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

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

Book Now $9,890
Includes deposit: $1,250 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: $1,250 , balance due by June 23 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, the Spanish capital, and transfer to our city hotel. Later we meet up as a group for dinner.

Meals include: Dinner

Hotel: Catalonia Gran Vía, Madrid

Our tour opens with an informative talk introducing the fascinating millennia-old archaeological discoveries to come. We then drive north from Madrid (3 hours) to historic Burgos, once seat of the kings of Leon and Castile, for an overnight stay. We visit the ruins of the city’s ancient castle, partially restored since destruction by the retreating French in 1813 during the Peninsular War. The castle’s turbulent history stretches back to Roman times - but archaeologists have also identified evidence of prehistoric settlements on the surrounding hill.

Meals include: Breakfast, Dinner

Hotel: Hotel Abba, Burgos

Today we are bound for Cantabria, part of the “Green Spain”, where mountains and meadows meet the Atlantic coast, and home to over 6,500 caves. First, though, we visit the archaeological site at Atapuerca, just north of Burgos, whose heritage-listed caves hold a rich record of the earliest human beings in Europe. Analysis of fossil and skeletal remains here from nearly one million years ago have unlocked detail about the appearance and lifestyle of our most remote ancestors. We continue north into Cantabria for lunch at El Convento, a former Cluniac monastery, followed by a visit to the enthralling UNESCO-listed Monte Castillo cave complex at Puente Viesgo. This has disclosed archaeological levels some 130,000 years old, with its main claim to fame is as one of Northern Spain’s most important Palaeolithic cave art sites. Here we are confronted by an array of 275 red-ochre paintings and engravings of bison, horses, stags - even a mammoth - as well as handprints and symbols, some believed to date as far back as 35,000 BCE. A brief drive then brings us to the bright cobbled streets and medieval houses of the picturesque little town of Santillana del Mar, our home for the next two nights.

All meals included

Hotel: Parador, Santillana del Mar

Our round-trip tour today takes us west along Spain’s North Coast into Asturias to explore two of the area’s most exciting cave sites, both UNESCO-listed. At nearby El Pindal Cave, at the mouth of the River Cares-Deva await beautiful Upper Palaeolithic period wall paintings of deer, horses and bison (thought to be the work of the Magdalenian culture from around 13,000 to 18,000 years ago), as well as fish and mammoth drawings rarely found in other caves. We then continue for 35 miles to Ribadesella’s vast Tito Bustillo Cave, one of the world’s most outstanding art sites from the Upper Palaeolithic period. Sealed away for millennia, the cave houses a large ensemble of ancient representations in red and black of deer, moose, horses, and even a marine animal - most remarkably preserved, despite their antiquity. The striking modern museum offers helpful insights into the origins of the site.

All meals included

Hotel: Parador, Santillana del Mar

Today we enjoy a leisurely 150-mile drive eastwards through the coastal hinterland of Cantabria, notable for its serene mountain-backed estuaries, on our way to the Basque Country. We pause at two important regional cave site locations where, although conservation concerns restrict access to the original UNESCO-listed caves, impressive interpretive replicas ensure that we gain a full appreciation of their cultural significance. The first of these is the Altamira II Replica Cave and Museum, featuring skilful facsimiles of the paintings in a copy of the setting of world-famous Altamira Cave. Dating suggests that Altamira’s Great Ceiling animal assemblage was decorated between 35,000 and 14,000 years ago. Different aspects of prehistoric life in Altamira are shown in exhibits displaying the Iberian Peninsula’s most representative items from this period. We continue into the Basque Country to visit the atmospheric replica cave of Ekain within the Ekainberri Museum - a masterly recreation of the original and its superb paintings and engravings, most from the Upper Palaeolithic period. They include some of the finest horse paintings in French and Cantabrian rock art as well as bison, deer and goats, often depicted with exceptionally realism. A short drive takes us to our hotel at Hondarribia, on the French border, built within a beautiful medieval castle - complete with heavy stone walls, vaulted ceilings and courtyards.

All meals included

Hotel: Parador de Hondarribia

We cross into France to begin our ascent into the lovely countryside of the Pyrenean foothills - a land of prehistoric cave art and medieval Cathar castles. In the late-morning we reach Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges, where we stop for lunch and, time permitting, a brief look at this attractive hilltop village, founded on an important Gallo-Roman city of the Pyrénées. Today it’s best known for its former cathedral, dominating the landscape and a fusion of Romanesque-Gothic architecture and Renaissance windows. After lunch, we continue to the evocative Gargas caves, used 27,000 years ago by stone-age hunters, many signs of whose presence remain - foremost among them their famous and poignant Palaeolithic hand stencils (over 200, mostly in red and black), along with engravings of bison, ibex and aurochs. Bones and stone tools have also been recovered here. A short onward drive then brings us to the pleasant Ariège town of St-Girons on the Salat river, where we stay for two nights.

