MICHELIN Travel Discover the world
Home > > > > > > Nature Dordogne Berry Limousin

Where to sleep?

View 596 hotels for Dordogne Berry Limousin

Nature

Enlarge map

Nature


Land Division

The région (there are 22 in France) is the largest administrative division in the country, followed by the département (96, excluding overseas territories), which is sub-divided into communes run by an elected mayor. In total, there are 36 394 mayoral districts in France.

Berry (formerly Berri) is the name historically and popularly applied to the area south of the Paris basin, comprising the départements of Cher and Indre in the Centre région . This old county, later a duchy, came under the crown in the 13C.

Limousin is the name of an administrative région comprising three départements : Corrèze, Creuse and Haute-Vienne. For a long time an Anglo-Norman fief, it was united to the French throne by Henry IV, and later administered by appointed Intendants.

Dordogne is a département, which is part of the larger région of Aquitaine. The French départements were created in 1790 and were generally given the name of the main river within the territory, hence the Dordogne, named after the two rivers (the Dore and the Dogne) which combine to form this famous waterway. Before that time, the same area was known as Périgord (named after the Petrocorii who occupied the area at the time of the Gauls), a free county dating back to the 11C, which fell into the possession of the Albret family. Henry IV, its last feudal lord, brought it under the authority of the French crown. Many French people still use the old appellation to refer to this popular holiday destination, especially when describing its culinary delights.


Land Formation

Primary Era

This began about 600 million years ago. It was towards the end of this era that an upheaval of the earth’s crust took place. This upheaval or folding movement, known as the Hercynian fold, the V-shaped appearance of which is shown by dotted lines on the map, resulted in the emergence of a number of high mountains, notably the Massif Central, formed by crystalline rocks which were slowly worn down by erosion.

Secondary Era

This began about 260 million years ago. Towards the middle of this era, there was a slow folding of the Hercynian base, resulting in the flooding of the area by the sea. Sedimentary deposits, mainly calcareous, accumulated on the edge of the Massif Central, forming the Quercy causses (limestone plateaux) during the Jurassic period and then beds of Cretaceous limestone in the Périgord region. Similar formations are found in Champagne Berrichonne, Boischaut and Sancerre.

Tertiary Era

This began about 65 million years ago. During this period siderolithic deposits (clay and gravel, rich in iron) originating from the Massif Central covered some parts of the Quercy, such as the Bouriane region, whereas clay-rich sands accumulated to the west of Périgord, creating the heathlands of the Brenne, Sologne, Double and Landais regions, with their numerous lakes.

Quaternary Era

This began about 2 million years ago. It was during this period that human evolution gathered pace. By this time, the effects of erosion had given the region its present-day appearance. Rivers with their source in the Massif Central created the Vézère, Dordogne and Lot valleys.

The countryside today

Regions totally different in character lie side by side in the area between the Berry and the plains of the Agenais. This region of contrasting countrysides is one of great natural beauty: the wide horizons of the Berry succeeded by the green mountain country of the Limousin; the limestone plateaux of the Quercy stretching out in stark silhouette; and the wooded plateaux of the Périgord divided by picturesque valleys and bountiful orchards. The area has many visible traces of its earliest settlers and is rich in prehistoric sites. Charming churches, the imposing religious sanctuaries of the Limousin and the hundreds of fortresses, castles, manors and mansions in a variety of architectural styles all bear witness to the region’s rich historical past. In addition, the region’ is renowned for its delicious traditional cuisine and excellent local wines, offering the perfect accompaniment to your voyage of discovery.


Berry

This province is one of the oldest agricultural regions in France, with a unity that is the result of its shared heritage, rather than of its geography. The geological position of the Berry lies at the contact point between the Paris Basin and the Massif Central. The area consists of a vast low-lying plateau, rising in the northeast to the Sancerre Hills (highest point: the Motte de Humbligny at an altitude of 434m/1 424ft), tilting westwards in a series of steps towards the Brenne depression. To the south, the countryside is more undulating with numerous isolated hills and escarpments. The River Cher and River Indre are part of the Loire drainage system, whereas the Creuse is a tributary of the Vienne.

Northern Berry

The Pays Fort and Sancerrois are transitional areas bordering the Pays de la Loire. The former, characterised by its marl and clayey soils, slopes towards the Sologne, whereas the vine-covered, chalky slopes of the Sancerrois rise above the river banks. This once-forested landscape has been remodelled as bocage (wooded farmland). The Forêt d’Allogny, the last remaining area of primitive forest cover, overlooks the vast orchards of St-Martin-d’Auxigny.

