We were sitting around having dinner one night when Mia presented us with a bunch of tourist brochures, a majority of them in French. One of them caught my eye; it was a cave near our place in France. Seeing as our last cave experience in Puerto Rico was such a let down, I flicked the brochure aside and continued to eat my dinner. However, a few other people at the table picked up the brochure and started actually getting excited. This cave was known for the world’s biggest and longest...
The next day we proceeded to find this French cave. The drive was beautiful. We passed gorges and cliff sides, little country towns and it was quite an enjoyable journey, although it was much further out than we thought - about an hour out of the little unassuming town of Millaeu where we had spent the night in a wooden cabin.
Entry to the Aven Armand was 10 Euros per person, both kids free (4 and 3 years old), and we started with the funicular ride down deep below the surface. The only entrance used to be leg-power via the stairs. We were very thankful once we started the ride that they had the funicular, since it was a long way down.
The Aven Armand was unexplored for thousands of years. It is one of those scary caves that inspire terrifying legends of death traps for herds of sheep and cattle, or murderous hiding holes for villain victims. The cave was first discovered by Louis Armand. There was one tiny vertical hole into this cave from about 75 metres above and after throwing a stone in, he decided to return the next day and lower himself in.
When Louis found it, he came in through one small opening in the ceiling and found this colossal cave. The main chamber is oval and measures 120 metres long and 60 metres wide. It lies on a slope and its greatest depth from the top of the shaft being 112 metres. It is simply enormous and inside is the largest gathering of stalagmites you have ever seen, over four hundred throughout the whole cave.
And, of course, the tallest stalagmite known to date in the world - 30 meters tall. That’s big!
It must have been an amazing discovery for Louis, especially since he didn’t even see it the way we did. The lighting in the cave is stunning, setting off its most fabulous features like the various stalagmites, stalactites, the underground lake and river. It was gorgeous the moment we stepped off that funicular - completely breathtaking.
Our guide spoke only in French so we didn’t actually understand anything he was saying, but they did give us a little guidebook in English, which we tried to decipher while we were in the cave. We went down over ninety-nine steps to the bottom and discovered the beautiful surroundings in one big loop. The tour took about forty-five minutes and then we climbed the ninety-nine stairs back to the top. At the top we took the funicular to the opening instead of more stair climbing.
Once the funicular ride was finished, we stood there talking about it. What an experience it was, what a treasure we unearthed in the French countryside. How amazing it was just to decide to spontaneously do something like that on an otherwise uneventful day that was just going to be driving two hours to Toulouse. It was fantastic and if you were ever in southern France I highly recommend visiting the Aven Armand, in the heart of the Gorges du Tarn and de la Jonte. You’ll be blow away.