A gallery of very old masters

Sharon and Tina started making a list of all the things to do in the Lot, and high on it, was to see the prehistoric paintings in the caves so plentiful in this area. With the day looking a bit like it was going to rain, we decided being under the ground in a cave, we would be out of the cold and wet, so off we went to Cabreret and Grotte Pech Merle. As we hurtled through a little town, we noticed a market, so had to stop and investigate. There were some fabulous baked goods which we stocked up on for later sampling… Mmm…

Eventually we found Grotte Pech Merle, but had to wait until it opened, then wait still longer until it was time for our little group of visitors to be guided through the underground chambers. Originally formed by great ancient rivers carving out the limestone, this cave was blocked up for millennia by debris from floods, thus preserving this art treasure trove in a time capsule away from climatic and atmospheric changes through the ages. To ensure these treasures continue to be preserved, visitor numbers are limited, as is the time spent in the cave (to keep to a minimum the damaging effect of carbon dioxide). The temperature and humidity are also maintained at constant levels.

The walls came alive with all sorts of wildlife… horses, woolly mammoths, even reindeer – and here and there are handprints we are familiar in Aboriginal rock art. A blowing technique has been used for many of the works, but there are also examples of finger painting. Pigments such as ochres and magnesium provide different colours, and in the flickering of torch light you can imagine the animals move. Some of the paintings are dated at 25,000 BC, while others are possibly more recent. In some cases there are layers of drawings or paintings over each other. The paintings also take advantage of the shape of the walls and protrusions that can add to he 3D reality of the images. In spite of their mind numbing age, the paintings are surprisingly fresh and masterfuly executed. They looked like they could have been done yesterday. We kept thinking how hard it was to believe they were really so old. In one chamber in the cave there are children’s footprints in what would have been clay, but which has hardened to limestone over teh aeons… In spite of the all this time separating us, there was a real sense that the ghosts of the artists and their audiences were somehow still here with us – curious about us, as we were about them – their stories and their world.

With lots of food for thought, the coldness of the cave and the still present drizzle had made us starving for lunch. Off we went to Cabreret, and found O’Louise’s Restaurant where we were welcomed and sumptuously fed with the freshest and tastiest three course feast! Duck, vegies, stunning fresh salad dressing, a yummy custard dessert, and great coffee. Louise, the mother and chef of the establishment certainly puts her years of experience to excellent use while her daughter made us welcome in the front of this wonderful old house.

Ever hopeful, with the rain still drizzling, we left Cabreret and its ancient other-worldliness in search of St-Cirq-Lapopie…

Heather, Tina and Sharon

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