The Northern Boischaut , meanwhile, is an area of rich pasture.

The Southern BerryChampagne Berrichonne is a region of plateaux and limestone soil extending between the Loire to the east and the Indre to the west, and is covered in the main by scattered woods and forests. Manure and rich fertilisers have transformed this light, sandy soil into excellent farm land. In addition to grain crops, sheep and Normandy dairy cows are bred indoors and fed on beetroot pulp; bee-keeping is also an important economic activity around Châteauroux. Away to the east, the Val de Germigny is a long depression, formerly marshland, which runs along the foot of the escarpments crowned by the Bois de Meillant. The pastures here are grazed by Charolais cattle.

Boischaut

This district lies between the Cher and the Creuse, its clay soils overlapping the neighbouring Marche province. This is an area of small farms where the emphasis is on livestock rearing, in particular the Charolais breed, and sheep.

The countryside, crisscrossed with many rivers, farms and gardens, is much the same as when described by the novelist George Sand.

Brenne

This vast sand and clay depression, characterised by its abundant marshes, is predominantly covered with heather, pine trees and broom. Once the exclusive haven of hunters and fishers, the Brenne is now a nature park, popular with visitors interested in observing its exceptional flora and fauna.


Limousin

This vast region of crystalline rocks forms the western bastion of the Massif Central. The area takes its name from the Lemovices, the large tribe which occupied the country at the time of the Gauls. The individuality of the region is emphasised by its wet winter climate and verdant countryside. Limousin has been aptly described by Jérôme and Jean Tharaud in their novel La Maîtresse Servante:

Before us unrolled a green and ever-changing countryside, silent and impenetrable, cut by thick hedges, filled with dark shadows and watered by running brooks. No rivers, only streams; no lakes, only pools; no ravines, only valleys.

La Montagne

This vast series of plateaux, at altitudes no higher than 977m/3 205ft, has been levelled by erosion. The “Mountain” is the source of many rivers and streams which filter across the rest of the region. The weather on these highlands is rugged, the rains heavy, the winds strong and snow has been known to lie on the ground for four months at a time. Farms are few and far between and stony wastes and moors are more common than ploughed land, particularly on the Plateau de Millevaches and in the Massif des Monédières. As you pass through this eerily quiet landscape, your eyes are drawn to a landscape of meadows, moors and woodlands of beech and pine, dotted with the ever-present sight of grazing sheep.

The plateaux of Haut-Limousin

The plateaux to the northwest are undulating in appearance – the Monts d’Ambazac and the Monts de Blond – with alternating escarpments and deeply incised valleys. The bocage is a patchwork of woods and fields. Trees thrive in this wet climate, with oak and beech on the uplands and chestnut trees at lower levels. Quickset hedges surround fields and meadows. The pastures enriched by manure and artificial fertilisers make good cattle-grazing country. Farther north, the drier, less-wooded Marche area is a marshland between the Massif Central and the Pays de la Loire. The Haute-Marche , drained by the Creuse, is an area of stock-rearing, whereas arable farming is more prevalent in the Basse-Marche , particularly around Bellac.

To the west, the Confolentais is the name given to the green and forested foothills of the Massif Central, which are dissected by the River Vienne.

The plateaux of Bas-Limousin

This area, where the influence of Périgord and Quercy is already evident, is characterised by its wonderful light, milder climate and fertile basins. The Xaintrie is an area dotted with woods of pine and silver birch – this granite plateau is deeply incised by the Dordogne, the Maronne and numerous smaller rivers.

The depression of the Bassin de Brive straddles the Lower Limousin and the northernmost part of the Périgord. The Nontronnais is also partly in the Limousin and takes on a similar appearance, with its grassy fields, chestnut trees, heather, gorse and isolated farmhouses.

Bassin de Brive

The depression of the Brive Basin is a sunken zone between the crystalline escarpments of the Uzerche plateau and the limestone ridges of the Causses du Quercy . It is an area of sandstone and schist, drained by the River Vézère and River Corrèze. In its green valleys demarcated by screens of poplar, the gentle south-facing slopes are given over to orchards. Today, Brive is an important centre for the fruit and vegetable canning industries.

South of Brive, the Causse Corrèzien is covered with large farms devoted to the rearing of geese and sheep, and truffle oak plantations.


