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Two days near Sarlat


MarkinHouston
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We are making a journee rapide from our base up near La Rochelle for a lightning fast trip to see some Stone Age cave drawings. Based on previous posts, we are staying with Marco Polo's brother-in-law at La Salvetat between Bergerac and Sarlat. If we arrive in the area at midmorning, is it feasible to see three separate grottos in one day? (The following morning is market day in Sarlat, so the driver's perogative is foie over Cro-Magnon!) I believe that I read the Grotte de Font-de-Gaume and the Grotte des Combarelles are good examples. Should we use some of our precious time for Las Caux II, or should I say, are there better choices for a limited time frame? Thanks for any and all advice.

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We saw the cave paintings at Font de Gaume in 2005. You know you need reservations, right? Plus, you have to show up early, wait in the gift shop, walk up the hill, wait outside the cave, then go through the tour which is approx an hour. I think 3 different venues in one morning would be nearly impossible. At any rate, we enjoyed Font de Gaume -- I liked the fact that they were the real deal and the paintings were quite impressive, many using the contours of the cave to give depth and form to the animals.

Edited by mukki (log)
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Perhaps I should be clearer. We sould arrive in the morning and plan to see one grotto in the morning. Can we see two more in the afternoon? They seem to be close together, but living in Texas gives a jaded sense of proportions; I have trouble thinking of little country lanes the same way as Houston freeways until I consider ruch hour gridlock

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When I read the title of this thread I was going to post a joke saying Lascaux, etc, thinking you were asking for wine cellars to visit...

I visited a load of the prehistoric caves years ago when holidaying with the family as a nipper - I remember them all being good.

PS

Edinburgh

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A bit further on, but the caves & paintings at Pech Merle West of Cahors are amongst the best.

Added advantage is that after seeing the caves in the morning you can toddle down the road to a starred restaurant for lunch.

Just look it up on Michelin.

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Perhaps I should be clearer. We sould arrive in the morning and plan to see one grotto in the morning. Can we see two more in the afternoon? They seem  to be close together, but living in Texas gives a jaded sense of proportions; I have trouble thinking of little country lanes the same way as Houston freeways until I consider ruch hour gridlock

Whoops... I guess I read your post wrong. I suppose 3 would be possible then. If you map out your itinerary on the Michelin website, it'll give you a sense of driving times.

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Hi Mark,

I do hope you have a great time at La Salvetat and look forward to hearing of your experiences. As for Lascaux II, we have been twice now and have found it on both occasions to be a wonderful experience, for ourselves as well as for our children. Yes, the cave is a total fake reconstruction, but so painstakingly has every nook, cranny, fissure and contour of the interior been apparently recreated that the cave art comes magically to life, a rounded protruding surface giving shape and life to the body of a painted bison or stag. The profusion of prehistoric animals - horses, ibexes, bulls and cows - their seeming movement and vivacity, is simply overwhelming and we felt a real and eerie sense of connecting with human beings from thousands of years ago, of sharing a common humanity.

However, in our experience, the guides speak only limited English, so it's best to bone up in advance, or buy a good illustrated guidebook from the adjoining shop to study before or afterwards. Bearing in mind that you have limited time, it may be best to see if you can book as only limited amounts of people are allowed into the cave at any time.

Can't advise on anywhere particularly good to eat around Lascaux II. But remember, this is picnic country par excellence, and you could do far worse than stocking up at the Sarlat market - some good country bread, a jar of foie gras de canard or rillettes de canard, some cabicou goat's cheese, whatever fruit is in season, and not forgetting a bottle of good Bergerac wine. Then simply find the perfect riverside spot to enjoy.

Marc

Edited by Marco_Polo (log)
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When I read the title of this thread I was going to post a joke saying Lascaux, etc, thinking you were asking for wine cellars to visit...

Ah, folks, I love caves that document our origin as well as the next person and I'm well aware that this section is called "Restaurants, Cuisine, and Travel" but we're supposed to be talking food, so can we switch to foie gras, truffles, Cahors, etc.?

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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Here's some information on caves based on my visit in May, 2003:

Cougnac: just outside of Gourdon, about 23 km SE of Sarlat, in May 2003 it was open from 10-11:30 AM and 2:30-5:00 PM; tours with small groups (6 on the tour I was on) take about 1 hour and start periodically during these opening times. A wonderful cave with small stalagtites and stalagmites, and eventually, one gets to an area with flat surfaces with paintings of signs (274 such signs are in the cave), several human representations (sylized, amazing), and 22 animals in red and black: deer, ibex. These are some of the earliest dated paintings in Europe (19,000-25,000 years ago), contemporary with some of the paintings at Peche Merle (see below).

Peche Merle: located near Cabrerets, 43 km SE of Gourdon (so about 70 km from Sarlat) in wonderful countryside. Open A.M starting at 9:45, in the afternoon starting at 2 PM. Limited to 700 visitors per day. Call in advance (0565312705?) to make sure to get a place on one of the tours. Very good museum near site, which is good to see first -- has information relevant to Peche Merle and Cougnac. Cave paintings are thought to be from 20,000 to 25,000 years ago. Different atmosphere than Cougnac. stalactites are large and set in spectacular halls. Remarkable animals -- horse, bisons, mammouths, aurochs, great use of curves in wall to give perspecive to animals, one animal is superimposed on another and another. Great spotted horse painting. Huge mammoth with red spltches, dots. Ceiling carvings, etched marks. Footprints of an adolescent boy (at least 10,000 years old). Splayed human figure. Red pike.

To visit these two caves, you could drive from Sarlat, first visiting Cougnac and then Peche Merle (a half day trip would probably have to start with Peche-Merle, because it opens earlier). The return trip, if Cougnac is done first, can be made via a drive on the north bank of the Lot river to Cahors (which is an interesting town) and then northwards back to Sarlat. These two caves are really great.

