|Situated south of, and well signposted from, Tarascon-sur-Ariège, up a single track lane from the village of Niaux. Try not to meet a coach coming up on the way back down, as we did - it was a rather long reverse to get back to the car park for passing purposes!
We had pre-booked, and almost all of those who turned up "on spec" for the only English tour that day were turned away. The visitors' centre is not open all the time (shop and tickets) but the first floor had an open air exhibition of the history of the cave (boards all in French) and of cave paintings of the era across Europe. There are also public toilets hidden behind the shop.
We arrived a bit before our tour time, to take in the spectacular view, and also to do a quick change - stout walking footwear is essential, and we had be also advised to wear warm clothes.
Please note - there is no photography, or light other than the torches supplied, allowed in the cave.
Our guide explained the cave system and which bits are accessible - the tour is basically to the Salon Noir (Black Chamber) as other parts of the system are beyond underground lakes.
The caves had been known about by locals for a significant time - graffitti (rather elegant script!) has been dated back to 1602 - but their importance and age only recognised in the late 18C. There are dot-and-dash finger paintings before the Salon Noir, but the main images are all found along one side of the salon. And they are incredible! Analysis of the drawings shows that crude brushes were used for some, and the drawings were made without hesitancy - just amazing for art that has been carbon dated to 14,000 years old, that's late in the last ice age!
The majority of the images are horses, bison and ibex. The cave's unique item - a stoat - is past a lake and hence not part of the tour.
Tour time - over an hour. The cave floor is wet and slippery in places, you have to duck and negotiate a couple of narrow passages, and there's a climb up a sand dune - so for adults of reasonable mobility.
Posted by sals
8th July 2013ce