Perigord

Périgord Vert

The Green Périgord, located between the Nontronnais and Excideuil, comprises fragments of the old massif, small basins scoured out of the soft Lias marl, and the occasional table of limestone. Its landscape of woodlands, well-tended farms and patches of bright sunflowers echoes the neighbouring Limousin. The handful of towns scattered across this lush borderland act as centres for light industry and the marketing of locally produced farm products.

Contrasting colours are provided by pastures grazed by dairy cattle and calves (for veal), especially around Ribérac , and fields of cereal crops. Numerous agricultural markets are held in local towns.

Périgord Blanc

The White Périgord takes its name from the frequent outcrops of chalky limestone that illuminate this open landscape.

The countryside of hills and slopes around Périgueux consists of meadows interspersed with coppices of oak and chestnut. This region is drained by the River Beauronne and River Vern, whose valleys are covered with pasture and arable land; the extensive Vallée de l’Isle is dotted with small industrial towns, its alluvial soil used as pasture, or for growing maize (corn), tobacco and walnuts.

South of Périgueux, around Vergt and Rouffignac , the iron-rich siderolithic deposits covering the limestone have proven to be ideal for the cultivation of strawberries, which are exported to all parts of France.

To the northeast of the town, Central Périgord meets the Périgord Causse . This block of Jurassic limestone, scored by the Isle , Auvézère and Loue valleys , is characterised by its sparse vegetation, although its stunted oak trees harbour the famed, yet elusive truffle.

The Double, lying to the west, between the River Dronne and the River Isle, is an area of forests where tall oak and chestnut trees predominate; the clay soil here favours the formation of ponds. The Landais , to the south of the Isle, is a less rugged region abundant in fruit orchards. The maritime pine is more common here than the chestnut; meadows are also more abundant than to the north of the river.

Périgord Pourpre

The Purple Périgord around Bergerac is divided into several areas, all of which share a mild climate favourable to the cultivation of crops more commonly associated with more southerly parts of the country. The Dordogne Valley, which is particularly wide here, is divided into plots of land where tobacco, maize (corn), sunflowers and cereals all flourish in the rich alluvial deposits.

Timber production predominates to the west of Bergerac, in an area whose slopes are covered with the vineyards of Bergerac and Monbazillac .

The town of Bergerac itself is an important centre for the tobacco and wine industries.

Périgord Noir

Dissected by the Vézère and Dordogne valleys, the Black Périgord owes its name to the high density of trees growing in the sandy soil covering the limestone areas, and to the predominance of the holm oak, with its dark, dense foliage, particularly in the area around Sarlat . The alluvial soil of the valleys, whose river courses are lined with screens of poplar or willow, supports a variety of crops, including wheat, maize (corn), tobacco and walnuts. The bustling and colourful local markets all sell excellent nuts, mushrooms, truffles and foie gras. Springs, chasms and prehistoric caves and shelters with sculpted or painted walls offer further attractions for visitors to this area. Along the River Dordogne the landscape is gentle and harmonious, as can be seen from the viewpoints at Domme, and the castles of Beynac and Castelnaud. The former capital of Périgord Noir, Sarlat-la-Canéda , with its lauze roofs and medieval atmosphere, is a lively tourist centre and popular holiday base.

Vast stretches of gently undulating molassic hillside, with the occasional limestone outcrop and terrace extend beyond the wine-producing slopes of Monbazillac. Small farms interspersed with woodlands are planted with cereal crops, vineyards (AOC Bergerac) and plum trees. To the east, in an area of transition with the Bouriane region in the Quercy, the dense Forêt de Bessède , a forest which continues to flourish on the millstone or siderolithic sands, has hardly been disturbed by the foundation of bastides and abbeys during the Middle Ages.

Quercy

Quercy corresponds to a region that stretches from the Massif Central to the plains of Aquitaine and was occupied by the Cadurques who made Cahors their capital. The region has a strong historical unity: in the Middle Ages Quercy belonged to the province of Guyenne ; under the Ancien Régime two regions were recognised – the Haut-Quercy, centred on Cahors and seat of the main administrative departments, and the Bas-Quercy, governed from Montauban . During the Revolution they were reunited as part of the Lot département . However, in 1808 Napoleon separated them once more, creating the département of the Tarn-et-Garonne, which covers most of the Bas-Quercy, and parts of Rouergue, Gascony and Languedoc.

The Causses

This dry land, dissected by dry valleys known locally as combes , forms a protected area known as the Parc Naturel Regional des Causses du Quercy . Flocks of sheep graze on the sparse grass of the pastures which are sub-divided by drystone dikes. Stunted oaks and maple are the only trees growing here. The more fertile valleys are a mix of pasture, vineyards and other crops.

