In mid-April, 2011, my husband and I (in our late 50’s) traveled by car from Nice to Les Eyzies-de-Tayac in the Dordogne area of France to see the Cro-Magnon cave paintings. This first time in France for us Minnesotans was so fantastic that I had to write about it. The cave paintings were fascinating but the wonder of the trip turned out to be the wealth of prehistory that can actually be seen and touched in this area of the world. The Vezere River is full of easily accessible natural caves and overhanging rocks that were hollowed out into shelters. They were inhabited by people for tens of thousands of years, up into the 16th century and later, leaving behind traces of their lives. Michelin Map France 721 was used for the entire country and then 329 for the Dordogne area. Bullet points for a similar trip:
• Go off season to avoid crowds and touristy feel but go late enough that the caves you want to see are open. The first full week of April sees the opening of many sites. Font de Gaume, perhaps the best, was still closed but we saw Lascoux II, Rouffignac, & Rocque St. Christophe. Pech-Merle was open but we didn’t make it. Highlights included Beynac for the town, chateau, and river boat (Gabarre) ride.
• We would return to Les Eyzies for another stay at the Cro Magnon Hotel – only off season - great food, quaint accommodations, perfect location to explore the area from
• Rent a canoe in Les Eyzies – you are driven with canoes to start at Rocque St. Christophe (tour it first another day so you understand what you are seeing from the river). Paddle about 2 ½ hours down river, “rediscovering” for yourself the rock caves and remnants of cave dwellings.
• Towns I missed: Sarlat-la-Canada, Domme, St.-Armand-de-Coly, St. Cirq Lapopie, La Madeleine
• Road Trip: From Nice, drive to Ste. Enimie then on through the Tarn Gorges (Gorges de Tarn Road) which are among the deepest gorges in Europe. Views into the gorges with medieval fortress towns built up the rock walls of the river are indescribable. We stayed at the Chateau de la Caze built in 1492 where we walked along the banks of the river and watched people fly fishing.
• There are closer airports than Nice but it made for a nice road trip. Understand that the trip we took is through an area vacationed in primarily by the French; English is not spoken everywhere.
• Stop to tour Rocamadour (about 90 min drive to Les Eyzies)
• Towns I want to return to for a longer stay: St. Enimie, La Malene (to rent kayak/canoe), Millau, Castelbuc, Roquefort, Figeac.