Visit Gouffre de Padirac
The Gouffre de Padirac is by the village of Padirac near to Loubressac and Rocamadour.
Cross the eastern border of the Dordogne region into Lot, and you will find the Gouffre de Padirac.
Explore the Gouffre de Padirac
The enormous chasm at Padirac is about 99 metres around the rim, and you will descend 75 metres to enter the cave system.
After the initial descent, you get in a boat for an eerie trip along a subterranean stream, and then pass through various underground caverns full of extraordinary rock formations.
See the 'Lac de la Pluie' (lake of rain), the Grand Dome, the Lac Superieur amongst others. Each chamber as incredible as the next. For me, this is the perfect caves - I love it!
The Gouffre de Padirac is perhaps not as beautiful as some but it really is awesome. The underground gorge is very deep and the size of the caverns quite amazing. I heard it described recently as 'Wagneresque' and I think this sums it up beautifully.
Be aware there though that whilst you enter on a boat and are punted along the subterranean stream there is a point where you get out and then climb 300 steps to admire the cavern from on high as well as below. I had forgotten this from my first visit years ago and a touch of vertigo made it a bit scary for me. If vertigo or poor health stop you from doing the climb you can walk back along the water-side to the boats and wait for everyone else there - still worth the trip but you miss some exceptional sights - take the steps if you possibly can.
Opening Hours and Practical Information
The caves are open from the 30 March to November 11. When you arrive at the caves you will be staggered by the size of the site. A virtual village has grown up around the cave. The ticket office, a cafe and a kiosk are all built in a similar (almost Mexican) style and these were built back in the 1930s when the caves really took off as a tourist attraction.
There are also a couple more restaurants and lots of car parking.
There is also a lovely park with a children's area which too is part of the 1930s development and a lovely spot to pass time before or after your visit - or whilst one of you is in the ticket queue.
Yes there are queues! We visited mid July and the wait was about 20-25 minutes with another 10 minutes below ground waiting for a boat. It is possible to book tickets online to avoid queues.
30 March to 30 April: 10.30-17.30 (18.30 some days)
1 May to 30 June: 09.30-18.30
1 July to 31 July: 9.00-19.00 (20.00 after the first full week)
1 August to 31 August: 09.00-20.00 (8.30-19.30 for the last week)
1 September to 30 September: 09.30-18.00
1 October to 31 October: 09.30-17.30 (18.30 last week)
1-13 November: 10.30-17.30
Address: Le Gouffre, 46500 Padirac, tel: 05 65 33 64 56
Adults (12+) 12.00€, children 8.50 € under 4s free
Temperature in the caves is a constant 13° and so bring something warm to put on.
Discovery of the Gouffre de Padirac
The Gouffre de Padirac was discovered by Eduard-Alfred Martel, a local lawyer and keen explorer of underground cave systems. On finding the hole in the earth Martel and 4 friends lowered a ladder and discovered the wonders of this incredible cave.
Martel knew that with funding the caves could be successfully opened to the public. Fate then played a hand as he accidently left his maps of the Gouffre on a cab. The next passenger was a rich brewer - George Beamish. Amazed by what he had found he immediately offered to finance the project.
Nine years later in 1898 the first visitors descended into the caves.
Now more than 400 000 enter the Gouffres de Padirac every year. The Gouffre de Padirac is now one of the top underground sites in the world.
Legends of the Gouffres de Padirac and village of Padirac
Various legends and tales have attached themselves to the Padirac caves, most evoke the devil.
In one legend the caves were formed when the devil kicked his heel in a challenge to Saint Martin. If Saint Martin could jump the vast hole in the surface of the earth he could save the souls of the peasants the devil was about to lead into hell.
Saint Martin spurred on his mule and the pair jumped the hole thereby defeating the devil who vanished within. You can take a look at the hoof print where the mule landed, still visible in the rock today.
Local legend has it that flames occasionally errupt from the gouffre. Local legend also suggests that soldiers buried treasure in the Gouffre at the end of the Hundred Years War - so keep you eyes open for treasure as well as the natural delights when you enter!
Places to Visit Nearby
The nearby village of Padirac is tiny but pretty with some charming buildings.
The caves at Padirac are not far from Rocamadour and it's easy to combine the two in the same trip.
Photos of Gouffre de Padirac
Click any picture to start the gallery