Font de Gaume: in outskirts of Les-Eyzies-de-Tayac, 21 km west of Sarlat. open in early May from 9:30-12:30 AM and 2:00-5:30 PM, reservations a must (0553068600?), book at least a day or two in advance. Groups of 10 only. This is a very different style cave -- a very narrow passageway with few stalagmites and stalactites, so you get very close to the paintings. Lots of animals, polychrome like Lascaux, in black, brown, and red. Figures are mostly filled in with pigment, not merely outlined. Amazing reindeer, lots of bisons here, even a rhino, great use of countours of walls. Some carvings, some signs including a sort of house diagram, some black dots.

Rouffinach: 18 km north of Les-Eyzies. Open 9:00-11:00 AM, 2:00-6:00 PM. No need to reserve, as they take large groups onto a train (sort of like an amusement ride). Tour lasts about an hour. Again, the cave is very different from the others, at first it's a broad limestone cavern, later you get to lower leves where the paintings are, about 1 km from the entrance. Amazing collection of supeerimposed outlined animals on ceiling. Unique, but not quite as "artistic" as the animals in the other caves in my view.

A fifth cave is Cambrelle, also near Les-Eysies, about 2 km from the Font de Gaume. Tickets are obtained at the Font de Gaume. Tours with very small groups (7 in my group). Here, the outside part of the cave was a habitation. Paintings are dated from 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. Interesting paintings: anthropomorhic figures, human figure in front of horse, horses, a reindeer nuzzling a bull, head of mountain goat; also carved bear, mammoths. Cave walls are wet and paintings are not as well preserved as in the other caves because of dampness.

Another interesting site is Abris Cap Blanc, 7 km from Les-Eyzies. Open 10-12 AM, 2-6 PM. This is an overhang of a cliff (now enclosed for exhibition), that has a frieze of sculptures of about 10,000-16,000 years ago. These are reliefs of horses, a bullock, a deer or reindeer, and a small bison. A skeleton of a woman in a fetal position was found in a grave directly in front of the frieze (a princess? the artist?) It was breathtaking to see that art of this quality could be produced at this period of human history.

Finally, there is Lascaux, north of Les-Eyzies. The original would be the most impressive of all the caves because of the polychrome paintings (only Altamira in Northern Spain is comparable, and I could only see that one in reproduction, as well). The tour is rather crowded, with 30-40 people in my group. Very different from the small groups that I experienced the other caves with. Lots of horses, bulls, but suprisingly no mammoths (painted during a warmer period??). Some things were not reporduced in the new cave, including wall carvings. I enjoyed seeing this reproduction, but it was far far less exciting than seeing the "real" caves.

A very nice modest restaurant, with outdoor dining, is Du Chateau, located in Campagne, about 5 km SW of Les-Eyzies. I stayed in the rather expensive Hotel du Centenaire in Les-Eyzies, which was somewhat disappointing, although it did have a nice outdoor pool. I believe their restaurant was a Michelin two star place (which was not really that great). I now note that the restaurant is no longer listed in the Guide and is not mentioned on the website. I wonder what happened?

Edited by vigna (log)
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When I read the title of this thread I was going to post a joke saying Lascaux, etc, thinking you were asking for wine cellars to visit...

Ah, folks, I love caves that document our origin as well as the next person and I'm well aware that this section is called "Restaurants, Cuisine, and Travel" but we're supposed to be talking food, so can we switch to foie gras, truffles, Cahors, etc.?

I quite agree, john. I just had to get the "travel" department a/k/a caves taken care of in order that it does not interfere with the restaurants, Ferme Auberge, marches, vin rouge, etc. Vigna's post has completed that quest, so from now on, I won't "truffle" anyone's feathers about bison ancien!

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On your way to Pech Merle on the main N20 road you will find a hotel/ restaurant called "La Bergerie" Tel: 05 65 36 82 82.

Well worth a stop as its one of the hidden gems of the area. Doesn't look much from the outside, but the dining room & the food are outstanding.

The rooms are simple, but clean should you want to stay & breakfast is excellent.

Very reasonable prices. Some English spoken.

Also, at Pech Merle you can pick up a printed English version of the guides spiel as you enter. You have to return it though!

Happy John?

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We were in that area last September/October doing a walking tour from Montignac to Sarlat. The caves were really impressive, and didn't really take up a lot of time. You can read the details HERE

As far as dining goes (you KNEW I was getting there, right John?) Here are some of our favorites from that region:

Hotel Le Lascaux (Montignac) - a cute little inn with a good little dining room. Thierry & Agnes are wonderful hosts. Best steak frites I had the entire trip.

Hotel Le Moulin de la Beaune (Les Eyzies de Tayac) - our best meal in France. Terrific value for the money and service that set the bar for the whole trip.

Hotel Du Chateaux (Beynac) - the castle is why people visit this place, but the food was decent and reasonable.

Pizzeria Roman (Sarlat, 3 Cote de Toulouse - 05 53 59 23 88) - great pizza and a surprisingly good wine list. Warning: really poor ventilation so it gets pretty smoky ... and not from the pizza oven.

Also in Sarlat, the Saturday market in the town centre is awesome!

Enjoy your trip!

A.

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The caves are, well, cavernous but the market . . . ah, the market. And if you're interested I believe you can arrange to tour a pate factory (but it's not for the squeamish). I spent several days there trying to figure out what that unique, um, *aroma* was. The tour on the final afternoon cleared it all up for me.

An odd travelers note: neither the caves, nor the pate plant, is much fun if you're on crutches and sporting a plaitre (cast). Trust me. :wink:

Judy Jones aka "moosnsqrl"

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

M.F.K. Fisher

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