The Causse de Martel is a vast, arid, stone-covered plain, dissected by a relatively fertile zone. The numerous drystone walls here were built by shepherds as they cleared stones from the ground to allow sheep to graze and marked out boundaries. The area takes its name from the nearby agricultural town of Martel.

The Causse de Gramat , an extensive limestone plateau at an average altitude of 350m/1 150ft is home to a number of sites of natural interest and unusual landscapes: to the north lie the Ouysse and Alzou canyons (the spectacular village of Rocamadour clings to the cliff face); to the south the much longer Célé Canyon . Between the narrow gashes of the Alzou and the Célé lies the waterless Braunhie , an arid region riddled with caves and ravines. Like many of their neighbours, the local towns of Gramat and Labastide-Murat have suffered from serious depopulation in recent decades.

The low-lying plateau of the Causse de Carjac is hemmed in by the banks of the River Célé and River Lot, the banks of which are particularly fertile.

The Causse de Limogne , with its drier climate, takes on a very different appearance. Bordered by the Lot Valley, the plateau is dotted with dolmens and megaliths, which appear amid clusters of white truffle oak, juniper bushes and fields of lavender. Dotted around this landscape are unusual shepherds’ shelters built of flat stone with strange conical roofs, known as garriottes , cazelles , or bories . There are few big towns in this area, although Limogne-en-Quercy and Lalbenque remain busy centres for the truffle trade .

The valleys

Cutting a wide swath through limestone, the region’s rivers have carved out their valleys, shaping meanders which enlarge as the valley broadens, to the point that they become ever-widening loops (cingles) in the course of rivers.

The valleys of the Dordogne , Célé and Lot have been inhabited since prehistoric times. During the Roman era, settlers lived in fortified oppidums ; castles and châteaux bear witness to the role of these valleys in the region’s later history. Today, they are richly covered with crops, vineyards and orchards. The main centres of population in this area today are Souillac (Dordogne Valley), Figeac (Célé) and Cahors (Lot).

Haut-Quercy

The major part of the Haut-Quercy comprises limestone plateaux or causses with an average altitude of 300m/1 000ft. The fertile areas of the Limargue and Terrefort extend across flat basins and vast plains; the soils of the area favour the production of a variety of crops including greengage plums and strawberries (between Carennac and St-Céré) , grapes, walnuts and tobacco. The eastern part of the Haut-Quercy includes the Châtaigneraie , an area with a cold, damp climate and poor soil. This plateau, at an altitude of 700m/2 300ft, tilts eastwards and is cut by deep gorges. The widely cultivated chestnut tree has given the area its name; cereal crops are grown on lowering hilltops, while cattle are raised on small farms. The Bouriane is blanketed in heath, coppices and woods, and bears more resemblance to the Périgord than the Quercy. In this area, timber, chestnuts and walnuts are harvested, maritime pines are tapped for resin, and livestock is raised and sold. The capital of this area is the bustling town of Gourdon.

Quercy Blanc

Southwest of the Lot Valley and the town of Cahors, the Jurassic limestone disappears under tertiary limestone to create unusual landscapes known as planhès – vast undulating areas of white which have given the region its name (White Quercy). These plateaux are cut into narrow ridges (serres) by the rivers. The crests of the serres are levelled off into plains which are covered with pastures used for grazing sheep, oak forest and, occasionally, fertile fields of crops. Between the serres , the valleys are fertile corridors, spreading between the sandstone as they get closer to the Garonne. Pastures lined with poplars produce abundant crops of fruit, cereals and tobacco, in addition to wine from local vineyards. The lively market towns of Montcuq , Lauzerte , Castelnau-Montratier , and Montpezat-de-Quercy are all situated on rocky hilltops known as puechs .


Flora and Fauna

Water

The region has a dense network of rivers and streams. In the Limousin, the rivers tumble through picturesque valleys, whereas in the Berry they tend to flow more peacefully. With a few exceptions (near urban areas), the waters are pure and clean, harbouring myriad species of fish. The region is home to numerous ponds and wetlands, man-made lakes, as well as abundant flora and fauna.

La Brenne

This nature park is part of the region’s commitment to the preservation of wetlands and their ecosystems, and to the development of green tourism. The hundreds of ponds and the diversity of habitats make it an ideal refuge for many species, including a host of migrating birds.

