for all ages. Not all are the classic cliche with stalactites dripping down or stalagmites rising
from the ground, there are multi-level, dry caves with far reaching galleries like at Rouffignac. The complex extends for a considerable way
underground, others have interesting entrances with a number of methods for gaining access. Aside from stairs and slopes which you might expect,
you can also experience being lowered inside in a horse-powered basket!
The original inhabitants were animals including bears who hibernated inside and you can still see traces of the 'basins' they made in the
ground for their 'beds'. When they awoke in the Spring they sharpened their claws on the cave walls and these marks can still be seen though
the ubiquitous 3 bowls of porridge have long gone.
The next occupants were prehistoric man who built shelters near the entrance of the caves and benefited from the protection of the rockface,
eventually he ventured deep inside and truly left his mark which has fortunately been preserved for our benefit. Dates for his occupation vary,
but a good guide is 15,000-35,000 years ago, certainly for a long time, the Dordogne has always been popular!
One site, La roque St Christophe is the oldest and largest site in Western Europe, it has over 100 caves covering 900 metres of the valley and
was home to over 1,000 people.
There are many examples of these early inhabitants and the legacy of the most exquisite paintings and a variety of animals
that existed at the same time, such as woolly rhinoceros, ibex, ancient horses and mammoths (not just a supermarket!)
Some of the images are abstract designs and there are hand prints plus some images of large groups of animals drawn in virtual darkness
,it would indicate that the artist was very sophisticated to be able to create this without being able to see the total picture at any one time.
In the Caves at Rouffignac some 17,000 years ago an artist lay on his back, and in a space one metre high from floor to ceiling and one kilometre
from the entrance, drew many kinds of animals in all shapes and sizes and only recently they have been discovered.
It is thought that these images were not intended to be seen by large numbers and with the absence of human depictions probably had symbolic
or sacred significance, a meaning beyond their visual appearance, so that it was necessary for the artist to seperate their portrayal from human shapes.
But the truth remains known.
A few of the sites:
Gouffre de Proumeyssac, Audrix
The famous Cristal Cathedral, an immense underground vault with walls decorated with a multitude of crystallisations,
light plays off the walls to modern musical accompaniment
Open: Feb,Nov,Dec 2.00 to 5.00;Mar,Apr,Sept,Oct 9.30-12.00 & 2.00-5.30; May,June 9.30-6.30; July,Aug 9.00-7.00
Grotte de Bara-Bahau
This cave was discovered in 1951, it has pre-history art and evidence of the bears that lived there 35,000 years ago
open: Feb to June 10.00 to 12.00 & 2.00 to5.30; july and Aug 9.30 to 7.00; Sept to Dec 10.00 to 12.00 and 2.00 to 5.00
Combaralles has more than 600 wall decorations; Font-de-Gaume has 200 images and Le Poisson is the earliest depiction of a fish in the World
Cap Blanc, Les Eyzies en Perigord
More prehistoric art
Open: every day May to October
Grottes du roc de Cazelle, route de Sarlat
Caves and underground passages, cliff paths and prehistoric dwellings.
Open: Every day Dec and Jan 11.00 to 5.00; Feb to April, Oct, Nov 10.00 to 6.00; May,June,Sept 10.00 to 7.00; Jul, Aug 10.00 to 8.00
Grand Roc & Les Abris de Laugerie Basse
Guided tours for the cave in English lasting about 30 minutes. The cliff face has been inhabited for over 15,000 years
Open: 10.00 to 6.00 and 9.30 to 7.00 in high season
Le Roque St. Christophe
The oldest and largest prehistoric cave site in Western Europe that housed over 1,000 people.
Open: Nov,Dec,Jan,Feb 11.00 to 5.00; Mar,Oct 10.00 to 6.00; Apr,May,Jun,Sept 10.00 to 6.30; Jul,Aug 10.00 to 7.00
Tel: 05.53. 50.70.45
Grottes de Villars
So far, some 13 kilometres of caves have been mapped, prehistoric paintings from the Magdalenian period and an above-ground cafe
Open: everyday; Oct; 2.00 to 6.30; Apr,May,Jun,Sept; 10.00 to 12.00 and 2.00 to 7.00; Jul,Aug 10.00 to 7.30
Montignac - Lascaux 11
The most famous cave? The cave was discovered by 2 small boys out exploring but, unfortunately it became so famous and popular
that this is a perfect replica because the original was being damaged by the presence of so many visitors.
Open: Nov,Dec,Jan,Feb,Mar 10.00 to 12.30 and 2.00 to 5.30; Apr,May,Jun,Sept, 9.30 to 6.30 Jul,Aug, 9.30 to 8.00
St-Leon-sur-Vezere Close to Montignac the 18 ha Park has a wide range of dinosaurs to suit all junior explorers who would enjoy the aerial
walkways and adventure equipment including a 140m ropeway!
Open: mid-Sept,Oct,Nov; 2.00 to 5.00; Apr,May,June; 10.00 to 6.00; July,Aug; 10.00 to 7.30