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Grottos of Betharram : An Underground Treasure of France

In all their diversity, the Bétharram Caves hold the key to the formation of nearly all caves, be they dead or living.
They consist of five levels stacked on top of each other like storeys of a house, with the levels having been hollowed out at different times.

Situated 15 km from Lourdes and 25 km from Pau in a scenic environment next to a river, visiting the Caves of Betharram could be combined with a picnic and even fishing. The caves comprise of five different levels similar to that of a building or house where extraordinary limestone formations can be viewed. The Grottos of Betharram were the first illuminated caves in France in an attempt to enhance tourist visits.

After descending about 400 steps to the lowest level a short boat cruise and train ride also form part of the tour. People who are on vacation in the Midi-Pyrénées region of France should include the Grottos of Betharram in their itinerary. This article looks at a short history of the caves, the different formations inside the caves as well as helpful practical information.

Short History of the Caves at Betharram

The caves were discovered in 1810 but were only explored 88 years later and in 1903 it was opened to the public. Leo Ross, a painter from St Malo solely undertook the challenge of making the caves presentable. Tourists currently enter the caves from the Basses Pyrénées department and exist in the Hautes-Pyrénées department.

It is believed that the caves formed when subterranean faults allowed infiltration into the limestone. These crevices then, slowly but surely, attracted the flow of water from the ground above which later became caves as the mechanical and chemical erosion enlarged the crevices. The first three levels of the cave are now considered dead galleries as the river that shaped them had been diverted by external causes. Pofessor Carthaillac from Toulouse established that the upper area were already dry in remote ages. He also discovered claw marks of cave bears in the clay of numerous walls.

Train in the Grotto, amazing!

Different Formations at the Grottos of Betharram

There are a multitude of interesting formations in the caves, especially if one has an active imagination. One of the biggest formations is called the bell as it resembles a giant bell hanging from a high dome. This formation is a hollow stalactite which continues to build as drops of water can be seen on its edge. The vault is regarded as the most impressive formation on the upper level which was carved out by the river and reminds some people of a ceiling in an ancient English Cathedral.

Another fascinating formation on the upper level is the hall of chandeliers where many stalactites can be seen suspended from the ceiling. Underneath the supposed chandeliers one can see small ponds where streams of water had destroyed the stalagmites or upstanding columns. Many other shapes can also be seen in the rest of the caves reminding one of an elephant, an inverted mushroom, a Buddha, a human head and even a theater box.

Practical Information for Visiting the Betharram Caves

  • The first floor of the caves has been made wheelchair accessible by Albert and Marie-Noelle Ross. Tours for handicapped people must be booked and takes place during the mornings.
  • The Grotto has long been a popular tourist destination and this classic poster advertising the charm of the caves is a beautiful reminder of antique advertisements.

    February through March
    Monday afternoon – Tuesday afternoon – Wednesday afternoon – Thursday afternoon – Friday afternoon
    Sunday – Monday morning – Tuesday morning – Wednesday morning – Thursday morning – Friday morning – Saturday
    July & August
    From 09:00 to 18:00
    Sunday – Monday – Tuesday – Wednesday – Thursday – Friday – Saturday
    March through October
    From 09:00 to 12:00
    From 13:30 to 17:00
    Sunday – Monday – Tuesday – Wednesday – Thursday – Friday – Saturday

  • Individual prices from 9 Euros for Children and from 14 Euros for adults while group visits cost slightly less.
  • No dogs or cameras are allowed in an attempt to preserve the site.
  • The temperatures in the caves remain constant throughout the year. The upper cave has a temperature of 14 degrees C  and the lower level 12 degrees C.
  • Even though it says that a visit takes about an hour and 20 minutes it can be much longer depending on the number of different language groups that one has to tour with.
  • It is also mentioned that the tour guide and the driver is free of charge but you will be prompted to voluntarily give a tip to the tour guide before you exit the caves.
  • For people who enjoy exploring sites on their own, this may not be the ideal option as one has to travel in a tour group. On the other hand it is ideal for people who enjoy being led by a tour guide.
  • People who have trouble with their knees or walking far might experience trouble descending 400 steps.

The Betharram Caves offers a unique view inside an ancient world considering that it takes one century for a limestone formation to advance a centimeter. Therefore, for those who undertakes a vacation in the Midi-Pyrénées, this is a fascinating tourist attraction that can be seen during all kinds of weather.

Visit the official tourism site of Lourdes