Wetlands

These ecosystems, characterised by the presence of slow-moving water or saturated soil, are vitally important in maintaining the region’s ecological balance. The protection of these often fragile areas has led to a better understanding of their morphology.

Wet Meadows

The outer ring of the pond system, these meadows of variable size are often rich with wildflowers in springtime. The flora is diverse and in La Brenne includes as many as 50 species: marsh violets, gentian, orchids etc.

Swamps

The waterlogged banks of the region’s ponds are invaded by willows which develop into groves extending from the water’s edge to firmer ground. Trees provide nesting for green-winged teal; the branches dipping in the water protect paddling ducks; while the grey heron and the black-crowned night-heron gather beneath them. The muddy banks are teeming with mollusks which attract waders such as black-tailed godwits, curlews, crested lapwings and snipe. Partially submerged plant life includes perennial herbs, quillwort, clovers and ferns.

Marshes

Plant life in the mineral-rich soil is dominated by grasses in many forms, including sedge, reeds, cattails and bulrushes. Impenetrable and considered undesirable for fish hatcheries, these grassy areas are essential to the survival of certain rare species. Waders such as bitterns and other members of the heron family build their nests in these protected zones alongside marsh harriers, millerbirds, swamp sparrows, reed-buntings etc.

Ponds

Floating plants make good nests for crested grebes. Many species of duck are also found here (such as mallard, pintails (with their wide, spatula-shaped bills), canvas-backs and grey ducks). Osprey choose the region’s ponds to rest during their annual migrations, while black and striped terns are a regular sight gliding over the water.

European pond turtles are shy creatures, living off water-lilies and sunbathing by the reeds. Insects are everywhere, with as many as 600 to 1 000 species identified. Snakes, frogs, toads, newts and some rare mammals have also been spotted, including a remarkable sighting of the European mink, at the Etang Ricot (Réserve Naturelle de Chérine) in 1982.

The abundant lakes and rivers of the Limousin are popular with fishing enthusiasts: the Creuse is a favourite for trout; the Gartempe is popular for carp; while the river’s oxygen-rich rivers are the domain of trout, grayling and salmon. In still waters, look out for freshwater fish (carp, barbel, tench, bream, goldfish, chub, dace and shiner). Several species of fish, in particular pike and perch, can grow to a considerable size.

Moors and forests

Moorland and Peatland

The Brenne is poor in pastureland and has been gradually abandoned by its rural population; as a result, the few tilled fields have mostly given way to idle, uncultivated land. The humid ground is covered with besom heather, a tall bushy plant with greenish-white flowers. On drier ground, gorse, Scotch broom and bracken grow beneath a few isolated trees. The skies here are populated with birds such as the kingfisher, harrier and hawk, while the undergrowth provides a natural habitat for hare, boar, deer, badger and genet.

In the Limousin, the high plateaux with their vast granite depressions ( Millevaches , Gentioux ) have highly acidic soil where sphagnum moss flourishes; consequently, parts of the countryside have developed into peat bogs. Near Meymac, the Tourbière du Longéroux , harbours the source of the Vézère.

Peat is made by the slow decomposition of organic materials (especially sphagnum) in cold, acidic water and is a pro­cess that takes centuries. In Longéroux , where the average thickness of the peat is 2m/6.5ft, the analysis of fossilised pollen shows that the deposits began forming 8 000 years ago. The bog’s inhabitants include lizards, snakes, toads, frogs, newts and the birds who prey on them, as well as the elusive otter, whose presence can often only be deduced by its spoor.

The granite hills around the site are drier, and are covered with common heather, fuzzy broom and scattered bilberry bushes. Over the decades, however, indigenous deciduous trees such as birch and ash have been disappearing as a result of unchecked development.

Forests

In the 19C, state-owned forests began operating a coppice-with-standards system, whereby selected stems are retained, as standards, at each felling to form an unevenly aged canopy which is then harvested selectively. The forest is managed so that part of the growth is natural and part of seedling origin, together forming a composite forest. The Indre département , one of the first to use this method, has become a leading producer of oakwood for panelling. The Forêt de Châteauroux (5 04 ha/13 000 acres) and the Forêt de Bommiers (4 470 ha/11 000 acres) are remarkable examples of successful forestry. The dark, low-acidic soil has produced a seedling forest of English oak growing alongside plantations of hornbeam and ash, with ferns growing low to the ground. Boar, deer, martens, skunks, squirrels and wild cats wander the reserve, where the bird population includes wood pigeons and woodpeckers.

