Simon Woods

A Trip Underground at Gouffre de Poudrey - Al Fresco Holidays

A scorcher of a day. One of our main concerns coming to Val de Bonnal was how warm it was going to be. Correction. One of Jill’s main concerns… I’m fine on holiday as long as there’s enough to do, it doesn’t rain, and there’s enough decent stufff to eat and drink. But Jill likes sun. And heat. A few years ago, we spent the last 2 weeks in August in the French Alps, flying into Italy, then driving over the border to a picturresque little town called Chateauroux les Alpes. Once the sun started to go down, so too did the temperatures. And we were in a tent…

Dressing up to go to bed became part of the holiday routine, but we still weren’t exactly warm. The final straw was when we woke up one morning to see snow on the mountains above us. Off I trotted to to the campsite owner to see if there were any extra blankets to be had. ‘But sir,’ he said to me in the thickest of French acccents, ‘you ‘ave your wife….’

The good news about Val de Bonnal is that despite being further north in France, it’s considerably warmer, during both the day and the night. But today was especially hot, already 25 C by 10am, and with no breeze to speak of. Time to visit a grotte. Actually, not a grotte, but a gouffre, although I’m still not sure what the difference is between the two. What I do know is that, thanks to the formation and then deformation of Jurassic limestone, this part of France is awash with lakes, caves, waterfalls and other spectacular natural sites.

We chose to go to the Gouffre du Poudrey a few kilometres out of Besancon. It’s a vast underground cave, 130 metres across at it widest point, and with a totally flat roof formed of a layer of Astartian or Upper Oxforian limestone for the geologists among you. Yes, there are stalactities and stalagmites in abundance, but there are also some big blobby deposits that look a bit like melted Buddhas and others more delicate rippled formations that resemble a cross section of a Cadbury’s Flake. We were ‘treated’ to that peculiar French entertainment, a son et lumiere, which thankfully was neither as long, nor as dramatically pompous as is usual with these thinks, but still raised a few giggles among English members of the party.

Two notes to self for next visit. First, try and suss out as early as possible which members of the party have personal hygiene problems. A trek up a long flight of stairs behind a well-dressed but distinctly whiffy lady was not the most pleasurable of experiences. And second, wear more than a t-shirt and shorts. Some caves maintain a reasonably constant temprature of around 13C throughout the year, but others, like Gouffre de Poudrey, can get rather chilly, thanks to having an opening (doline) at their top through which cold air can enter in winter. So it was 6C underground…

After an hour in the cave, we were glad to climb back ou of the gouffre, glasses steaming up more with every step, and though it was a pavement-melting 37C when we eventually got back in the car, we still kept the air conditioning off for a few minutes in order to warm up.

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