 

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Hôtel Eychenne, St Girons

Our tour today takes us through the protected landscapes of the Ariège Pyrénées Regional Nature Park, visiting the Midi-Pyrénées two “must see” cave sites. An hour’s drive away is Niaux Cave - whose vast opening (185 feet high) leads deep into the mountainside to the cathedral-like “Salon Noir” or Black Salon, decorated with prehistoric paintings of horses, bison, deer and ibex. Visits to admire the rock art are conducted by flashlight - an especially memorable viewing  experience in an atmosphere giving a sense of connection with the Palaeolithic artists who painted these walls over 13,000 years ago. We travel on to the village of Le Mas-d’Azil, once the site of a Carolingian abbey and a crucial Protestant stronghold. Our road accompanies the Arize river as it flows through the huge Mas-d’Azil cave, a natural rock shelter for millennia, and a source of rich finds of prehistoric tools - and now perhaps the only “drive through” cave in Europe. We explore the museum before our return to St-Girons, where there’s free time to explore this mellow riverside town.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Hôtel Eychenne, St Girons

A morning drive north across the beautiful Garonne Valley brings us to Quercy - a land of gastronomy, wines, history, art, some spectacular caves - and the handsome medieval town of Cahors, our overnight home. We relax over lunch and admire the romantic Pont Valentré over the River Lot, a 14th century engineering marvel with three fortified towers supported by six gothic arches. Our afternoon is devoted to exploration of the flowstone-laden galleries and mural-decorated walls of the extensive Pech Merle Cave at nearby Cabrerets. Some of these, including the famous “Spotted Horses”, date from the Graettian culture (about 25,000 years BCE); others from the later Magdealenian era. Described as “an art gallery in a palace of nature”, Pech Merle is today one of France’s few prehistoric cave painting sites remaining open to the public - although group sizes are limited in order to preserve the condition of these precious artworks.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Château de Mercuès, Cahors

We continue our leisurely northward course through the rolling hills of Quercy to medieval Rocamadour, just an hour away. This is a place of legend and history, where ancient gold-stone houses, chapels housing Cluniac frescoes, majestic towers and a 14th century castle keep all seem to cascade off the cliff into the Alzou Canyon. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site as a Santiago pilgrimage way-stop on “The Way of St. James”, Rocamadour continues to attract pilgrims to its notable shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In nearby Souillac, a characterful old town on the River Dordogne, we stop to see the domed Romano-Byzantine Abbey of Sainte-Marie and its rare Cluniac sculpture of the prophet Isaiah. We also visit the neighboring Cougnac Caves, interesting for their geological formations and prehistoric drawings, judged to be between 14,000 and 25,000 years old and depicting megaloceros (a huge extinct deer), ibex, mammoths and humanoid figures. Our day ends at our base for the next four nights - the charming little market town of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil, sitting beneath the riverside cliffs of the Périgord region’s Vézère Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site whose unrivalled plethora of caves houses some of France’s most important prehistoric drawings and remnants.

 

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Hôtel Centenaire, Les Eyzies

From our Les Eyzies base we enjoy a relaxed 3-day program that focuses on Palaeolithic caves, important medieval fortifications and, of course, the serene Périgord countryside. We visit Abri Cro-Magnon, whose famous burial finds dating back some 27,000 years made this an emblematic place of discovery that gave its name to the first modern human species - and had major repercussions on the development of modern archaeology. We also explore at the Upper Paleolithic rock shelter at Abri Pataud, where human remains and stone tools were recovered and archaeologists’ techniques can be explored. Of contrasting interest is the wealth of rock shelters set in a great wall of limestone at scenic La Roque-Saint Christophe. First occupied by prehistoric man, these natural cavities later became a medieval stronghold, only to be abandoned during the 16th century Wars of Religion. A further highlight of our stay is the five-mile long complex of Rouffignac Cave. Here a miniature train offers comfortable viewing of vibrant Upper Palaeolithic Period engravings and line-drawings, especially impressive on the “Grand Ceiling” adorned with a swirling ensemble of large black drawings of horses, ibex, bison and mammoths. Representing one third of all the prehistoric mammoth images in Western Europe, these have earned Rouffignac the sobriquet of “The Cave of a Hundred Mammoths”. We also come face-to-face with the Neanderthal skeletons and grave goods at the impressive National Museum of Prehistory. Most memorable of all will surely be our visit to Montignac, location of the magnificent Lascaux cave paintings. Though conservation priorities mean the originals can no longer be viewed, the recent opening here of Lascaux IV (The International Centre for Cave Art) offers an unparalleled opportunity, through state-of-the-art technology paired with a striking facsimile of the caves, to experience the latter in a way that gives a powerful impression of what it might be like to discover these paintings for the first time.

 

Dinner is included on the 26th.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Hôtel Centenaire, Les Eyzies

We leave the Dordogne for a highly scenic full-day’s drive east through south-central France, stopping en route at the little medieval towns of Figeac and Sévérac-le-Château, as well as at the spectacular Gorges of the Tarn in the Cévennes National Park. Before reaching historic Barjac, our overnight base, we pause at nearby Vallon-Pont-d’Arc to admire the unique geological feature of the natural stone arch rising to nearly 200 feet over the Ardèche river.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Le Mas Du Terme, Barjac

On the final full day of our journey we return to Vallon-Pont-d’Arc to tour the Chauvet replica cave and museum. Awesome in scale, with the cave art reproduced in full size, this high-tech setting offers an excellent interpretation of how the original Chauvet revealed a treasure-trove of superb Paleolithic imagery, with animal images at least 25,000 years old. Afterwards a drive of some two hours brings us to the Mediterranean city of Marseilles, where we enjoy free time and an evening of relaxation.

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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