Thirteen visitors at a time are allowed into Font-de-Gaume, a 10-minute walk east along the D47 in Les Eyzies region. It has nothing less than the finest polychrome prehistoric paintings open to the public in France, although as in Rouffignac the cave was visited centuries before the the artwork was actually ‘discovered’ in 1901.
It’s a bit of a steep walk up to the entrance. Inside, beyond a narrow passage called ‘the Rubicon’, the walls are adorned with beautiful paintings and engravings in remarkable flowing lines dating from 12,000 BC, created with the same drawing and colour-blowing techniques used at Lascaux: magnificent friezes of red and black bison on a light background, reindeer, horses with legs and heads partially formed by natural features in the cave walls.
The guide will adjust the lighting to bring out the extraordinary fullness and depth of the art. The partially painted, partially engraved black stag and kneeling red doe are unique in the canon of Upper Palaeolithic art, and only become visible after the guide carefully traces out the lines with a light. The stag is leaning over delicately to lick the doe’s brow, an image of tenderness as sublime as it is startling, and one that questions a lot of commonly held assumptions about life 14,000 years ago.