Prehistoric Cave Art of Spain & France (land tour)

Detailed Itinerary

Wednesday & Thursday, September 21 & 22, 2016 ~  HOME / BILBAO, Spain / SANTILLANA DEL MAR
Depart home on independent flights to Bilbao, Spain. Arriving in the morning or early afternoon on September 22nd, take a group transfer to the charming medieval town of Santillana del Mar. One of Europe’s most perfectly preserved medieval villages, Santillana del Mar retains a romantic ambiance with its 14th- through 16th-century towers punctuating the skyline. After checking in at your hotel take a walking tour of the village, noting its roots from the early Middle Ages when the first dwellings arose in the shadow of the Romanesque monastery of Santa Juliana. Gather for a welcome dinner at our hotel this evening. Overnight at Parador de Santillana Gil Blas for two nights. (day 2: D)

Today is devoted to visiting caves that are celebrated for their ancient rock art. This morning we visit Altamira II, an exact replica of Altamira (the “Sistine Chapel of Prehistoric Art”), decorated with vivid depictions of bison and other animals dating back 15,000 years, a testament to the artists’ skill in using rock formations to accentuate perspective. We also visit the Altamira Museum, with its highly informative exhibits on Cantabrian prehistory and cave art. This afternoon, we depart for the lush Pas Valley, home to the village of Puente Viesgo, the “Prehistoric Capital of Cantabria.” We explore Las Monedas Caves and the Cueva del Castillo, where 180 images of hinds, horses, bison, deer, goats, aurochs, canids, and mammoth dating back 12,000-14,000 years cavort on the walls. We return to Santillana del Mar for dinner on our own. (B,L)

Saturday, September 24 ~ SANTILLANA DEL MAR / BILBAO
On our return to Bilbao, we drive through the dramatic Carranza Gorges to visit the small Covalanas Cave, where some of the prehistoric drawings are rendered in a little-used technique known as “the inkpad,” in which lines are created from dots of red pigment. This afternoon is devoted to Bilbao’s spectacular Guggenheim Museum, Frank O. Gehry’s architectural masterpiece. This breathtaking modern structure consists of 19 galleries clustered around a central atrium that soars skyward for 165 feet, beautifully illuminated by natural light. The titanium roof is a unique, twisting, curving, metallic sculpture that integrates the city’s industrial waterfront with the nearby historic and business districts. Overnight at the Silken Gran Hotel Domine for two nights. (B,D)

Sunday, September 25 ~ BILBAO / ATAPUERCA / BURGOS / BILBAO
After breakfast this morning, we visit the caves of Atapuerca, a UNESCO World Heritage site, which have provided the earliest and most abundant evidence of humankind in Europe. Continue on to Burgos, where we will have time for lunch and a brief visit to Burgos Cathedral before we explore the impressive Museum of Human Evolution (opened in 2010). This evening is at leisure in Bilbao. (B,L)

Monday, September 26 ~ BILBAO / SAN SEBASTIAN / BORDEAUX, France
We depart Spain for France this morning, stopping along the way in the charming city of San Sebastian for some free time. After a leisurely independent lunch, we will continue to Bordeaux, well-known for its wine industry, which attributes its “Golden Age” to the 18th century when far-sighted city fathers redesigned its urban center to make it the classical masterpiece we know today. Its old district is one of the largest protected architectural neighborhoods in all of France, which we will explore on a walking tour. Overnight at the Hotel Burdigala. (B)

Tuesday, September 27 ~ BORDEAUX / LES EYZIES-DE-TAYAC
This morning we visit the Musée d’Aquitaine, a museum of history and archaeology exhibiting prehistoric to present-day artifacts of the Aquitaine region, including the Ice Age bas-relief of the Venus of Laussel, one of the earliest and most famous images of women in prehistory. After free time for lunch in Bordeaux, we will visit the prehistoric cave of Pair-non-Pair, known for its animal engravings and fossilized animal bones, and then continue on to Les Eyzies. Overnight at Hotel Le Cro-Magnon for four nights. (B,D)

Wednesday, September 28 ~ LES EYZIES / THE PÉRIGORD REGION
The Périgord Region in the southwest of France is Europe’s most important prehistoric region. Its terrain, crisscrossed by gentle rivers flowing amidst extraordinary limestone formations, offered numerous shelters and caves for our early ancestors. Through expressive cave paintings, tools, and excavated remains, witness evidence of human existence and cultural evolution. Begin with a visit to the Museum of Les Eyzies, exhibiting artifacts from several millennia of prehistory. After lunch at leisure in Les Eyzies, explore the cave of Font-de-Gaume, featuring some 230 paintings and engravings. Continue on to the shelter of Cap Blanc, which features a sculpted frieze of life-size horses, and return to Les Eyzies for an evening at leisure. (B)

Thursday, September 29 ~ THE PÉRIGORD REGION
Our morning starts with a visit to Lascaux II, a perfect replica of one of Europe’s most significant prehistoric sites, the large cave of Lascaux, known for the profusion of high-quality and multi-colored animal paintings on its walls. We also visit Le Thot, a museum and animal park of living species similar to those that occupied this region during the Upper Paleolithic, such as reindeer, European bison, aurochs, Przewalski horses, ibex, and red and fallow deer. After lunch on your own in Montignac, we drive along country roads to the prehistoric cave of Rouffignac. Explore its galleries onboard a train, admiring the numerous engravings of mammoth, rhinoceros, horse, bison, and mountain goat represented on its walls. On our way back to Les Eyzies, we stop at the site of Abri Pataud, where extensive digging in the early 1960s revealed astonishing details of the life of the Cro-Magnons. (B,D)

Friday, September 30 ~ THE PÉRIGORD REGION
Begin the day with a drive to the prehistoric cave of Cougnac, known for its paintings of extinct megaloceros and mammoth, followed by lunch on your own. After lunch we visit the medieval Château de Beynac, a formidable presence on the meandering Dordogne River that maintains a commanding view over the fortress-dotted valley. Return to Les Eyzies for an evening at leisure. (B)

Saturday, October 1 ~ LES EYZIES / TOULOUSE
Depart Les Eyzies after breakfast and visit the cave of Pech Merle, particularly known for prehistoric paintings of mammoth and horse, as well as “negative hand prints.” After lunch in the town of Vers we continue on to Toulouse, for a walking tour and the remainder of the afternoon and evening at leisure. Overnight at the Hotel Crowne Plaza for two nights. (B,L)

Sunday, October 2 ~ TOULOUSE / NIAUX
Visit the outstanding cave of Niaux, perched high above the river and comprising a vast network of galleries that stretch over a mile. The exquisite paintings within represent bison, horse, and ibex. We enjoy a light lunch nearby. Gather this evening for our farewell dinner. (B,L,D)

Monday, October 3 ~ TOULOUSE / HOME
Transfer this morning to the Toulouse airport for flights home. (B)

If you have any additional questions, please email us at (and include your full name) or call us toll-free at (800) 748-6262 (toll: 603-756-2884).


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