In love with prehistory

My weekend discovering prehistory!
Visit Tarascon and its prehistoric treasures

Here we are, in the Ariege Pyrenees, in a comfortable room at Les Terrasses de Castelmerle for a weekend of discovery. This cosy nest also offers relaxation thanks to a swimming pool and sauna, all in a magnificent setting.

The surprise and the unknown… my lover has offered me this break to celebrate our meeting and the theme is “to the origins”… I try to guess but I confess I don’t understand. Looking up, I discover an immense cavity above me, dominated by a gigantic sculpture. I think I’m onto something… prehistory!

The Niaux cave

The guide introduces himself and gives us a few instructions: a jacket and good shoes are necessary, he ensures the distribution of lamps as the cave is not lit.

We are expected at the grotte de Niaux for which booking is compulsory. The road climbs gently up to the imposing porch where we leave the car to get a closer look at this sculpture facing us. Architect Fuksas created this structure with its patina of age, symbolizing a strange animal emerging from the cave to admire the panoramic view over the Vicdessos valley. In the foreground is the silhouette of Miglos castle perched on a rocky spur, then the superb village of Lapège perched on the mountainside on the other side and further away the still snow-capped peaks of the Spanish border.


Start of operation

The guide introduces himself and gives us a few instructions: a jacket and good shoes are necessary, and he ensures the distribution of lamps as the cave is not lit.

We set off in a small group of maximum 25 people to explore this jewel of prehistory… in the footsteps of Cro-Magnon. The last light outside gradually fades and we imagine ourselves 14,000 years back in the footsteps of our ancestors who painted animals, mysterious geometric signs at the bottom of this cavity which was – according to the guide – a place of worship since traces of life have been found in the cave of la vache nearby.

Alas, we won’t see all the traces of these men who left their footsteps on a dune or painted a weasel elsewhere, as the network is immense and it’s 800 meters that separate us from the famous “salon noir” where bison, ibex and other prehistoric felines are painted. The guide tells us that the replicas are on display at the Parc de la Préhistoire. A narrow passageway and we’re there…

This journey is truly magical, the emotion felt at the sight of the paintings giving way to amazement at the discovery of the various representations in such good condition despite the use of natural materials and pigments: iron oxide, charcoal, natural ochres. These artists knew how to handle the strokes with precision, while embracing the natural relief of the walls to make these animals so real. It’s easy to imagine that, in the light of the torches, these animals seemed to be alive.

There are many mysteries surrounding this place steeped in history, and this visit makes you want to know more about our distant ancestors. We leave dazzled by the light of day and still dizzy from the marvellous spectacle we have witnessed.


Prehistory Park

I thought I was going back to the inn, but no, we pass it to reach the Parc de la Préhistoire on the outskirts of Tarascon-sur-Ariège, where we’ll have lunch and visit. After being welcomed on the terrace of the restaurant “Le Bouquetin”, we are lulled by the sound of the waterfalls near the pools and gaze at the Pyrenean peaks all around us. We enjoy a delicious tasting of south-western products, and finish off with a delicious homemade dessert on the terrace before embarking on the “grand atelier”. The visit is free, as equipped with audioguides, we journey through time, centuries and so many unexpected masterpieces. Art, ornaments, tools, weapons… nothing was a secret to these Magdalenians, who lived in harmony with nature.

Ariège's little extras
Book your mountain vacation,

Book your mountain vacation for hiking in unspoilt natural surroundings, for outdoor and white-water activities, for visits to must-see tourist sites such as the Grotte de Niaux and the Parc de la Préhistoire... In winter, skiing, snowboarding, skating, snowshoeing, tobogganing and dog sledding are all on offer from Ax 3 Domaines to Beille, via Ascou and Le Chioula or Mijanés and Goulier... All year round, enjoy the benefits of thermal water for spa treatments at Ax-les-Thermes or Ussat-les-Bains, or relax at the Bains du Couloubret. The history and heritage of our mountains, pastoralism and local produce will add to your stay with unforgettable experiences... Don't miss the festivals and major events, and take advantage of the many activities for the whole family all year round... The Ariege Pyrenees, your bubble of oxygen destination!