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BEAUX VOYAGES
Lascaux/Vezere Article
Lascaux and the Vezere Valley- 4 Excellent Venues            Beaux Voyages Home
by Walt Ballenberger

The Vezere river is a tributary of the Dordogne, and the two meet near Les Eyzies-de-Tayac
before the Dordogne continues on toward Bordeaux and the Atlantic ocean.  Near the
village of Montignac, about 30 kilometers upstream on the Vezere, are some excellent and
unique venues, including the famous Lascaux cave.  Here are four that can be visited in one
day.

1.  Lascaux II-
Lascaux is considered to be the number one prehistoric site in all of Europe. The paintings
on the site date from 17,000 to 15,000 years ago. Shortly after that the cave entrances
were closed by mudslides or other natural means, and thus the paintings were perfectly
preserved until the modern era. The cave was rediscovered in 1940 by two local boys who
were chasing their dog, and several years later it was opened to the public.  However, in
1963 it was closed again, as it was discovered that too many people in the cave were
causing the paintings to deteriorate. Since then only a few scientists, scholars or art
historians per day were allowed in for several hours maximum. For the past few years even
those limited visits have been stopped, as new signs of further deterioration have been
observed.  The French government, however, took up a 10 year project to make an exact
duplicate of the cave. This effort, which opened in 1983, uses exactly the same pigments
that were used by the Cro-Magnon artists thousands of years ago, and is dimensionally
accurate to less than one inch of error. It is called Lascaux II, and is located only about 400
yards from the original cave.

The quality of the artwork is the main reason that Lascaux is considered the finest example
of prehistoric cave paintings. Done with only oil lamps for light and using high
scaffolding, the prehistoric artists who created this site were highly accomplished
artists. Most of the guided visits to Lascaux II are conducted in French, but there are tours
in English on most days.  One needs to call the Lascaux ticket office in Montignac or the
Montignac Office of Tourism to find out if and when there is an English tour on any given
day.  If you have a group they will probably set up an English tour for you and other English
speakers, but this needs to be arranged in advance through the ticket office.  Even though
Lascaux II is a replica and not the original, it is very well done, very informative, and not to
be missed.

2.  St. Leon sur Vezere- This is another of the “Most Beautiful Villages of France". Built in a
picturesque loop of the Vezere river, this charming village possesses two
castles and one of the finest Romanesque churches of the Perigord. The church
was part of a Benedictine priory which was founded in the 12th century. It was built
on the ruins of a Gallo-Roman villa. The remains of one of the villa's walls can be
seen on the river side.  There is a picnic area next to the church on the banks of the river,
and a café is nearby as well.  This is an excellent spot to have a pleasant lunch or a
refreshing drink.

3.  La Roque St. Christophe (St. Christopher's Rock) is a huge
Troglodyte cave complex. For about a half mile in length this majestic cliff
rises vertically above the Vezere valley to a height of over 250ft. It is like a huge
hive with about 100 caves hollowed out of the rock on five tiers. Excavations have
proved that the cliff dwellings were inhabited from the Upper Paleolithic Age
onwards. In the 10th century the cliff terraces served as the foundation for a
fortress which was used against the Vikings, and again later during the Hundred Years War.
It was subsequently destroyed during the Wars of Religion at the end of the 16th
century. The self-guided tour explains the evolution of human life at La Roque St.
Christophe, which took place over many centuries .  In fact even Neanderthal fossils have
been found at this site and at other locations nearby.

4. Chateau de Losse- This renaissance chateau sits on the right bank of the Vezere river,
and it has a large terrace that overlooks the river and offers picturesque views.  The
chateau is well known for its excellent furniture and tapestries, which can be seen on the
guided tours.  The tours are in French, but foreign language guides are available, and
these are easy to follow so one does not miss anything.  The tours are quite good, and one
can also visit the well kept gardens and stroll around the outside of the chateau in the
former moat area.  

As stated earlier, these four venues in the Vezere Valley near Montignac can easily be
visited in one day, since they are relatively close and do not take too long to visit any of
them.  If one is staying nearby, in Sarlat, for example, only about 25 kilometers away, a visit
to these sites is well worth the effort.
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