IMG_1962What do you do when your vacation in the south of France is hit by rain? We locals were happy for the rain a couple of weeks ago–it had been too long and our gardens were wilting from thirst. But for vacationers, so many of the attractions involve outdoor activities–wandering around old villages, hiking through the countryside, exploring châteaux ruins.

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A couple of columns.
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An impressive column, millennia in the making.

With some recent visitors, we went underground. The mountains, like Emmental cheese, are full of holes. These holes were carved by water, not bacteria (in case you wondered how those holes got into the cheese–they’re bubbles formed by gases emitted by bacteria). IMG_1954IMG_1957IMG_1929

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Reflections

The Grotte de Limousis, just north of Carcassonne, is particularly pretty, and easy to walk through, making it appropriate for most ages (but not those in strollers or wheelchairs–there are some narrow spots and some steps). The series of caves are big and well-lit, so you don’t feel claustrophobic.IMG_1915

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A drapery or curtain formation.
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Bear scratches. In the first room. All the bones and bits of pottery were found in the first room–before torches nobody–not even bears–dared go farther.
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The ceiling looks like a Georgia O’Keefe painting, no?
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This also looks like abstract art.

The cave winds a kilometer underground through three “rooms.” The first is the Column Room, because of how many columns there are–columns where stalactites (the ones that hang down) and stalagmites (the ones that rise from the ground) grew together.

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A fine column.
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In another part of the cave, you can see the water lines, which is how the “ballroom” would have formed.

IMG_1941IMG_1940The ballroom got its name because the nearest village, Limousis, actually used it as a party room for the annual village dinner, held in October to close the grape harvest. The acoustics are amazing, and the floor is naturally flat, having formed when the room was half-filled by a lake. Limestone deposits crept across the lake’s surface like ice, then hardened. The water drained away, leaving the bottom hollow, hence the drum effect. The floor is as smooth as the surface of an icy lake–one unperturbed by wind or anything.

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The water in this “lake” rises as high as that stalagmite in the center, and dries completely in November.

There are two “lakes.” In one, the level of the water rises and falls. It never rises above the tallest stalagmite, with the highest level in summer–after all the rains of winter and spring have had time to filter down. By November it’s dry–the effect of our typically rain-free summers.IMG_1934 IMG_1931IMG_1932The other lake has a shower pouring into it. It’s green, which indicates it’s at least two meters (six feet) deep. Limpid water is the same temperature as the cave–14 Celsius, or 57 Fahrenheit–but the falling water is colder–8 Celsius or 46 Fahrenheit–too chilly to take a dip! The water is potable, but not too much–while it doesn’t contain bacteria or any living organisms due to the lack of light, it does contain lots of calcium, so you would get kidney stones.

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A big puddle of water, perfectly clear, the bottom like an eerie moonscape.
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Another puddle. Can you make out where the reflection is?

IMG_1926The final room–spoiler alert–contains a huge crystal of aragonite, four meters tall and 10 meters wide (13 feet tall and 32 feet wide). It grew thanks to perfect conditions that were undisturbed for millennia. It’s unusual, not only for its size but for the variety of shapes, from snowflake-like crystals to round bulbs. IMG_1950IMG_1953I’ve been to the Grotte de Limousis five or six times and it still takes my breath away. I never would have put it on a top 10 list until I actually went. Also a great respite on a hot summer day!IMG_1912

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What sculpture nature makes!

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27 thoughts on “French Underground Redux

  1. Wow! That’s an amazing place to have so close and yes, a great idea for a rainy day. Have you been to the Limousis dinner? We, too, are anxious for some rain. You must be relieved to see some again.

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  2. Would love to tour this place – your photos are stunning which got my imagination going as I grasped the sense of time and elements as sculptors. The earth is magical, and we are not on it but we ARE it! Bon weekend, friend.

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  3. Your blog opens to such terrible looking ads. Your subject matter is such an elegant topic and to open your page to these awful ads for skin tag removal and intestinal issues puts me off. I get the need for sponsorship but don’t you have a say over where such ads are placed?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No, I don’t get control over the ads because I don’t get any revenue—I use the free version of WordPress and they generate the ads themselves. I am looking into a revamp.

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  4. I thought at first I’d feel claustrophobic with cave pictures, but those are just beautiful. I didn’t know about this place, but it definitely goes on my list.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Fantastic photos. Definitely one for us to visit when we are back in Castelnaudary but probably not in July. The last caves we visited were in South Africa, in the Western Cape. They were amazing but what surprised me even more was bumping into someone I used to work with. Not what I was expecting when we were so far from home and so deep under ground!

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  6. After a college geology class I was hooked on minerals and crystals and how they formed. My husband and a friend… from the same geology class… travelled through the US and Mexico, searching in abandoned mines for truncated quartz crystals, amethysts, malachite and azurite. What adventures! There’s a living limestone cave not far from where I live. Your photos remind me of it. You can hear the water dripping everywhere. It’s beautiful. Thanks for the memories. xoxox

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I wish I had known of this place when I lived in the Herault! It would have been a great place to take friends. Very beautiful and unusual. I’ve been to underground rivers in Belize where there were similar formations, but not nearly as wonderful. I hope to go, thanks for the tip and the great photos
    bonnie in provence

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  8. Your images are gorgeous, and your accompanying text equally so. I have seen some caverns in the US — I’m claustrophobic, so my “enjoyment” is a crapshoot— but I’ve never seen any in France. My boys spent some time with their dad and their cousins in Carcassonne some years back. I will need to ask them if they went to this extraordinary site.

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