In the footsteps of our prehistoric ancestors in Perigord – Meanderings through France n° 114
By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
The Vezere is a small tributary of beautiful Dordogne River in the heart of Perigord and its valley was home for human beings since the mists of time. For dozens of millenniums men have lived in caves dug into the high cliffs that overlook the river, leaving countless traces of their long forgotten way of life. Among this exceptional number of major prehistoric sites, no less than 15 have been granted UNESCO World Heritage. Visiting them allows us to get a glimpse at their day-to-day life but most questions are still unanswered. Their skill to make tools and weapons as well as their rare artistic gifts, still amaze and touch us. So far away, and yet so close to our own material and spiritual questioning…
The Lascaux Cave certainly is the most famous of these sites. It was discovered in 1940 by four teenagers, or, to be more accurate, by their dog! He had disappeared but his barking led them to a small hole hidden behind bushes. Following their dog they passed through the hole and fell down a gentle sandy slope and… discovered extraordinary wall paintings by the light of a small candle. In the following years, Lascaux became a Mecca for all palaeontologists of the world and for curious tourists. It was closed in 1963 to prevent damage and a detailed replica, Lascaux 2 opened some 20 years later. Over the years ten millions visitors came to Lascaux 2 and its car park that had been built close the original cave caused ground movements and land subsidence, creating new threats to Lascaux 1.
This is why and how the International Cave Painting Centre better known as Lascaux 4 (Lascaux 3 is a world touring exhibition), was born. This state of the art visitor centre designed by a Norwegian architect, Kjetil Thorsen, is 1,5 km away from Lascaux 1 and is set at the foot of the Lascaux Hill. The 17,000 years old painted cave has been accurately duplicated. A 3-D camera has captured every subtle detail of the cave and each tiny relief, each shade of colour is exactly the same in this full-size replica. Some 615 animals, bulls, deer, horses, aurochs, and only one man have been painted on the walls using the same pigments as Cro-Magnon men… and women! (Many signs suggest that female artists worked in the caves of the Vezere Valley 15,000 years before the pyramids of Egypt were built!). A workshop, a 3D cinema and an interactive gallery of imagination complete the visit. Tours in English are available all year long and can be reserved on the website. More information: http://www.lascaux.fr/en
Half way up an 80 meters high cliff overlooking the Vezere, the “Roque Saint-Christophe” site is the largest troglodytic cliff in Europe and a rare example of troglodyte dwellings used by men from the Palaeolithic Age to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Here archaeologists were able to uncover many artefacts of all these different periods. From the first tools carved in bone and flint to those hammered out in copper, cast in bronze or forged in iron by its first inhabitants from 34,000 to 28,OOO BC and later by men of the Bronze Age, or from the first coarse pottery to glazed and finely decorated vases of the Gallo-Roman times, they all attest of a continuous human occupation. We can easily imagine how this dominant position was a valuable asset for La Roque Saint-Christophe’s inhabitants. The Prehistoric hunter-gatherers could spot game from afar or seek refuge on the high cliff and much later during the Hundred Years’ War the caves had been turned into a fortified place hanging from the rock wall.
Through the centuries 7 different levels coexisted, from the first one 25 meters above the river to the 7th one on top of the cliff. During your visit you will have access to the main points of interest such as the huge 400-meter long rock shelter known as the “Boulevard of Humanity”, the church and its tombs, the forge, the different enclosures where the cattle was locked at night, the dwellings dug into the rock linked with ladder-staircases… In summertime you will be able to handle impressive medieval machines such as the drum-trowel, a trebuchet or a big goods lift used to easily get all kind of things from the ground level to the upper ones.
Perigord truly is paradise for prehistory lovers and many sites are open to the public all along the Vezere Valley where there are 147 different prehistoric sites including 25 painted caves! Driving along these 40 km from Les Eyzies-de-Tayac and Montignac. The Roc de Cazelle caves, the Madeleine’s shelter, the Grand Roc Cave, the Cro-Magnon shelter or even a rare castle-in-the –cliff, Reignac, where you will visit incredibly big decorated rooms dug into the rock an hidden behind an elegant façade.
Ideally located in the heart of this beautiful area in Valojoulx village, “La Licorne” is the perfect place to stay in. Isabelle will warmly welcome you in her authentic Perigord house and make you feel comfortable at once in this friendly B&B. The five big rooms, nicely decorated and the heated outdoor swimming pool will be perfect places to relax after visiting all the nearby villages, castles and prehistoric sites.
But most of all Isabelle is an amazing cook. She spends hours cooking mouth-watering cakes, jams and breads for the huge morning breakfast. Three times a week she also cooks dinner for her guests and you will discover her local delicacies made with local quality produce. Unlike many chefs, Isabelle will willingly share her recipes with you! If you have specific requests for food she will be glad to make you gluten free or lactose free dishes and once again make you discover new recipes. Let her know your preferences in advance and every thing will be ready for you. No wonder that La Licorne has such a positive word of mouth!
More about Isabelle and “La Licorne” guest-house: http://licorne-lascaux.com/en/ or by phone + 33 5 53 50 77 77
More information about Perigord, Dordogne department and the Vezere Valley: http://uk.france.fr/en/dordogne
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny & Annick Dournes