France | Pyrenees Rock Art
Created by our ancestors around 35,000 to 10,000 years ago, at a time when Europe lay in the grip of an Ice Age and creatures now long-extinct roamed the countryside, cave art provides one of the most direct connections with our distant past. The truly astonishing feature of rock art is that it remains precisely where the artist intended. And we, the modern visitors, may well view the art while standing upon the exact spot on which the artist stood.
Preserved by the constant temperature of their environment, these drawings and paintings have remained intact for millennia, deep in the caves of the Pyrenees. Dr Bahn has devoted his career to the study of rock art and is able to arrange superb access to the caves.
- Enjoy privileged access to cave sites usually closed to the public, in the company of an archaeologist and specialist on prehistoric rock art
- All the arrangements made for you to give the best possible access to the caves and rock shelters of this beautiful region
- Based in a single hotel - a comfortable former coaching inn in St Girons
- Rock Art
- Special Access
- Small Group
- Low Single Supplement
- Just One Hotel
- All Inclusive
We arrive in Toulouse, admired capital of the Occitane region, and journey south to our hotel in the gorgeous town of Saint-Girons, on the banks of the Salat. A relaxing first day, with some time to explore the tranquil riverside streets as well as enjoying a delicious welcome dinner.
Our explorations begin out east at the large cave site of Mas d’Azil. Characterised by colourfully decorated pebbles and finely carved bone harpoons, the cave has been used as a refuge for millennia, with the earliest remains of human occupation dating back an incredible 30,000 years.
Its accompanying museum showcases a fine collection of portable art and other materials demonstrating the cave’s rich occupation levels. An amazing find.
This morning we drive out to the Grottes de Gargas, where we find cave art consisting of two different elements – both created in the Upper Palaeolithic period of approximately 25,000 BC. One is a collection of animal paintings comparable to those found at Lascaux in the Dordogne, including fine depictions of horses, ibex and mammoths. The other is a dazzling group of some two-hundred hands stencilled in black, red, brown, ochre and white.
In the afternoon we pay a visit to the recently refurbished Prehistoric Museum in Aurignac, on the edge of the Pyrénées. The museum focuses on the life of the Aurignaciens – the first humans to inhabit this region – and features exhibits of weaponry, statues, carvings and tools from 36,000 to 26,000 BC.
Following breakfast we drive to Tarascon-de-Ariège in the northern foothills, where we visit the Parc de la Préhistorie. The park is primarily important for its facsimile of some of the decorated galleries at Niaux, showing them as they would originally have looked. It also includes representations of parts of the cave which one cannot visit, as well as casts of portable art and demonstrations of fire-making.
Fully prepared with this new-found insight, we go on to view the famous Niaux Cave itself. Here we find one of the greatest and most powerful collections of Ice Age drawings that can still be visited, with extraordinary galleries of intricately rendered animals and human footprints, including the world-renowned Salon Noir or “Black Hall”. A sensational site, and one not to be missed.
We spend our whole day in Saint-Lizier, a Medieval village famed for its beauty, as well as its cathedral and cloisters. Inside the cathedral we see magnificent frescoes from the 11th century, a stunning octagonal belfry, and a sacristy filled with treasures of silver and gold.
The village is dominated by the towering Bishop’s Palace, in which we find an enlightening local museum brimming with regional artefacts. Saint-Lizier’s most unusual attraction, however, has to be its faithfully preserved 18th-century pharmacy. Designed in the style of Louis XV, this wood-panelled pharmacy displays various fascinating objects such as surgical tools and ornate medicinal vessels.
Before the day draws to a close we enjoy a convivial farewell dinner with the group – the perfect way to celebrate our adventures.
We say good bye to the Pyrénées Ariégeoises and return to resplendent Toulouse on the banks of the River Garonne. Here we enjoy some time to wander along the Pink City’s stunning streets and waterways, before catching our flights back home.
- Expert Guide Lecturer
- Tour Manager
- Local Travel - Private a/c coach
- Meals - All meals included with wine at dinner
- Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in programme; tips included
- Field Notes
6 nights in a comfortable hand-picked hotel in St Girons — the town is situated on the banks of the Salat, and a walk along the riverside is perfect for taking in palaces, parks, and points of interest
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