Highlights
  • Examine the Paleolithic art of two UNESCO World Heritage–listed cave regions: France’s Vézère Valley and the northern coast of Spain.
  • Meet leading archaeologists and anthropologists for talks and private tours of cave sites.
  • Visit Castel-Merle with Isabelle Castanet, whose family has excavated the site for generations.
  • Explore Sarlat, France, and Santillana del Mar, Spain, two of Europe's best-preserved medieval villages.

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. 

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  • Only ground transport

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Value
3.0 Guide
3.3 Activities
5.0 Lodging
3.7 Transportation
3.7 Meals
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Stride Take

You’ll get a first-hand look at prehistoric cave paintings in southern France and Spain’s Basque country, in the company of a paleoanthropologist.

Human Origins: Southwest France and Northern Spain

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Itinerary

Days 1 & 2: U.S./Bordeaux, France/Vézère Valley

Meals: Dinner

Accommodation: Hotel Le Centenaire or Hotel Villa Romaine

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.

Day 3: Prehistoric Sites of the Vézère Valley

Meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Accommodation: Hotel Le Centenaire or Hotel Villa Romaine

Begin the day with an introduction to Paleolithic art by one of the world’s leading experts, Christine Desdemaines-Hugon, author of Stepping Stones: A Journey Through the Ice Age Caves of the Dordognef. Then join Christine on an excursion to see the majestic sculpted frieze of horses and bison in the shelter of the cliffs at Cap Blanc, followed by 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 at Rouffignac Cave, known as the “cave of a hundred mammoths.”

Day 4: Sarlat/Lascaux II

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Accommodation: Hotel Le Centenaire or Hotel Villa Romaine

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.

Day 5: Pech Merle/Toulouse

Meals: Breakfast

Accommodation: Grand Hotel De L'Opera

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.

Day 6: Basque Country/Santillana del Mar, Spain

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Accommodation: Parador Santillana Del Mar

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 del Mar.

Day 7: Puente Viesgo Caves

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Accommodation: Parador Santillana Del Mar

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.

Day 8: Hornos de la Peña Cave/Bilbao

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

Accommodation: Hotel Miró or Hotel Carlton

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.

Day 9: Atapuerca/Bilbao

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Accommodation: Hotel Miró or Hotel Carlton

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 farewell dinner.

Day 10: Bilbao/U.S.

Meals: Breakfast

After breakfast, transfer to Bilbao Airport for your flight home.

Dates & Pricing
Checking price

Price From

$ 6,995

Price Per Day:

$ 700 per day
 
  • Single Supplement (Single Occupancy): $ 1,095
Prices may vary due to local taxes and trip seasonality. Click "Request Info" to inquire directly with the tour operator for the final trip price.
Details
Trip Includes
  • Accommodation
  • Most of the meals
  • All internal transportation
  • Airport transfer
  • Tour Guide
Trip Excludes
  • Any kind of Insurance
  • International airfare to Bordeaux and return from Bilbao
  • Tips
Flights & Transport
Only ground transport
Group Size:
Small Group - 24 max
Start City
Bordeaux
End City
Bilbao

Trip ID#: humorinat

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