Expedition Overview

Expedition Overview

  • Join Christine Desdemaines-Hugon, one of the world’s leading experts on Paleolithic art, for a guided tour of the National Museum of Prehistory and the Rouffignac Cave in the Vézère Valley.
  • Meet a local expert on the famed Lascaux cave on a specially arranged visit to the newly opened International Center for Cave Art.
  • Alongside a prehistory specialist, explore Isturitz and Oxocelhaya, caves that have yielded tens of thousands of ancient artifacts.
  • Meet National Geographic grantee Dr. Ana Cristina Pinto-Llona for a guided tour of Atapuerca, where Europe’s oldest known hominin fossils were unearthed.

Itinerary

Itinerary

Trace the footsteps of early humans as we explore the cradle of civilization in southwest France and on Spain’s northern coast. On an expedition designed with paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson, examine carvings and cave paintings that illustrate life up to 40,000 years ago. From the Dordogne to Basque Country, stay in beautiful medieval towns that dot these long-inhabited landscapes.

Day 1: Madrid, Spain

Arrive in Madrid and settle into our hotel. On a walking tour, visit the Plaza de Oriente and the lavish Royal Palace; and stroll the bustling Plaza Mayor, lined with arcades and sidewalk cafés. Gather this evening for a welcome dinner.

Meals Included:Dinner
Accommodations:Gran Melia Fenix Hotel
Day 2: Atapuerca/Santillana del Mar

Journey to the Cantabria region on Spain’s northern coast, where we’ll be joined by renowned archaeologist Dr. Ana Cristina Pinto-Llona, an expert on the origins of modern humans. Ana is a two-time National Geographic grant recipient for her work in the Asturias region of northern Spain, and she also spent several years excavating at the Atapuerca archaeological site. Visit Atapuerca, where the oldest known hominin fossil remains in Europe have been unearthed. Explore the Museum of Human Evolution in nearby Burgos before transferring to our charming hotel, a manor house situated in the heart of the medieval village of Santillana del Mar.

Meals Included:Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Accommodations:Parador de Gil Blas
Day 3: Puente Viesgo Caves

Come face-to-face with some of the oldest artistic representations in human history on a visit to the caves at Puente Viesgo, part of the Paleolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain World Heritage site. Recently identified as the oldest cave artwork in the world, the paintings in El Castillo Cave date back at least 40,800 years. Explore the nearby Las Monedas Cave—the longest in Puente Viesgo—and later, delve deeper into the prehistory of the region on a visit to the Altamira Museum.

Meals Included:Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Accommodations:Parador de Gil Blas
Day 4: Hornos de la Peña Cave/San Sebastian

Continue our exploration of Cantabria’s UNESCO World Heritage–listed caves at Hornos de la Peña. Here, large-scale naturalistic engravings depict horses, bison, aurochs, goats, and other animals, as well as an unusual anthropomorphic figure with a human-like arm and a tail. Continue to San Sebastian and enjoy the rest of the day at leisure in this lively culinary capital of the Basque Country.

Meals Included:Breakfast
Accommodations:Silken Amara Plaza
Day 5: Saint Émilion/Vézère Valley

Cross into France and travel through the Bordeaux region to Saint-Émilion, a medieval village surrounded by centuries-old vineyards and a designated World Heritage site. Tour the village’s Monolithic Church and catacombs, which were carved out of a limestone hill in the 12th century. Continue to the beautiful Dordogne region—still commonly known by its pre-Revolutionary name, Périgord. Here, rivers have carved up the limestone landscape, leaving cliffs and caves where prehistoric humans created beautiful and mysterious artworks for tens of thousands of years. Settle into your country hotel in the Vézère Valley.

Meals Included:Breakfast, Dinner
Accommodations:Hostellerie La Roseraie
Day 6: Prehistoric Sites of the Vézère Valley

Set out with Christine Desdemaines-Hugon, one of the world’s leading experts on Paleolithic art and author of Stepping Stones: A Journey Through the Ice Age Caves of the Dordogne, for a guided tour of the National Museum of Prehistory. After lunch on your own in the nearby town of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, see the majestic sculpted frieze of horses and bison in the shelter of the cliffs at Cap Blanc. Continue with a visit to Font-de-Gaume, home to more than 200 polychrome paintings. Return to our hotel, and hear a talk by Christine this evening.

Meals Included:Breakfast, Dinner
Accommodations:Hostellerie La Roseraie
Day 7: Pech Merle/Saint-Cirq Lapopie/Sarlat-la-Canéda

This morning, venture into the spectacular natural galleries of Pech Merle, an enormous cave system filled with prehistoric art and artifacts dating back 25,000 years. See rare representations of human figures, engraved and spotted animals, and a mammoth drawn using the natural contours of the rock. The cave floor displays children’s footprints set in the ancient clay more than 12,000 years ago. Later, stroll the charming lanes of Saint-Cirq Lapopie, and end the day in picturesque Sarlat-la-Canéda, whose original half-timbered, golden-stone buildings and narrow, cobbled streets make it one of the best preserved medieval towns in France.

Meals Included:Breakfast, Dinner
Accommodations:Hostellerie La Roseraie
Day 8: Lascaux IV/Castel-Merle

On a specially arranged visit to the International Center for Cave Art, meet with a local guide and prehistoric cave expert. The Center was opened in December, 2016 and houses Lascaux IV, the most complete recreation of the original Lascaux Cave system, whose famous paintings have been off-limits to visitors since 1963 to prevent deterioration. A team of scientists, technicians, and artists have painstakingly recreated the hundreds of paintings and engravings in great detail utilizing cutting-edge laser imaging and 3D-printing technology. Later, join archaeologist Isabelle Castanet for a visit to Castel-Merle, a complex of prehistoric stone shelters more than 300 feet long, excavated and preserved by several generations of the Castanet family. See a flint knapping demonstration and try your hand at spear throwing using prehistoric techniques. Gather for a unique “prehistoric” meal made with the ingredients once used by Neanderthals.

Meals Included:Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Accommodations:Hostellerie La Roseraie
Day 9: Vézère Valley/Bordeaux

Explore Rouffignac Cave, known as the “cave of a hundred mammoths,” then continue to Bordeaux, a thriving port town since the Roman era. Set out on a city tour beginning in the Chartons district, the heart of the region’s wine commerce from the 17th to the mid-20th century. Climb the Pey Berland Tower for views over the city, and step into the Basilica Saint Seurin. Enjoy free time to explore the city before gathering for a farewell dinner.

Meals Included:Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Accommodations:Hotel de Normandie
Day 10: Bordeaux

After breakfast, transfer to the Bordeaux airport and fly home.

Meals Included:Breakfast