I read somewhere that Pech-Merle is the "most impressive real-thing prehistoric cave that is open to the public in France." When this phrase jumped out at me from my research notes for our trip through Southwest France, I added Pech-Merle to my "must see" list. I was not disappointed.
Drawings made by prehistoric ancestors in the cave include bison and mammoths. Its famous spotted horses -- created about 26,400 years ago -- left me awestruck. And the handprint drawings -- rare for cave art -- were a special treat. Water and time have added nature's art to the scene with fascinating formations that are as compelling as anything displayed there by man.
To ensure the best possible experience, I made reservations by e-mail for a tour in English. That way I knew I would get in (the number of daily visitors is limited for preservation purposes) and have a better appreciation for what I saw. Twenty-five of us accompanied an extremely knowledgeable guide for about an hour. He illuminated everything he discussed so we could get a good look. If the object discussed was in a small space, he gave an explanation to part of the group, asked these participants to move on and then repeated the explanation to the others. By the end of the tour, I felt that the 10 euro admission charge had been one of the best deals of my vacation.
The site where the cave is located also offers a film and a small museum. These can be enjoyed before or after the cave visit. There are also a gift shop, a snack bar and picnic tables.
Be sure to bring warm clothes. I visited on an extremely hot day but the cave itself was quite chilly.
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