The cave system was created by an underground river that has dug more than a hundred meters deep into the karstifiedlimestone of the Causses de Gramat and flows into the Dordogne. A high dome-like excavation of this river cave collapsed, creating a circular hole with vertical walls, 33 m wide and 75 m deep. This daylight shaft was simply called Gouffre by the locals, which means abyss. It is assumed, that the daylight shaft was already known in the 13th century. It was a popular tourist destination in the 19th century. A first exploration took place from 1865 to 1870; at that time the bottom of the gorge was reached. During an exploration by the French caver Edouard Alfred Martel in July 1889, an opening was discovered at the bottom of the abyss at a depth of 75 m, which led 28 m below to an underground river. Today about 40 km of the underground passages are explored by speleologists.
The Gouffre and about 1 km of the underground cave system is open to visitors from the end of March to the beginning of November each year during the day, and at times also in the evening. A steel tower with 455 steps was built for the descent into the Gouffre. There are also two elevators. At the foot of the Gouffre, a ramp leads over the scree to a depth of 103 m, and then through the eroded channel of the river. From a concrete jetty, visitors can go 500 m by barge down the river, which is up to 4 m deep and bordered by rocks, to a fall where the cave widens. Guided cave tours go there via secured stairs through the 94 m high Salle du grand Dôme. The Salle des Grands Gours with large sinter basinsand a stalagmite 40 m high and 6 m wide, and a stalactite 25 m long and 4 m thick touching the surface of the river. The tour ends about 1.5 km from the entrance. Rear areas of the cave are open to scientists for research purposes.
Gouffre de Padirac is a grotto located just 15 km from our castle. We highly recommend to go visit this amazing place. It is a good idea to bring a warm coat, as the temperature will average around 13 degree’s Celcius under ground during the guided tour.