Have you ever heard of the Font de Gaume cave? It’s tucked away in the Dordogne region of France in the town of Les Eyzies and it’s an absolute must-visit. Why? At Font de Gaume you visit the actual painted cave, not a reproduction. It is one of the last places where you can see something like this, which makes it pretty special. It is important to get your tickets for Font de Gaume in advance, but not too far in advance. That distinction confuses a lot of people. It’s quite simple once it’s explained, so read on!
Locals have been visiting this cave for a long time. Access to the cave was not blocked or hidden. People went inside this cave a lot, dare-devils even going to parts where access is difficult. But Denis Peyrony (a local school teacher who was fascinated by prehistory and the discoveries he read about in the papers in the late 1800s) was the first to show that was they were looking at is art that was created long ago.
Researchers estimate these drawings are about 16,000 years old. The cave has hundreds of images of animals, many are hard to see in the dim light. But several are painted in color, and that’s where your guide will stop you and turn on some lights. You’ll see reindeer (which is rare in painted caves), horses, bisons and mysterious shapes we call tectiform. It’s not just simple stick figures either – these are full-on detailed drawings. The artists even used the shape of the cave walls to make the animals look 3D.
Getting Tickets for Font de Gaume
You cannot explore this cave on your own – there are guided tours. They’ll explain all about the Paleolithic era, how the cave was found, and why it’s being preserved. Plus, they’ll go into detail about the paintings and what they could mean.
Now, the thing about Font de Gaume is that they limit the number of people who can visit each day to 73. That’s to make sure it stays preserved for future generations. It’s best to book one month in advance, especially during the busy season, so you don’t miss out.
The only place to get tickets is here. Tickets are released one month at a time. This means that they only display tickets for the next 30 days at most. There is one exception: tickets for July and August are released on June 15th and sell out quickly.
There is one English tour every day at 11:15 AM. They often add one more tour in English at 1:15 PM. Book a tour in English if you can, because much of the experience at Font de Gaume relies on the explanations of the guide.
Arrive Early and Only Bring a Jacket!
You must arrive at the cave 30 minutes before the time you booked because it’s a bit of a hike up to the cave. The path is paved and not slippery. I walked the 400 meters to the entrance of the cave slowly, but you don’t need to be in great shape to do it. Once you’re inside the cave, the walk is pretty much flat and fairly easy as far as caves go, but it is not accessible to wheelchairs.
There is a shaded parking lot near the entrance. No picnic tables in the parking lot. There are bathrooms, but only once you get to the entrance of the cave. No backpacks or purses are allowed. You’ll have to leave your stuff in the car. The only thing you should have with you when you walk up is a jacket because it’s cool in the cave (14°C). You can’t take photos in the cave, but you can see the official photos here.
I’ve seen most of the painted caves you can visit in France. Font de Gaume stands out as one that you can visit quickly without needing to walk far from the entrance. As far as visiting the original cave is concerned, I also like Peche-Merle which is similarly easy access and Niaux where access is bit more difficult. But Font de Gaume ranks right up there despite the restricted visit.
I think the words “mystery” and “hidden” are overused these days, but in the case of Font de Gaume, we are literally dealing with mysterious and hidden art. If you’re into history, art, or just cool experiences, this is one you won’t want to pass up. Just make sure you understand how to get a ticket.
To prepare for your visit to the Dordogne, I recommend you listen to this episode of the podcast.