I am a big cave and rock paintings fan and I have hiked in some god-forsaken places in the Andes and South Africa to admire the remnants of whichever culture has left their marks on the rocks. The Chauvet cave has been described as a prehistoric Sistine chapel, forever closed to the casual visitor, but that doesn’t stop people wanting to hike there.
Except that there are no signs; the French government doesn’t want you near it. You need a guide and there are not many locals who would take you to the cave; they have better things to do. So I did it myself after getting a scribbled map from wonderful Corinne Helly from Le Lodge du Pont d’Arc. Here are the instructions to the cave along with images to help you along your way.
The Chauvet cave is behind a carpark (‘parking lot’ if you are from the United States) right next to the Pont d’Arc in the Ardeche gorge. It is along an escarpment called the Cirque d’Estre.
The carpark lies next to the hotel and restaurant called the Auberge du Pont d’Arc, about 3.5km east of Vallon Pont d’Arc on the Gorges d’Ardeche route (D290).
Go to the right of the hotel and enter its private carpark.
Take the small path skirting the vineyard ahead of you. The vines should be on your right and the chestnut trees on your left.
It’s flat for about 200m until the end of the vineyard as the path veers to the right. On your left you’ll suddenly see a small forest opening.
At that point you should see a red peg into the ground (there is another one further on.) This means you have found the path.
The path zigzags slowly upwards and it is here where you are most likely to lose track especially if leaves have covered the forest floor. Aim to go upwards to the rock face.
By trial and error and remembering that the path doubles back on itself, you should reach a long gallery carved under the rock after about ten minutes.
Walk to the end and resume walking.
This is the steepest part of the path until you reach a carved recess and start walking by the rock face again.
Walk along to another smaller rock gallery.
If you continue, you’ll hit an electricity cable that will point the way towards the Chauvet cave. Don’t touch it!
Go straight up following the cable and you will see a recess used by the admin and scientific staff. There are a couple of benches to catch your breath.
To your left, a plank walkway takes you to the actual entrance.
And when you do find the entrance, you will see it is locked with a 24-hr CCTV. By the way, even if you do manage to somehow open the reinforced door, and disable the CCTV, there is a second steel door inside.
But if you are like me, the hike to the cave itself is satisfaction enough. Total time if you don’t get too lost is 45 minutes from the carpark. Oh, and don’t attempt it when wet or icy.
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