While “prehistoric history” isn’t usually the first thing people think of when they imagine visiting France, the truth is that the country is endowed with an astonishing amount of it. Between 21,000 and 12,000 BC, a paleolithic civilization known as the Magdalenians ushered in an era of advancement in the realm of art and culture– leaving behind a series of remarkable prehistoric caves in France that are decorated with mysterious paintings and engravings. Clustered in the region known as the Dordogne, these sites remain an enormous draw card for visitors hoping to connect with our distant ancestors.
For anyone seeking a balance between culture, history and luxury on their next French holiday, a bespoke tour of the Dordogne and its many prehistoric riches is certainly a good idea. If you’re interested in exploring this fascinating part of the country but wish to do so without sacrificing comfort and luxury, read on.
The stunning prehistoric caves of Dordogne, including Lascaux, offer an enchanting glimpse into our ancestors. They also remind us that art and culture have thrived in France thousands of years before our modern era. Our private tours of prehistoric sites meld culture and high luxury.
While some travellers will opt to rent a car and explore the prehistoric sites of the Dordogne on their own, one clear advantage of taking a bespoke tour of the area is that you won’t have to do any of the heavy lifting. Your private docent will organise an extraordinary itinerary that will take you straight to the region’s most-stunning caves and other marvels of prehistory, and you’ll be able to sit back and relax as you’re ushered in a comfortable, well-appointed vehicle. Sit back and relax while you enjoy the rugged natural scenery: this is one of France’s most beautiful regions, boasting pristine, rushing rivers, green, unspoiled landscapes and dramatic cliffside villages.
There are nearly a dozen prehistoric caves of note in the Dordogne, and your bespoke tour can include as many of these as you wish. Chief on the list will be the astonishing site at Lascaux, which is located about 30 minutes from the town of Sarlat and arguably harbors the most-celebrated prehistoric cave art in the world. While the genuine site has been closed to the public to protect the “Sistine Chapel” of the Upper Paleolithic era from further degradation and damage, the replica cave remains a true marvel. There are some 2,000 figures painted and engraved here in minute detail, exactly reproducing the colors and forms of the originals: aurochs, stags, a wooly rhinoceros, and other animals; intriguingly, only one image of a man graces the walls here.
Other sites worth seeing on your private excursion include the incredible Rouffignac Cave, which extends for eight to ten kilometres underground and are graced with some 150 prehistoric paintings. Here, you’ll see figures of ice-age creatures such as wooly mammoths, as well as bison, ibex and rhinoceros. The trip here includes an intriguing ride on an underground train to traverse the enormous network of subterranean caves.
Paleolithic Wonders in the Vézères Valley
Meanwhile, Les Eyzies is a village situated in the heart of the Vézère Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage site famous for its paleolithic and prehistoric sites. Wall paintings, caves and archaeological sites abound in the area, and the village itself is a rugged, fascinating place that almost appears carved into the rock itself.
Here, you’ll be able to explore the extensive collections of the National Prehistory Museum, explore a genuine Cro-Magnon shelter, and visit the International Centre of Prehistory for even more in-depth exploration of the region’s millennia-long connections to prehistoric humans and civilisations. Key in the region is the Font de Gaume Cave, boasting some 200 breathtaking, original Ice-Age era cave paintings of animals.
The Abri du Cap Blanc rock shelter is also impressive, albeit small: the shelter features bas-relief sculptures of animals, mostly horses. And at the Palaeolithic site known as Les Combarelles, visitors can discover over 600 engraved images of reindeer, bison, ibex, bears, lions and other fauna.
In addition to these famous places, there are many other fascinating sites in the Dordogne to include on your bespoke itinerary, from stalactite caves and formations to many other caves marked indelibly by prehistoric humans. We’ll put together one that’s perfect for you.
A second reason to embark on a private tour of the Dordogne and its remarkable prehistoric sites with us? Your tour can easily meld culture and history with an in-depth exploration of the region’s distinctive gastronomy and wine. While other tours focus exclusively on art and archaeology in the region, your bespoke itinerary will also give you an insider’s view of the culinary traditions and winemaking activities that make it so special.
