Exploring southern France

Exploring prehistoric caves, spectacular gorges and alpine scenery near Annecy, France

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Grottos, gorges and prehistoric artwork

Our trip to France wasn’t just about chateaux, history and villages. France has many natural attractions which we discovered during our road trip.

On our travels we came across a few natural gems that both the adults and teens in our group greatly enjoyed. We found limestone caves with prehistoric artwork, beautiful gorges and spectacular alpine scenery.

Grotto d’Arcy-sur-Cure

Between Auxerre and Avallon, we stumbled across the Grotto d’Arcy-sur-Cure, a group of jurassic limestone caves carved out by the River Cure which are one of the most important archaelogical sites in northern France.

Our one hour tour through the caves brought a welcome, cooling relief from the scorching heat outside. Once again, the tour was exclusively in French, so our group took advantage of the printed leaflet as we worked our way through the caves, to the underground lakes towards the end of the tour.

Our tour took us through magnificent limestone formations. Some of the caverns had been used as concert halls and party venues earlier in the 20th century, causing significant damage.

Unfortunately the well meaning efforts to clean the damage in itself damaged an item of archaeological significance. Hundreds of prehistoric wall paintings were inadvertently removed along with the candle soot and fingerprints. These can now only be found in the dark recesses towards the back of the caves.

It was truly amazing to see artwork depicting the daily lives of prehistoric cave dwellers some 28,000 years ago. From simple charcoal drawings of mammoths and wild cats to  hand prints of entire families.

Row after row of hand prints show the ritual of coming into the cave to make your mark in ochre. Probably not dissimilar to modern day graffiti.

Due to the sensitivity of the site, lighting is limited and photography strictly prohibited. Photos below are from the website to give readers a view of the simplistic ochre and coal drawings which were one of the most memorable sights of our trip.

Hiking on Mount Semnoz

Seeking a break from chateaux, villages and history, from Annecy we headed up a long windy mountain road for a morning’s hiking on Mount Semnoz to let the boys burn up some energy.
As the snow thaws, the ski resort transforms into a myriad of walking trails.

Our 8 kilometre trek took us through goat farms and alpine cheese producers, listening to the melody of cow and goat bells as we hiked through wildflowers in the exhilirating mountain air.
You are literally hiking through dairy farms, with cows and goats roaming the paddocks, Ian taking the opportunity to befriend a couple of little goats.

We were rewarded with spectacular views over Lake Annecy during our hike, until clouds rolled in blanketing the mountain in mist.

Not only was this our first experience of alpine hiking,  but also of the restaurants which  spring up from nowhere. Here we enjoyed a hearty meal and a few refreshing ales at the end of our hike.

Gorges du Fier

It was also during our trip to Annecy that we came across the Gorges du Fier, located at Lovagny around 10km away.

Carved out by the Fier River, the gorge provides a spectacular display of waterfalls and rock formations, which can be viewed close up via a kilometre long walkway suspended 24 metres above the gorge.

I did actually make it around 100 metres along the walkway before the vertigo set in and I headed back while I still could.
Making my way quickly back to the entrance and a calming coffee, I enjoyed taking in the tranquil surroundings, while the rest of the family enjoyed the natural wonders the gorge had to offer.

This is certainly well worth the visit for those who do not have a problem with heights.

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