The Dordogne region of France has literally hundreds of caves, many of them open for the public to visit.
These caves ('grottes' in French) fall into two categories - caves that are famous for the prehistoric paintings that they contain; and caves that are more renowned for their rock formations - stalactites, stalagmites, and other curious shapes formed by the effects of water over thousands of years.
Both types of cave are equally fascinating. It is not possible to view the cave paintings without feeling a strange connection with our ancestors that once stood in exactly the same place, or to stand in one of the great underground caverns without being overawed by the beauty of nature.
I have not attempted to separate the two categories because many of the caves in the region have both prehistoric paintings AND rock formations, but the descriptions of the individual caves below describe the main features of each set of caves.
Main caves and grottes in the Dordogne region
Lascaux II Caves at Montignac
The most important caves in France, the Lascaux caves, are one of the highlights of a trip to the Dordogne.
Although the original cave has now been closed to protect it the copy is so realistic you would never realise it was man-made and the paintings are simply stunning. The paintings are almost all of animals and the colour and detail used is amazing.
La Roque Saint Christophe
About halfway between Le Bugue and Montignac is the troglodyte town of La Roque Saint Christophe which occupies a fabulous position about 90 meters above the River Vezere.
This enormous shelter was once home to an entire village and as you walk along it you can see remains of the forge and the church etc.
Gouffre de Proumeyssac
Near Le Bugue, the caves at Proumeyssac are highly renowned. The main feature is the enormous 'Cathedral of Crystal' - a stunning, huge and beautifully lit cavern. You can pay extra and enter by a the same method as the original visitors - a suspended basket, now motorised but originaly lowered by a horse.
The caves are expertly lit to highlight the spectacular rock formations.
Aswell as the caves there is a picnic area, a bookshop and bar and a forest trail and a geological area. For more information visit Gouffre de Proumeyssac.
Les Grottes de Maxange
Newly discovered in 2000, these caves at Le Buisson de Cadouin are now open to the public. Special focus has been given to the lighting of the formations of the spectacular rock formations.
These caves have thousands of very unusual formations - formed by capillary action rather than dripping water, these curious formations twist and turn in all directions.
For more information visit Les Grottes de Maxange.
Gouffre de Padirac
The Gouffre de Padirac is our favourite natural cave in the Dordogne area. The cave is entered by boat.
Grotte de Villars
A great spectacle of lighting and water bring these caves to life, and truly show the various rock formations at their best. There are also renowned prehistoric paintings, including an unusual painting of a person (usually only animals were painted in prehistoric paintings) to see.
After your visit there is a play area for the children.
Grotte de Cougnac at Payrignac
This has both a natural cave with a ceiling of very fine stalactites and a cave with prehistoric paintings. It is 18km from Sarlat.
Les Eyzies de Tayac
Because there are so many caves in the Les Eyzies region I have given them a separate page: caves of Les Eyzies, Dordogne
Grotte de Domme
These caves are underneath the village of Domme allowing you to visit the caves and visit one of France's most beautiful villages.
Troglodyte houses at Belves
Underneath the main square of Belves there is a troglodyte village which is very interesting to visit and Belves is also one of France's most beautiful villages.
Troglodyte Fort at La Roque Gageac
These are cliff side dwellings, dating from the 12th century, rather than underground caverns, and are found 40 metres up the cliffs at La Roque-Gageac on the Dordogne River.
Grotte de Rouffignac (Cave of a Hundred Mammoths)
An electric train takes you into a cavern where you will find engravings of mammoths, rhinocerous, horses and bison.
Grotte des Merveilles at Rocamadour
This cave contains both prehistoric drawings and stalactites and stalagmites. It is also near to the historic town of Rocamadour, one of the key sites of France.
Grotte de Lacave
This natural cave is entered on a small electric train taking you to a large cave with an impressive display of stalactites and stalagmites. Lacave is near to Martel and Souillac.