Trace the footsteps of early humans as we explore the cradles 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.
Depart on an overnight flight to Bordeaux.
Journey 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 humans have built their homes for tens of
thousands of years. Settle into your country hotel
in the Vézère valley, and gather this evening for
a welcome reception and dinner.
Hotel Le Centenaire or Hotel Villa Romaine (D)
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, on an excursion to the majestic sculpted frieze of horses and bison at Cap Blanc. Then see other local finds on a guided tour at the National Museum of Prehistory. After lunch on your own in the nearby town of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, end the day with a visit to either Font-de-Gaume, home to more than 200 polychrome paintings, or Rouffignac Cave, known as the “cave of a hundred mammoths.”
Travel to picturesque Sarlat, whose original halftimbered,
golden-stone buildings and narrow
cobbled streets make it one of the best-preserved
medieval towns in France. After time to explore
on your own, gather for a unique “prehistoric”
lunch, made with the ingredients once used by the
Neanderthals. In the afternoon, 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. Meet prehistory
expert Denis Tauxe for a private, behind-the-scenes
visit to Lascaux II, a painstaking recreation of the
two primary chambers of the original Lascaux cave,
whose famous paintings have been off-limits to visitors
since 1963 to prevent deterioration.
Hotel Le Centenaire or Hotel Villa Romaine (B,L,D)
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 or spotted animals, and a mammoth drawn using the natural contours of the
rock. The cave floor displays children’s footprints
preserved in the ancient clay more than 12,000
years ago. Following lunch on your own, continue to
the lively university town of Toulouse.
Grand Hotel De L'Opera (B)
Drive southwest into France’s Basque region,
stopping in a picturesque village for lunch in a
traditional Basque restaurant. In the afternoon,
enter the Isturitz and Oxocelhaya caves with local
prehistory specialist Aude Labarge and meet
with the archaeological site director, Christian
Normand. Used by human beings for more than
80,000 years, these superimposed caves have
yielded tens of thousands of artifacts, including
flutes, sculpted reindeer horns, and whale-bone
tools. Cross into Spain this afternoon and trace
the Bay of Biscay to the Cantabria region. Check
into our charming hotel, a manor house situated
in the heart of the medieval village of Santillana
Parador Santillana Del Mar (B,L,D)
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.
Parador Santillana Del Mar (B,L,D)
Continue our exploration of Cantabria’s 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. After lunch at a local
restaurant, transfer to Bilbao, the largest city in
Spain’s autonomous Basque Country. Explore
the city on your own this afternoon, and if you
wish, stop in at the world-famous Guggenheim
Museum located just a short walk from our hotel.
Today we are 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 also
spent several years excavating at the Atapuerca archaeological site. Visit Atapuerca, where the
oldest known hominin fossil remains in Europe
have been unearthed. Return to Bilbao and
celebrate your prehistoric adventure at a festive
Hotel Miró or Hotel Carlton (B,L,D)
After breakfast, transfer to Bilbao Airport for your
Paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson is best known as the man who discovered “Lucy,” the 3.2-million-year-old partial skeleton and hominin ancestor to Homo sapiens. An accomplished scientist, scholar, and National Geographic grantee, Donald has helped piece together the puzzle of human evolution. He is the founder of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University and the author of the book Lucy’s Legacy: The Quest for Human Origins. His work has been featured many times in National Geographic magazine and television documentaries.
Donald will join the following departure:
Aug 28 - Sep 06, 2015
Price is per person, double occupancy. For a single
room, add $1,280.
International airfare to Bordeaux and return from Bilbao is not included in the expedition cost.
This is a moderately active trip that involves walking up to two miles a day, and several cave visits. Conditions within some caves will require guests to maneuver through small spaces, at times over wet, uneven ground (often without handrails). As a result, this expedition may not be suitable for those with a serious medical condition, claustrophobia or limited mobility.