The Alien One, as our friend Aileen is lovingly known, had frequently rhapsodised over the Gouffre de Padirac, having been there while on a visit to friends who lived in the area many years ago. Thus it was that we decided to go there one day when both Mo and my father were visiting us. It wasn’t the smartest move, to be honest, as it’s a very long drive from Les Terraces (3 hours). Ok, it isn’t a long drive per se, but it’s a long run out for a day trip and when you’ve spent most of the last 25 years living on a rock 11 miles long and 1.5 miles wide it is a long drive. Trust me. Worse still was that muggins was doing the driving – the Jag not being a family car, we’d rented a compact car from the agency down the road. I drew the short straw.
Even though our visit to Padirac was out of season, there were still a reasonable number of visitors to the attraction. For the uninitiated, the Gouffre de Padirac is a vast underground chasm with a river running through it. There are stunning formations of stalagmites and stalagtites, and beautiful pools. The approach to the Gouffre is quite astonishing ……… a hole some 110m in diameter and 75m deep. That was sufficient to have my vertiginous husband repairing to the restaurant for a cup of coffee instead of joining us on the tour!
The staircase down to the bottom of the chasm gives y0u some idea of how cool
(temperature and experience-wise) the tour will be. Rain jackets and a sweater are definitely recommended. A footpath takes you around a pool, down to some landing stages where you embark on punt-type skiffs and a guide poles you about 1/2 a kilometer down the river to another dock. The chasm roof is an astonishing 60 metres above your head. I have to confess to an urge to start singing the Venetian Boatman’s song that was used as the music for the Cornetto ads, but I refrained (Mo would have been mortified, I’m sure!).
I am afraid that words don’t really do justice to the surreal beauty of the Gouffre de Padirac, so I shan’t even begin to attempt a description. The walkways through the chasm are not designed for vertigo sufferers, or for the very unfit, as there are lots of stairways. Unfortunately, the guide that we had spoke only French but, to be honest, I don’t think that much is actually needed to appreciate the wonder of this cavern. If you’re of a scientific bent then you would feel short-changed, I guess. I don’t know whether in high season they sort visitors into language groups, as they do at Lascaux, but I imagine there’s a distinct possibility that they might.
Would I go to the Gouffre de Padirac again? Yes. But I’d make it part of a 2-day trip into the Lot and overnight somewhere before returning to Sainte-Foy-La-Grande. I understand that there are other subterranean features similar to the Gouffre de Padirac, but closer to home, so I shall hunt them out and let you know what I find.