You may stop and sample local goat’ and sheep’s cheeses, from Rocamadour and Cabecou de Perigord to Tommette d’Echourgnac, or taste market-fresh specialities made with truffle, walnuts, foie gras or mushrooms. No matter the season, a whirl through local markets to meet the area’s best artisans and get an authentic sense of the ambient culinary culture is always in order.
Exclusive, private visits to local producers of delicacies such as foie gras, walnut oils, caviar and fine liqueurs also offer a wonderful way to discover the region’s numerous gastronomic delights. You’ll be able to learn firsthand how these coveted traditional products are made and enjoy authentic meetings with local artisans.
Wine aficionado? Your private guide can make arrangements for exclusive tastings in some of the region’s best cellars. Wines to try from the area include vintages from the Cotes de Gascogne near Bergerac; from the Ayveron region, and the Cotes de Dordogne appellation. These are confidential vintnering areas whose secrets will be unlocked during your bespoke tour. Expect nothing short of extraordinary tastings– and if you so choose, we can also arrange for gastronomic dining experiences paired with excellent local wines. Whatever your culinary curiosities, you can be sure that they’ll be sated.
Last but certainly not least, embarking with us on a private tour around France’s most remarkable prehistoric caves and paleolithic sites will allow you to stay in some of the region’s most sought-after hotels. What could be better than following a day of exploring, hiking and tasting with a luxurious evening in beautiful natural surroundings?
Examples of hotels and lodgings we especially covet include Les Glycines in Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil, an extensive property with lush parklands, an onsite spa and outdoor pool perfect for relaxing at day’s end, rustic yet luxurious wooden lodges surrounded by lush gardens, and onsite gastronomic restaurants associated with French star chef Alain Ducasse’s Les Collectionneurs network. At the main restaurant Le 1862, Chef Pascal Lombard offers exceptional home-made cuisine centred around locally sourced produce such as black truffles, duck, strawberries and cheeses. Tasting menus are a must at this gastronomic gem, and the wine list is extensive and well-balanced.
The Chateau de la Treyne, meanwhile, rivals the fantastic castles of the Loire Valley when it comes to fairytale charm and high luxury. Situated on a rocky bluff overlooking rolling hillsides and the rushing Dordogne river, the turreted chateau was built between the 14th and 17th century and offers both history and sumptuous, palace hotel-level amenities. Enjoy the Michelin starred restaurant, gorgeous period rooms, royal-style gardens, and sweeping terrace overlooking the entire Dordogne riverside area. This would be an excellent choice for a honeymoon in France or an anniversary celebration.
Another excellent choice is the Hotel Plaza Madeleine in Sarlat, a charming hotel featuring elegantly decorated, comfortable rooms and suites, a gastronomic restaurant serving regional cusine, a wine and cocktail bar, and a spa complete with heated indoor pool.
Situated in a listed 17th-century residence in close reach of the Lascaux caves, the prestigious Hotel de Bouilhac is a luxurious refuge away from the crowds of tourists. The opulently appointed rooms nevertheless have a touch of rustic charm, with views over greenery and countryside. The hotel’s onsite restaurant Le Bouilhac offers more typical and eye-opening gourmet introductions to the cuisine of the Périgord, with traditional yet inventive dishes from Chef Christophe Maury.
Next, Le Vieux Logis in Trémolat is another local property that brings together luxury and authenticity with a touch of the rustic. With its 30 comfortable and elegant but simply decorated rooms, pleasant gardens, ivy-covered facade and traditional ambience, the Relais & Châteaux lodge has the atmosphere of an old French country house. The Michelin-starred restaurant helmed by Vincent Arnould is noteworthy for its savoir-faire, fresh local produce and inventive new twists on regional classics.
At the edge of Dordogne but still potentially worth a stay, finally, is the Chateau des Vigiers, a sprawling 16th-century estate boasting a large golf course and country club, Sothys spa with pools, Michelin-starred restaurant helmed by Chef Didier Casaguana and easy access to some of the region’s most extraordinary places.
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If you’re looking for something a bit different on your next luxury getaway to France, a private tour of prehistoric sites in the southwest might just be the ticket. Contact us now to start creating the perfect bespoke itinerary around the Dordogne– balancing culture and high luxury.
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