France’s Dordogne region, about 120 miles east of Bordeaux, is generally considered a summer destination for unwinding in the fairytale towns in the hills lining the lazy Dordogne river. A land of medieval castles, foie gras and prehistoric cave art, there is something for every taste. As a winter destination, the region still has plenty to offer without having to muscle your way through quaint cobbled streets, make reservations weeks in advance or wait in long lines. Keep in mind, however, that some the area’s sites close for the season.
On a gorgeous weekend in mid February, clear blue skies with temperatures approaching 60°, we visited the prehistoric sites of Lascuaux II, Font de Gaume, and the Musée de Prehistoire in Les Eyzies de Tayac. The grottes des Cambarelles and Abri du Cap Blanc were also open, while Rouffignac and Cougnac were closed. Lascaux II and La Grotte du Grand Roc had just re-opened February 16th after the winter break.
Lascaux II, the masterful reproduction of the Lascaux cave, is not to be missed. A stunning example of prehistoric cave painting (about 15,000BC). A video of the cave can be seen here. No advanced reservations were necessary. No photos are allowed in the cave.
Font de Gaume, one of the few caves of original prehistoric polychromatic paintings (15,000BC) open to the public, limits the number of daily visitors as well as the time allowed in the cave. Nevertheless we had no difficulty, arriving at the ticket office at 2PM on Sunday for the 2:30 tour. The enthusiastic archaeologist speaking in hushed French, brings to life the faint images.
The National Museum of Prehistory in Les Eyzies de Tayac is a beautiful modern museum set in the rock cliff that borders one side of the town. The museum’s displays focus on technical themes relating to prehistoric man – tool making, funerary rites, cave painting, etc. Extremely well done for those in the field (my brother-in-law loved it) it may be “over-the-top” for the lay person, such as myself. Photos are allowed without flash.