Pont Valentre, fortified stone arch bridge crossing the Lot River at Cahors, France
Pont Valentre, fortified stone arch bridge crossing the Lot River at Cahors, France

Spain & France: In the Shadows of Ancient Artists


15 days From $9,890

September 15 2019

Memorably complemented by a trans-Pyrenean journey through the splendid scenery of northeast Spain and across southwest France, this innovative itinerary is themed around a variety of opportunities to study at first hand some of Europe’s finest cave art and, with the aid of expert interpretation, to gain a true understanding of its uniquely important cultural and historical significance.

Across their long time-span of up to some 30,000 years these images and the methods used to create them have revealed to anthropologists many important clues into the evolution of the early human mind. The ancient subterranean caverns housing them also hold keys to other practices from an even earlier past before Neanderthals gave way to modern humans. The Castillo cave complex in Spanish Cantabria can even boast archaeological levels 130,000 years old.

Our route through France encompasses wider time horizons on occasion as we fast-forward through encounters with eventful chapters of this region’s tumultuous history – from Viking invasions, Albigensian crusades and Santiago pilgrimages to the Hundred Years’ War and church schisms. None of these will trouble us today though, especially during a relaxing visit to the beautiful Dordogne, an area widely renowned for its outstanding cuisine and wines.

What's included?

  •  Expert Scholar & Tour Manager
  •  Accommodation
  •  Meals - as per the itinerary
  •  Local Transport
  •  Entries & Tips

Led by...

Dr Roy Larick

Dr Roy Larick is currently Adjunct Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Iowa.

Book Now $9,890
Includes deposit: $500 Single supplement: $1,750

Tour highlights:

  • Discover amazing examples of the earliest forms of human creativity and expression through cave art created originating as long as 30,000 years ago
  • View some of the accomplished Chauvet cave replica the most spectacular early Homo Sapiens imagery ever uncovered
  • Explore the famous Niaux cave and the paintings of the cathedral-like Black Salon with a prehistory scholar as your guide
  • Enjoy delicious regional cuisines and local wines – and enjoy luxurious stays in beautiful hotels
  • See the incredible grand ceiling at the Rouffignac cave and wander the newly opened replica center, Lascaux VI

Tour details

Dates September 15 2019 - September 29 2019
Duration 15 days
Cost $9,890
Single supplement: $1,750
Deposit: $500 , balance due by 23 June 2019
Activity Level Challenging
Tour code A19CAV

Book Now or call 866-740-5130 if you have any questions

September 15 2019: Itinerary

We arrive into Madrid and transfer to our first hotel where we will meet for dinner.

Meals include: Dinner

Hotel: Catalonia Gran Vía, Madrid

This morning, we enjoy a welcome lecture where our scholar introduces us to the multifaceted, millennia-old history and archaeology of this region. Afterwards, we drive to visit the ruins of Burgos Castle, the history of which stretches from Roman times to the Peninsular War. Archaeological explorations of the area around the castle have also found evidence of ancient prehistoric settlements on the hill which the ruins of the castle now sit. This evening, we enjoy a welcome lecture, where our scholar introduces us to the multifaceted, millennia-old history and archaeology of this region.

Meals include: Breakfast, Dinner

Hotel: Hotel Abba, Burgos

We begin at Atapuerca. The caves here hold some of the earliest evidence of Homo sapiens in Europe, with fossil and skeletal remains dating back almost one million years. A combination of archaeological excavation, DNA analysis and other scientific techniques have revealed incredible detail about the way of life of our most remote ancestors. We then head north to Cantabria, stopping for lunch at El Convento, a former Cluniac monastery. This afternoon we visit the Monte Castillo cave complex, with archaeological levels 130,000 years old. Inside we come face-to-face with painted bison and mammoth. Our hotel for the next two nights is in the lovely town of Santillana de Mar with cobbled streets and medieval-houses aplenty.

All meals included

Hotel: Parador, Santillana del Mar

We visit the amazing World Heritage Site of El Pindal this morning, where a beautiful horse is perfectly depicted in the cave, and both fish and mammoth representations can be seen. These are particularly notable pieces because fish are infrequently found in the Palaeolithic art of this region. From here, we continue on to Ribadesella to visit the UNESCO World Heritage site of Tito Bustillo, a vast alcove-rich cave and one of the most important Palaeolithic art sites in the entire world. There is also a striking new museum located in this site, which we take time to visit, too. Sealed away for millennia, ancient works of art depicting deer, moose, and horses are remarkably preserved, despite dating from up to 40,000 years ago.

