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Perigord-Quercy-Le Gouffre de Padirac

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The Dordogne enters the region called “Quercy” now, of which the main département is the Lot. This country, mostly rugged limestone is shot with green velvet valleys and pocked by dramatic cliffs and caves. One of these pits is the biggest maw of them all: THE GOUFFRE DE PADIRAC, another top attraction is the village of ROCAMADOUR, hanging on a huge cliff, and the carvings at SOUILLAC that outclass anything in the snooty old Perigord.
Let’s start where I started the journey, a few years ago. The GOUFFRE DE PADIRAC, to be ranked among the wonders of the world. A marvelous underground without any competitor in the world.  You access 103 meters under the earth’s surface to discover the glittering “Lac de la Pluie” above which is suspended a colossal stalactite, the immense “Salle du Grand Dome” with its 90 meters high vault, hanging also over a suspended lake, at the third of its height.
A vertiginous path gives access to all parts of this chamber and offers the visitor a breathtaking view over the lake and the river. Note that there is a constant temperature all year of 13 Celsius (55 Fahrenheit).
A few words to explain: a “gouffre” is an immense hole, a chasm plunging through the limestone of the Causse de Gramat before forming 20 km of galleries-or at least the length that has been explored so far-.
According to ancient legends, the devil would be the digger of the gouffre. It was used as a refuge during the 100-years and religious wars to the inhabitants of the region. But the gouffre unveiled its secrets only in 1889 when the speleologue Edouard Alfred Martel, discovers underground galleries, which will lead him to the gallery of the GREAT DOME in 1890. It’s in 1898 that the gouffre welcomes its first tourists.
It’s a 90-minutes lasting guided tour with a long descent by lifts into the cool depths of the immense cavity. At the end, there is often a long wait to board the gondolas that row you along the river Plane, the “smooth” river. Along this shadowy “River Styx” (a little imagination, my dear readers!!) the most stupendous decoration is the “Grande Pendeloque (Great Pendant”, an enormous stalactite that touches almost the water.
And so on, you disembark, board another boat and explore most of the underground waterways with extraordinary views of strange-formed stalactites. The absolute top feature is the “Salle du Grand Dome “ already named, a majestic vaulted space and in volume could contain TWO Notre Dame cathedrals. It is simply grandiose! The only way your mind can take in the immensity is to note how tiny all the people are on the far end.
The return to the entrance is made once more by boat. After passing through the galleries, the visitor may if he wishes use the lifts, which will spare him the 455 steps to the surface. He may return thus without fatigue to the Causse where there is an attractive Zoo, “le Tropicorama” (paradise for birds), the museum of history of the gouffre de Padirac assembling minerals, fossils, prehistoric objects. 
But now we continue to our next important destination: ROCAMADOUR.


Les Abimes, by C.E.Martel (1894), La France Ignorée, by C.E.Martel(1928), Padirac, Rocamadour et sa région, by Guy de Lavaur.   Causses of Quercy and Rocamadour by C.Chantraine (1996, Histoire du Quercy by Jean Lartigaut(1995)