Travel - Prehistoric Dordogne
The Dordogne region in central France is famous not only for its beautiful scenery and river but also for it’s prehistory.
Les Ezyies and the Verzere Valley are a UNESCO World Heritage site (designated in 1979) for the prehistoric caves. Font de Gaume is famous as it is one of the few caves left where you can see the original prehistoric polychrome paintings. The caves include some of the most significant archaeological finds of the Upper Paleolithic (from about 40,000 to10,000 years ago) and Middle Paleolithic (200,000 to 40,000 years ago) periods, they are especially noted for their extensive wall drawings. Discovered in 1901, more than 200 images have been identified in Font-de-Gaume.
The Grotte du Grand Roc
As well as the pre-historic caves the dordogne has a large number of beautiful natural caves and the Grotte du Grand Roc is one of the best of these. This is a natural cave containing an incredible display of stalactites and stalagmites as well as rare 'exentriques' which are tiny stalactites that grow in all directions.
Another very unusal formation are the triangles. These are on the floor which and form an area covered in perfectly formed triangles.
Evening visits to sights in the Dordogne are becoming ever more popular and the Grotte de Grand Roc is now open for a night time visit on Monday evenings. On these visits the caves are explored by torchlight in the way they would originally been discovered by Jean Maury in 1924. At the end of the visit the caves are illuminated so that you can see them in all their glory.
La Roque Saint-Christophe
Nearby is La Roque-Saint-Christophe, an incredible troglodyte village which shows evidence of use as a shelter for Neanderthal man (50000 BC), Cro-Magnon man (25000 BC) and since then up until the Renaissance in 1588 when the trogolodyte town and fortress that had grown up was destroyed in the Wars of Religion.
The town occupied 5 terraces in the cliff face using naturally hollowed out caves in the limestone cliff. Three hundred feet above the ground and more than half a mile long the Roque Saint Christophe really is a remarkable troglodyte development.
This cave 'village' half way up a cliff has a church, a cow-shed and lots more. There are also some reconstructions of large-scale machines of construction used in medieval times.
Now head on to Saint Leon sur Vezere which is yet another of France's "most beautiful villages", set in a curve in the Vézere River. It is a small village, of houses in the attractive local stone joined by narrow meandering pathways and alleys. Remarkably for a village of this kind in this location, St Leon sue Vezere has not been overly renovated - rather 'sympathetically restored'.
Many of the houses still have parts of their roofs made of stone which was the traditional roofing at one time. The church in the village is small but perfectly formed and is on the pilgrim route that led from the Abbey of Vezelay in Burgundy and on towards the abbeys at Cadouin and Saint Avit Senieur.
The chateau de Clerans has a beautiful slate roof with spires and ornamental stone work. It is private but very attractive and can be seen from various points around the village as well as from the riverside path.
There is an interesting legend in the village that a servant who shot an arrow at the cross fell down dead with his head turned the wrong way round. His grave was opened in 1890 by members of the Archealogical society and indeed there was a body with a head which was back to front.