All meals included

Hotel: Parador, Santillana del Mar

We enjoy a visit to the Altamira II replica cave and museum, which has excellent interpretive materials. Dating suggests that Altamira’s Great Ceiling animal assemblage was decorated 35,000 to 14,000 years ago. Farther back in deep alcoves, we see anthropomorphic masks. We then drive east along the Cantabrian coast, known for its mountain-ringed estuaries. Entering the Basque country, we visit the replica cave of Ekain. Declared a World Heritage Site in 2008, the original cave is home to engravings up to 14,000 years old. The animals depicted include horse, bison, goats and deer – often depicted in an exceptionally realistic style. We continue to our hotel, built inside a medieval fortress, which itself dates to the 10th century, complete with thick stone walls, vaulted ceilings and courtyards.

All meals included

Hotel: Parador de Hondarribia

We begin our ascent into the foothills of the Pyrénées, a land of cave art and striking Cathar castles. Our first stop here is Saint-Bertrand de-Comminges, which was founded on an important Gallo-Roman city of the Pyrénées. The hilltop town is best known for its Gothic cathedral, which dominates the landscape. After lunch, we continue on to the evocative Gargas cave, which is world-famous for its stenciled hand-print alcoves and fissures, drenched in red ochre. The Gargas cave has also shown evidence of occupation as bones and stone tools have been recovered there, along with the engravings of bison, ibex and aurochs. 

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Hôtel Eychenne, St Girons

In Niaux’s cathedral-like Black Salon, we find alcoves painted with horse, bison and ibex. Visits are conducted by flashlight, the dim light gives an even greater feeling of connection with the people who first painted these walls over 13,000 years ago and the atmosphere created will make for a memorable visit. We move onto the incomparable site of Mas-d’Azil: Carolingian abbey and crucial Protestant stronghold. As our bus tracks along the Arize River, we explore the Mas-d’Azil cave. We return to St Girons and have free time to explore this charming town on the Sarlat river.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Hôtel Eychenne, St Girons

We head northward across the Garonne Valley to Quercy – the land of spectacular caves. In Cahors, the Pont Valentré is a pilgrimage route and engineering marvel; the bridge was built in the 14th century and has no fewer than six gothic arches and three fortified towers. After lunch, we explore the immense, flowstone-laden galleries and famous decorated alcoves of Peche Merle, including the Spotted Horses and evocative human hand-prints. Described by Teyssédou as “an art gallery in a palace of nature,” Peche Merle was lost until 1922, when it was discovered (and explored in some detail) by two local teenage boys, aided and abetted by the local priest-come-archaeologist, Father Amedee Lemozi. This particular cave has been open to the public since 1926, but groups that enter have to be limited in size so as not to endanger the precious artworks with carbon dioxide produced by breathing, heat or humidity.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Château de Mercuès, Cahors

We continue northward to the Santiago pilgrimage way-stop of Rocamadour. Here, cliffside chapels preserve Cluniac frescoes and the village itself can only be described as a balancing act. It is noted for its sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which attracts religious visitors. In Souillac, the Byzantine Romanesque Eglise St. Marie has a rare Cluniac sculpture of Isaiah. In Cougnac, we find a small gallery boasting alcoves painted with Irish elk. We end the day at Les-Eyzies-de-Tayac, our base for the next four nights. Perched on the Vézère River cliffs, this market town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 1979 and lies at the Périgord region’s center.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Hôtel Centenaire, Les Eyzies

The following three days focus mainly on Paleolithic caves, important medieval fortifications and, of course, the most beautiful countryside. Our program includes Abri Cro-Magnon, discovered in 1868 by Louis Lartet, where famous burial finds date back some 27,000 years. We also spend time at the Upper Paleolithic rock shelter at Abri Pataud, where human remains and stone tools were recovered, and archaeologists’ techniques can be explored. During these three days, we will pay a visit to the rock shelters at La Roque-Saint Christophe, France’s most amazing example of a medieval stronghold. We enjoy a miniature train ride to view drawings of mammoth and rhino, as well as admire the incomparable Grand Ceiling at Rouffignac Cave. We also get close to Neanderthal skeletons and grave goods at the incredible National Museum of Prehistory and most excitingly, we will have an opportunity to visit the exciting new Lascaux IV replica.

