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Photo copyright Patrick Aventurier - Caverne-du-pont-darc
Pont d’Arc Cavern I wasn’t expecting to be excited by a replica of the Chauvet Cave (about 15 minutes’ drive from Vallon) but boy was I! The original cave was discovered by cavers in the 1990s and its location is kept secret in order to protect it. That’s because what those cavers inadvertently stumbled upon 20 years ago is nothing short of staggering: cave art, which dates back 30,000 to 45,000 years to the ice age period. And yet, remains vivid, vibrant and utterly compelling. The replica (the largest in the world) is about 15 minutes’ drive from Vallon and well signed. Set in a lofty orchard of chêne trees and limestone paths there are views across the valley as far as le Mont Lozère and Col d ’Escrinet. There are also a number of animations and educational galleries to enjoy including a children’s centre and the Aurignacien Gallery, before you head into the depths of the cave for your guided tour. The guide explains as you enter that you’re going to feel like you’re in the original cave and you do. It’s spine tingling. There’s almost a 3D feel to some of the work as the artists incorporated the contours of the rock face to add depth, movement and humour to their drawings. Scratches and grease marks from the coats of prehistoric bears are still visible and you start to get a sense of the artists, as little details like the bent, broken little finger of one (much like mine) appears again and again in some of the hand prints. As you come back out into the sunshine, with the Mistral wind nibbling at your cheeks, you feel a sense of serenity but also adventure. Now there’s just one last stop to make before you tackle the full might of the “route touristique des gorges de l’Ardèche”. Not far from Vallon Pont d’Arc (the starting point for the main tourist route along the gorges) is the town of Ruoms. Ruoms is pretty enough but from there, take a small, winding road signed to Labeaume.
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