By Gilbert Vail – March 2017

Last fall, I visited my French family. As you may know, la Toussaint (All Saints’ Day) and le jour des morts (the Day of the Dead) are celebrated on November 1st and 2nd, respectively. This is a period of the year when people are not very upbeat. To break up the morose mood, I suggested a visit to the replica of la Grotte Chauvet at Pont d’Arc in Ardèche, close to Montélimar. With reservations made ahead of time as recommended, we (3 adults and 6 children) arrived early at this new site, which opened in April 2015 and is built on a mountain covered by a beautiful forest of wild olive and pine trees.

Cavern of Pont d’ Arc.

In order to avoid children’s complaints during the waiting time, we decided to visit the adjacent museum. Great idea! Each station has an interactive audiovisual program available in several languages. The presentations describe the climatic conditions, topography, and animal and human population around the site over the last 500 000 years. The children were fascinated.

Then it was time for the adventure to begin. The door of the access tunnel opened. It was dark. All of a sudden we felt the cold air of the cave. At the first stop, the tour guide told us of the difficult access to the first room, the Salle Morel.  As the level of light increased, the first panoramic view of the Salle

Drawings found in cave

Morel came into view and was breathtaking. Except for the voice of the guide, silence reigned.The children were speechless We headed off to the red zone of the cave, so called because they were done with iron oxides and some minerals. Those paintings could not be dated. The reproductions are perfectly done and every crack of rock feels real. After several stations in the red section, we entered the black section, dating back 36 000-35 000 years. The paintings suddenly changed style. It was the beginning of my best painting lesson. The precise technique used by the author(s) gives us an accurate image of this time but it also expresses emotions and spirituality. We finished the tour upon a fantastic large scene of hunting. The moroseness was gone.

Do not skip this visit!