Friday 31 July 2015

The Gouffre de Padirac, the Dordogne, France

Like a set out of Journey to the Centre of the Earth, the Gouffre de Padirac is an extraordinary and elaborate cave system reachable via an enormous hole in the ground. Although there may be a long queue to buy tickets, it moves pretty quickly and the admission price is very reasonable (10.50 euros for adults). Still, you should try and buy tickets online in advance. You can take the vertiginous stairs down to the base of the open cave or queue for the cage-style lift. Once at the bottom, you follow a winding path underground before descending further via some dank, dimly-lit staircases. 

After following a subterranean path a little way, you join a queue for a gondola to take you along the underground stream. As well as punting the gondola along, the guide will tell you a bit about the craggy caves, complete with huge stalactites, looming in the floodlights around you. Flash photography is banned down here, so taking pictures is difficult in the gloom. Once you reach dry land again, you join another guide who takes you on a tour of some spectacular caverns, full of other-worldly rock formations, via some winding stone staircases. If it wasn't for your fellow tourists and the broken English of the guide, it would be easy to imagine you were in the Mines of Moria. You are reunited with your gondola for the journey back. The whole tour takes about 90 minutes. 8/10

Images from the Gouffre de Padirac website