I found the flow of the tour particularly useful. Our first stop, at the Altamira cave replica, was an excellent learning experience and a good place to start our exploration of Paleolithic art. Ah, but the caves themselves: each fascinating, each unique.
- El Pindal overlooking the sea with its basic animal outlines and etchings, and Tito Bustillo with a wall of horses and deer and a realistic charcoal sketch of a horse’s head, neck, and mane.
- Two caves within walking distance of each other, but quite different: El Castillo with numerous hand silhouettes, symbols, and animals on its walls, and Las Monedas with far fewer paintings but incredible stalactites, stalagmites, and weird, colored rock formations in its caverns.
- Cap Blanc, a rock shelter with relief carvings that include an almost three-dimensional, two-meter-long horse, and Rouffignac, where an electric train took us to the astonishing Great Ceiling containing 66 animals, painted and etched in exquisite detail.
- The replica art in Lascaux II was stunning; the original cave has been called the Sistine Chapel of cave painting.
- Peche-Merle with its two beautifully detail horses standing back to back (and 12,000-year-old footprints of an adolescent boy), and finally Nieux, with its long, rough walk to the Black Grotto where exquisitely detailed charcoal outline drawings of bison awaited.
Every picture, in every cave, tells a story. But in many cases, anthropologists don’t know how to interpret the story or know why our Cro-Magnon ancestors felt the need to create this art in the dark recesses of caves.
We all felt privileged seeing the cave art. I think everyone realized that some of the caves we explored could well be closed to visitors in future years. The preservation of these ancient etchings and paintings, a glimpse into our past, is far more important than allowing a few thousand people a year to see the artwork for themselves.
Of course cave art was not the only item on our agenda. We enjoyed tours of wineries, strolled the narrow streets of medieval towns, feasted on numerous “light” meals (that’s an inside joke, sorry), marveled at the works of Antoni Gaudi, and delighted in the wit and knowledge of our superb local guide, Cesar Higueras Sanz.
I hope that everyone on our 2014 Expressions of the Past tour enjoyed it as much as I did. And if any readers of this blog would like to know about future TQ trips to northern Spain and southern France, please contact TravelQuest. A repeat visit at a future date is a distinct possibility.
Written by: Paul Deans – TQ Editor