Saturday, August 21, 2010

What to do in the rain? Go see Caves!

This week, we had a few days of rain, which put a little hiccup in our sight seeing plans.  We needed to come up with some things we could do that didn't involve walking around old villages and getting soaked! So, we decided to check out some caves!  We went to the Caves of Arcy-Sur-Cure.  (The Cure is a beautiful river that flows through the northern part of Burgundy...Arcy-Sur-Cure means Arcy on the River Cure.)

As we drove to the caves, I told my carload that the goal for the day was to not make any u-turns!  That meant we had to actually turn when Garmin told us to turn (which doesn't always happen).  The Caves, as we've found of many destinations in Burgundy, did not have an address...rather a reference to two roads.  I couldn't find either of the roads in Garmin (never a good sign), so I just picked a road in Arcy (always a mistake!), and off we went.

The caves were about 40 minutes away.  After driving through incredibly beautiful countryside (but in the pouring rain), we got to the checkered flag...unfortunately, it was clear we were no where near the caves.  After some discussion with James, we found the correct road on Garmin and headed off...but of course we had to make a u-turn.  Darn!  All I ask for is one day with no u-turns!!!

We arrived at the caves in about 10 minutes.  Turns out they close for lunch (like every other place in France)!  So, we had to wait about 40 minutes for them to open and to take our tour.

Waiting in a shelter from the rain!

Walk way to cave entrance.

Cave parking lot, near the River Cure.

Once the caves reopened, we bought our tickets and went on an amazing tour (the guide was kind enough to do the tour in French and English!)  There are more than 30 caves that make up the Caves of Arcy.  11 are prehistoric and two of them contain prehistoric drawings.  Our tour took place in the Great Cave which is the only one open to the public.  

This area of France use to be part of a vast sea (millions of years ago) with massive reef formations.  Once the sea had receded, the caves were formed when earthquakes created big cracks inside the reef.  Thanks to those cracks, a part of the Cure could enter the reef.  This water created the cave by passing through the cracks for thousands of years.

We were not permitted to take pictures, so I'm going to share some pictures from their website (

Salle des Vagues de la Mer - Sea Waves room

In this room there are 60 paintings and more than 170 in the whole cave.  The paintings are 28,000 years old, the second oldest in the world (and the oldest that are viewable by the public).

Les Peintures du Sanctuaire

Some of the paintings.  Most of the paintings are covered by calcium deposits.  The archaeologists think that it will take at least 10 years to uncover all of the paintings.  They found the first painting by accident when a French camera crew was filming in the caves and shined a bright light on one of the walls...the painting became visible under all of the calcium deposits.  They have now used infrared cameras to photograph all of the caves walls to find the pictures hidden beneath.

Le Calvaire - the wayside cross

I thought this actually looked more like an angel with her wings extended than a cross.

La Coquille Saint Jacques, salle de la Draperie- The scallops - Drapery Room

The draperies result from the rain streaming down the wall.  By evaporating, water sets calcium in this way.

Lac - The Lake Room

The bottom third of this picture is the lake, reflecting the ceiling.

Le Lavoir des Fées - Elves Wash House

The caves were truly spectacular and we all left with a sense of awe and wonder.  So cool.

At this point, we hadn't eaten lunch and it was about 3:00 pm, so of course we were going to have trouble finding a place to eat (and we hadn't packed a lunch).  We decided to head into Auxerre, since it's a bigger town, we figured we'd find something open.

On the way, I spotted a sign for some more caves.  The Caves de Bailly.  I had been hoping to visit these caves...they are very special!  These caves hold 8 million bottles of Cremant (sparkling wine).  We took a little detour from our lunch run and headed into the caves.  While there was no "real" food available, there was a vending machine and everyone got a snickers bar to tied them over (shhh...don't tell their moms we're feeding them candy bars for lunch!)

There was a tour available for these caves too, so we decided to do it.  Unfortunately, it was only in French and it turned out to be a bit boring.  These caves were an old stone quarry and covered about 14 acres.

The cave had lots of sculptures in the walls, very touristy.

The god of wine!

The caves were really dark and it was hard to get a good picture of the millions of bottles!

After the tour, we did a little degustation (tasting) and purchased many bottles of lovely Cremant!

We then headed to Auxerre, but could find nothing open, so we went home and cooked dinner (cheeseburgers with sauteed mushrooms and caramelized onions and roasted potatoes...quite yummy!)  Just another fun day in the French countryside!

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