“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing” – Helen Keller.
Or was it “Life is a great adventure or nothing”? In any case, life should be an adventure. For most of us, travelling is a great adventure, and sometimes a daring one.
Whether you are trekking through the mountains, horseback riding on the beach, deep sea diving or just driving with the top down on the open road, travelling is liberating, stimulating and fun. I have travelled some but not enough….
Until recently I never got to marvel at the beauty of an illuminated underground gorge by boat, much less discover one. Now that really is the spirit of adventure!
A big black hole, not too far from Rocamadour known as le Gouffre de Padirac is actually a giant chasm, or cave system. Deep into the ‘abyss’ is an amazing subterranean world where you can discover an underground river and the lake of rain, or lac de pluie.
It is the most visited cave system in the whole of France and the most visited site in the former region of Midi Pyrenees, which joined Languedoc Roussillon to become Occitanie.
The exploration zone is 103 metres below ground, accessible by a staircase or lift. If you are able to, take the stairs down and the lift up! From there you will explore the better part of the cave on foot with a little magical excursion by boat, where gliding across the lake of rain, you can imagine what it must have been like for Martel when he first discovered the cave. You will make your way to the ‘Grand Dome’, that is 94 meters high with an array of exquisite stalactite formations by your side.
Edouard-Alfred Martel was an amateur explorer. Originally from Seine-et-Oise, he spent many a summer in the South West. He always had the spirit of an adventurer despite growing up to be a lawyer. As a child he visited the Gargas caves, in the Pyrenees, and became infatuated with cave exploration. He read Jules Verne and immersed himself in dreams of adventure.
Pretty much the godfather of cave exploration, in 1895 he founded the Société de Spéléologie which did much to turn speleology into an internationally recognized science.
At some point in time, nobody knows exactly when, part of the roof fell in on the underground cave system forming a chasm 75 meters deep with a diameter of 35m.
In 1889 E-A Martel and some buddies descended into the cave and discovered the subterranean wonderland.
Quick to realise that he had stumbled upon something truly exceptional, he embarked on a series of expeditions to explore the site.
He wanted to buy the Gouffre and surrounding land but the owners demanded a fortune that he simply didn’t have.
The local peasants were convinced that he had come looking for hidden treasures.
When the British were finally chased out of the Quercy after the 100 years’ war, legend has it they buried the treasure they tried to flee with.
Eventually a fortuitous event led to Martel acquiring the land he so wanted to share with the world. The locals, fearing he would claim their rightful treasure, made him sign a contract stating that any treasure found would be shared with them.
A lucky break
Back in Paris Martel absent mindedly left his plans for the development of the Gouffre de Padirac in a taxi. The very next patron happened to be a wealthy business man. He read Martel’s documents and was intrigued; he thought that the project had great potential for cultural tourism.
Work began in April 1898 and one year later the inauguration of the Gouffre of Padirac saw the light of day. Unfortunately, Georges Beamish, the wealthy businessman who invested in the project, died a few months before the grand opening.
The devil’s hole
There is a legend that the devil formed the chasm with a kick of his heel and challenged Saint Martin to cross it. He claimed he would spare the souls of the peasants he was about to drive to hell. Saint Martin spurred his mule and leapt the chasm and the hoof marks can still be seen today!
Whether or not you believe in legends and hidden treasures here is a quote from the great Martel himself:
‘Knowledge is the best weapon against superstition’.
But who knows maybe just maybe there is an unfound treasure buried somewhere in the bountiful Lot.
Visit www.gouffre-de-padirac.com for opening times and prices
I hope that you have enjoyed this post about Padirac. Follow me to keep up with me on my travels around beautiful Occitanie.
Next stop, still in the bountiful Lot, back underground to visit the grotte de Pech Merle.
A bientôt Christina………………………………..