To the north, the acidic, wet soil of the Boischaut is home to birch (Forêt de Gâtine) ; oak and beech are found in the Marche; while pubescent oak grow on the limestone plateaux in the southwest of the Indre département . On the highest plateaux of the Limousin, conifers have multiplied, with spruce, larch and pine replacing meadows of heather and fields of grain crops. To the south, and on the borders of the Périgord, deciduous hardwood forests prevail on the sunny slopes, and chestnut trees, which are native to the region, are cultivated for their nuts.

At certain times of the year, the region’s woods become the haunt of mushroom-hunters searching for varieties including king bolete (Boletus edulis) , bay bolete (Boletus badius) , chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius) and yellow morel (Morchella esculenta) . In rural France, pharmacists are able to identify edible mushrooms, so if you are unsure of what mushrooms you have picked, take them to the local pharmacie before taking them home.

Fields and bocage

The Champagne Berrichonne , an open land of large, ploughed fields which attracts numerous birds, is the most northerly area covered in this guide. South of this area, the Boischaut-Sud and parts of La Brenne are completely different, with a more secretive feel. The bocage landscape here is one of hedges and hedgerows, groves of trees, small plots of land and protected pastures. This maze of vegetation is further marked by chemins creux – tunnel-like pathways laid out between high banks topped with vegetation. These deep-sided lanes, many now overgrown and too narrow for tractors, prevented erosion; prickly bushes held climbing vines tight together to keep the animals safely enclosed; trees provided wood for cooking and making tools; and the leaves of elm trees could be used as fodder .

Caves and chasms in the Dordogne

Although dispersed throughout the region, the arid causse slices through the otherwise luxuriant landscape of the Périgord. In the Quercy, the limestone plateaux roll away to the horizon, stony, grey and deserted. The dryness of the soil is due to the calcareous nature of the rock which absorbs rain like a sponge.

Water Infiltration

Rainwater containing carbonic acid dissolves the carbonate of lime found in the limestone. Depressions form, known as cloups , which are usually circular in shape and small in size. When the cloups increase in size, they form large, closed depressions known as sotches . Where rainwater infiltrates the countless fissures in the plateau more deeply, the hollowing out and dissolution of the calcareous layer produces wells or natural chasms which are called igues .

Underground Rivers and Resurgent Springs

Infiltrating water eventually reaches the impermeable layers (marl) of the earth, developing into rivers which sometimes flow for miles. The waters merge into more powerful streams, widening their beds and tumbling over falls. In zones where the impermeable marl comes close to the surface of a hillside, the water bubbles up to the surface, sometimes with great force, in the form of a resurgent spring .

The circulation of water underground through chasms and galleries follows an unpredictable course, for the cracks in the rock continually affect the underground drainage. There are many dry river beds underground, where waters have sought out deeper domains.

When water flows slowly, as at Padirac, small lakes are formed by natural dams called gours . The walls holding back the waters are built up by the deposit of lime carbonate. Dissolution of limestone continues above the water level, with blocks of stone falling from the roof, resulting in the creation of domes. As the dome pushes upwards and its roof grows thin, it may cave in, opening the chasm to the surface above. The Gouffre de Padirac is such a dome, with the top of its ceiling just a few feet beneath the surface.

Cave formations

As it circulates underground, water deposits the lime it carries, building up concretions of fantastic shapes which seem to defy the laws of gravity. The seeping waters deposit calcite (carbonate of lime) to form a series of stalactites, stalagmites, pendants, pyramids, draperies and eccentrics.

Stalactites are formed on the roof by water dripping down. The concretion builds up slowly as drops deposit calcite on the surface.

Stalagmites are a sort of mirror image, rising up from the deposits of dripping water from the ceiling above, eventually meeting the stalactite to form a pillar.

Such concretions form very slowly: the rate of growth in temperate climates is about 1cm/0.5in every 100 years.

Eccentrics are very delicate protuberances, formed by crystallisation, which seldom exceed 20cm/8in in length. They emerge at odd angles, as slender spikes or in the shape of translucent fans.

Modern exploration

The caves and chasms of the Dordogne were initially inhabited by animals and then by people, who abandoned these natural shelters c 10 000 years ago.

At the end of the 19C, the methodical and scientific exploration of the underground world led to the discovery of a number of caves and their subsequent conversion into tourist attractions.

Yet, despite significant research, many mysteries remain beneath the earth’s surface.

Top of page