Dinner is included on the 26th.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Hôtel Centenaire, Les Eyzies

We leave Dordogne for a long but scenic drive east, through central France to Vallon-Pont-d’Arc. The Pont d’Arc is a natural stone arch or bridge, crossing the river Ardéche. It stands over 50m high and the river is also a very popular location among the locals for canoeing and kayaking. We make several stops en route at Figeac, Severac-le-Chateau, and Gorge du Tarn.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Le Mas Du Terme, Barjac

Our tour concludes with a visit to the Chauvet replica cave and museum. Chauvet revealed the most spectacular Paleolithic imagery, hundreds of animals of at least 13 different species including lions and hyenas. The paintings are at least 25,000 years old. After this wonderful visit, we drive to Marseilles to enjoy some free time relaxing and reminiscing about our experiences on the tour.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: La Résidence Du Vieux Port, Marseille

We transfer to the airport for our individual flights home or onward travel.

Meals include: Breakfast

September 15 2019: Additional Info

September 15 2019: Accommodation

Catalonia Gran Vía offers a terrace with a heated pool and views over Gran Via. There is free WiFi, a spa and small gym. It is situated in central Madrid, between Puerta del Sol and Plaza de Cibeles.

Built in 1917, this charming building features beautiful stained-glass windows. The rooms are decorated in neutral tones and come with satellite TV and a private bathroom with a hairdryer.

The restaurant serves Mediterranean and international cuisine. A buffet breakfast is available and the hotel’s bar offers a range of cocktails. The hotel also has a lounge and an internet corner.

Hotel Abba, Burgos

The hotel, in the heart of Burgos, is in easy walking distance of the famous Gothic cathedral of Burgos & Parque del Castillo. The hotel offers panoramic views of the city. The rooms are classic and airy and you’ll wake up to a breakfast with an array of Spanish delicacies, fresh fruit, and traditional selections too…. And if you’re feeling active after a day of exploring, why not challenge a tour partner to a friendly game of paddle tennis on the hotel’s courts? Winners buy the next round!

Parador Santillana del Mar

This is a newly built hotel has been designed in a traditional style to fit with the local area.  It’s surrounded by the medieval village of cobbled streets, which is now declared as a National monument and will set the scene and leave you eager to explore the castles on the rest of the tour… And every noble needs luxury accommodation and at Parador Santillana Del Mar, you get just that.

You’ll stay in an authentic medieval fortress, towering naked stone walls frame the patio and green vines climb and crown arches. The view from the terrace looks down on the harbour below, bordered by colourful houses, bars and restaurants. This stunning hotel is an excellent experience on all accounts, with the perfect combination of medieval decor mixed with modern amenities. This hotel is perfect for a top knight’s stay.

This country-chic hotel has the perfect setting in the Pyrenean Mountains. Through the maze of traditional French streets, you’ll find this hotel nestled in Saint Girons. Each room is unique with authentic worn furniture to give a homely and traditional French farmhouse feel. Enjoy the hotel’s garden bordered with climbing flowers. Alternatively, the bar claimed ‘the masterpiece’ of the hotel is a great way to spend an evening, with a wide selection of the finest drinks and beverages in the world.

Surrounded by vineyards, this medieval castle overlooks the stunning Lot Valley. Climb its towering turrets for expectational views & be the first to spot incoming invaders. The wide castle corridors lead to classic rooms, warm décor and marbled bathrooms. In the evening explore the Hotel’s stunning park with 4km of walking and running trails, or simply lounge by the pool.

This charming hotel is nestled into this prehistoric capital. The hotel is packed with character and you’ll be able to relax in its shady terraces and star gaze through the skylights in the hotel’s lounge. The rooms are decorated in a French-country style, well sized with a TV, mini- bar and air conditioned.

Set among vineyards, olive trees and lavender fields, and views of Mont Ventoux, this hotel is perfectly situated to help you unwind after a busy day of exploring. The restaurant here offers fresh cuisine inspired by regional and seasonal products.

La Résidence Du Vieux Port is set right on the banks of the Old Port in central Marseille. It offers modern rooms and suites with panoramic views of the city. Free WiFi access is available.

The stylish air-conditioned and soundproofed rooms include a flat-screen TV with satellite channels and a private bathroom. There is a kettle in all rooms with tea and coffee provided. Some have wide bay windows and a terrace offering views of the Old Port.

Le Relais 50, the adjoining restaurant, serves Mediterranean specialties and guests can enjoy a drink in the hotel’s bar.

September 15 2019: Enquiries

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