Journey into Padirac Cave

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The spectacular Padirac Cave is one of France’s most visited caves.

No one is quite sure when the chasm of Padirac Cave, or Gouffre de Padirac, was formed, but the ‘how’ of the matter is that the ceiling of the cavern below collapsed, revealing this large hole in the earth. It is known that the cavern existed in the 3rd century, but other than that, it’s a bit of a mystery, which has led to some colourful mythology surrounding its existence.

Local legend has it that the chasm was formed by the devil himself, who kicked his heel into the ground and challenged Saint Martin to cross it. He said that if Saint Martin succeeded, then he would spare the souls of the peasants he was about to drag to hell. With that, Saint Martin spurred on his faithful mule, and leapt clean over the great hole in the earth. It is said that you can still see traces of the hoof marks today!

Standing at the bottom gazing toward the sky makes you really appreciate the cave’s vastness
Standing at the bottom gazing toward the sky makes you really appreciate the cave’s vastness.

Padirac Cave

Where in France: Lot département, Occitanie
Drive from Calais: 814km / 7h 55m

With a diameter of approximately 35 metres, or 115 feet, standing at the edge of the entrance to Padirac Cave will take your breath away. To visit the cavern below, you will have to descend 75 metres by lift or stairs, before entering the cave system, which goes on to a depth of 103 metres, or 338 feet.

Take a boat through the labyrinthine chambers of the cave
Take a boat through the labyrinthine chambers of the cave.

Once you reach the bottom, you will be guided to the boats which will carry you into the heart of the cave. You will glide over the peaceful rivers, weaving in and out of cavities in the rocks, which themselves take on surprising shapes reminiscent of certain types of mushrooms, casting eerie but beautiful silhouettes and shadows.

As your journey continues along the river, you’ll come to the rippling waters of Lac de la Pluie, the lake of rain, where you will quite literally find yourself being rained on. Water permanently runs down the walls and stalactites here, including the Grande Pendeloque, a massive 60-metre-high stalactite.

The sheer scale of the stalactites in Padirac Cave is breath taking
The sheer scale of the stalactites in Padirac Cave is breath taking.

You’ll then disembark the boat at the edge of the main cavern, before following the walking tour into the ‘Salle du Grand Dome’, a vast cathedral-like space that will have you gazing around yourself in wonder. At its height, the ceiling reaches 94 metres and is bejewelled with crystalline clusters formed over millions of years.

Once you’ve walked through the rest of the cave, you’ll find yourself blinking against the brightness of the natural daylight, left with a sense of awe at the natural beauty you have just witnessed.

Practical information

The tour of Padirac Cave will take about an hour and a half, and so the ticket office closes 90 minutes before the end of the day. The cave is open every day from late March until early November, generally from 09:30 until 18:00, but check the exact dates and times ahead of visiting.

A visit to Padirac Cave will stay with you and the whole family for years to come
A visit to Padirac Cave will stay with you and the whole family for years to come.

Ticket prices for adults are €13.50, children aged 4 to 12 are €9.50, and kids younger than 4 are free. You can buy tickets online in advance, which is advisable in the busier summer season, or pick them up on the day at the ticket office. There are also audio guides available in English, French, German, Dutch and Spanish, as well as audio guides specifically designed for children.

There are also a number of special ticketed events available throughout the season, including afterhours tours and music concerts. One particular highlight is the ‘Explorer Tour’, which will take you through at night, guided through the dark by the light of your own lantern, just how Édouard-Alfred Martel would have discovered it in 1889.

One last tip, the caves remain at a constant temperature of 13 Celsius throughout the year, so remember to take a warm jumper or jacket with you!

If you’re feeling inspired to venture underground and explore the wonders of Padirac Cave, remember to book your tickets with us in advance in order to take advantage of the best fares.