The Gouffre de Padirac is known as the “Devil’s cave” and for reason. When a giant hole measuring 108 feet (33 metres) wide naturally opened up in the middle of rural France, you can imagine that the locals were alarmed.
It is located in Occitanie, just 11 miles from the famed pilgrimage site Rocamadour. The cave is not named after a person, but rather a nearby town known as Padirac.
For those seeking a subterranean and kid-friendly adventure, this is the place to be. The Gouffre de Padirac measures 338 feet (103m) deep and has a diameter of approximately 108 feet (33 metres). The tunnel itself extends over 35 miles (55 km).
Today this natural phenomenon attracts explorers and tourists alike to climb down its long staircases and embark on a boat ride through a portion of these mysterious caves.
Legend and history of the cave
There are various legends surrounding the cave. Amongst the famous tales is one of Lucifer trying to waylay Saint Martin, and kicking his heel to open up the abyss. Saint Martin would evade Lucifer by jumping over with his mule, making Lucifer jump into the hole in a rage.
Another legend includes the hole appearing to hide a treasure from the English during the Hundred Years’ War in the Middle ages. Regardless of all the tales, it was not until the 19th century that an explorer brave enough appeared to descend down into the caves.
Back in 1889, an adventurer named Édouard-Alfred Martel decided to find out once and for all what was at the bottom of the Gouffre de Padirac.
So, Martel and his crew descended into the partially hidden cave entrance, and stepping into this underground limestone art gallery.
As they ventured deeper, they discovered an underground river, the River Styx, flowing through the cave, carving out the rocks through milenia. But the real jaw-dropper was the Grand Dome, a massive cavern that looked like a cathedral, complete with stunning formations that made Martel and the gang feel like they hit the jackpot.
By November 1, 1898, after work was carried out to make it safe, the first visitors and tourists began their descent into the Gouffre de Padirac.
Fast forward to today, and scientists and tourists are still geeking out over Gouffre de Padirac. From new species to unusual rocks, the place has become a natural lab for understanding how caves form and change over time.
Inside the Gouffre de Padirac
The adventure kicks off with a long descent down a metal staircase into the heart of the earth. It’s like stepping into another world as you make your way deeper into the cave with the air growing cooler.
If the idea of a staircase isn’t your cup of tea, fear not, there are also a series of large elevators to whisk visitors down. (There are a couple of stairs in places however, so it is not fully wheelchair accessible.)
Once you’ve descended into the cave, a walk along the first series of caves leads to a dock along the River Styx where boats await. With a tour guide manning the boat, visitors can dliding through the subterranean waterway through the illuminated caves that showcase the intricate formations that have taken centuries to take shape.
You can get back to the surface either by elevator or staircase, and even pick up a souvenir photo taken in the caves along the way.
How to get to the Gouffre de Padirac?
Gouffre de Padirac about 326 miles (525 km) from Paris and is about 150 miles (245 km) from Toulouse and Bordeaux. The only way to get to Gouffre de Padirac is by car.
How easy is it getting around?
The Gouffre de Padirac does have elevators and ramps for access, but there are a few steps to be taken in each place. As such, it is not completely stroller or wheelchair friendly.
How long should you spend?
There is the main cave visit, along with the boat ride included and tourguide. In all, it can take around 2-3 hours to go through the Gouffre de Padirac exhibit, depending on how much time you want to spend inside.
When is the best time to visit?
It is difficult to visit the Gouffre de Padirac when it is raining as the water gets into the caves. I recommend visiting on a sunny day, when it is not raining. It is also usually closed in the winter from the start of November to the start of March.
Where should you stay?
There are several hotels in the vicinity of the Gouffre de Padirac and the neighboring town of Rocamadour from where you can explore the surrounding countryside:
- €€ – Hotel du Lion d’Or – in the cité medieval of Rocamadour
- €€€ – Hotel Beau Site Rocamadour – in the cité medieval of Rocamadour
- €€€ – Hôtel Les Esclargies
If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read more about traveling around the Occitanie. A bientôt!