Rue des Grottes, 38390 La Balme Les Grottes.
At La Balme Les Grottes. 50 km east of Lyon.
Winter Holidays (FEB) daily 13:30-17.
Easter Holidays Mon-Fri 13:30-17, Sat, Sun Hol 10:30-17.
Between Holidays Wed-Fri 13:30-17, Sat, Sun, Hol 10:30-17.
Summer Holidays daily 10:30-17.
Between Holidays Wed-Fri 13:30-17, Sat, Sun, Hol 10:30-17.
25-SEP to 15-OCT Sat, Sun, Hol 13:30-17.
All Saints Holidays daily 13:30-17.
Christmas Holidays daily 13:30-17.
Closed 24-DEC, 25-DEC, 31-DEC.
Adults EUR 9, Children (12-17) EUR 8, Children (4-11) EUR 7, Children (0-3) free, Families (2+2) EUR 30.
Self-guided Visit: Adults EUR 7, Children (12-17) EUR 6, Children (4-11) EUR 5, Children (0-3) free.
High Season: Adults EUR 11, Children (12-17) EUR 9, Children (4-11) EUR 8, Children (0-3) free, Families (2+2) EUR 35.
Self-guided Visit: Adults EUR 9, Children (12-17) EUR 7, Children (4-11) EUR 6, Children (0-3) free.
|Classification:||Karst cave Cave Church|
|Light:||Incandescent Electric Light System Son et Lumière|
|Dimension:||L=4,873 m, VR=161 m . T=13-15 °C.|
|Guided tours:||L=1,000 m, D=75 min. V=60,000/a |
|Photography:||allowed, no tripod|
|Address:||Les Grottes de la Balme, Rue des Grottes, 38390 La Balme Les Grottes, Tel: +33-474-96-95-00. E-mail:|
|As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.
|1179||The Massacre of la Balme, 300 Waldensians killed in the cave.|
|1430||the Burgundian soldiers of the Prince of Orange, after escaping from the troops of Lyon and from the Dauphine, were pursued and all were murdered in the cave.|
|1548||visited by Francois I on his way to Italy.|
|1779||visited by the famous naturalist H.-B. De Saussure.|
|27-AUG-1782||the Swiss Bourrit explores the water-filled part of the cave swimming, a belt of cork strapped on and 4 candles on his head.|
|1807||developed with staircase and cave opened as a show cave.|
|1897||survey by A. Le Royer, professor of physics in Geneva.|
|1958||the cave diver G. Galiani dies in the cave.|
|SEP-1961||terminal siphon pumped empty by P. Constant, M. Nicod, J. Martini, S. Joly of the Swiss Speleology Society Geneva section (SSSG).|
|1962||Cave of the Comitards explored by members of the SSSG.|
|1969||explored by the German cave diver Jochen Hasenmayer.|
|1979||the cavers P. Noel and J.-C. Mouzarine (SCMB) discover the connection between the Grottes de la Balme and the Grotte des Comitards.|
|1984||dye tracing experiment by J. Sesiano.|
|1999||resurvey started by C. Arrigo and L. Dumont.|
|2004||resurvey continued by members of the SSG.|
|2010||resurvey completed by D. Favre.|
Les Grottes de la Balme are famous for numerous rimstone pools all over the cave. And the cave visit is improved by numerous multimedia presentations. There is a light and sound show, a video about the life of bats and an infrared camera, which allows visitors to study the bats living in the cave. The highlight of the tour is a boat ride on the cave lake at the end of the tourist part.
The huge entrance portal contains two churches, the church Notre-Dame is still there, the other one which was dedicated to Saint Joseph, is ruined. There have been pilgrimages to the cave since the 14th century.
A sad story happened at the cave around 1179, when 300 Waldensians were supposed to have been killed there. They were a Christian sect, which was founded by the rich merchant Pierre Valdo from Lyon. He translated the Bible from Latin into a language that even the common people could understand. In doing so, he challenged the church establishment and the Archbishop of Lyon declared that the "poor of Lyon" were adhering to the wrong faith and imposed a church ban. The Waldensians were mercilessly persecuted, there were other massacres, and many fled to other countries, today there are Waldensian enclaves in Switzerland and other countries. A few decades ago they joined the Methodist church.
Another massacre happened in 1430, when the Burgundian soldiers of the Prince of Orange, after escaping from the troops of Lyon and from the Dauphine, sought refuge in the cave. They were pursued and all were murdered in the cave.
And then there was an episode where the rumour of great treasures in the cave became known. Treasure diggers took stones out of the cave that would turn into silver, if only the right magical chanting verse could be found for them. According to the lore a priest, accompanied by two altar boys, had once succeeded in taking such a stone. But at dawn the next day, the stone had moved back to its original place in the cave.
Another story seems to be based on historical facts. The cave was visited in 1548 by Francois I on his way to Italy. As they feared the cave was dangerous, due to the various legends, they sent two people which were already sentenced to death into the cave. They returned alive and reported that nothing dangerous was inside, as a reward they were then released. This event is commemorated by a fresco from 1882 showing the ruler.
According to local lore the cave was used as a hideout by Louis Mandrin (*1725-✝1755), a smuggler and highwayman. He was called the Robin Hood of France and was famous in the Dauphiné and Savoie. Again there is a local legend, that his kitchen in the cave still exist, and another one that he never died and still lives in the cave.
The cave ends in a cave lake, which is actually a siphon. Since centuries the visitors made a boat ride with a wooden boat on this lake. But it was also the access to further parts of the cave system, and so divers tried to dive through. In September 1961 P. Constant, M. Nicod, J. Martini, S. Joly of the Swiss Speleology Society Geneva section (SSSG) pumped the siphon temporarily empty. They were able to explore the passages behind, and discovered 1600 m of galleries, including the Galerie des Titans and its speleothems and rimstone pools. They also installed an iron door in the same year, but the door was soon broken in and speleothems looted and sold. In 1967, nine people were accused of looting and eight were sentenced to heavy fines and prison sentences in Haute-Savoie. This was a great success for the protection of caves.
The Grotte des Comitards (Cave of the Comitards) was explored by members of the SSSG in 1962, and one of the interesting facts about the cave was that it was really close to the Gallery of the Titans. In 1979 the cavers P. Noel and J.-C. Mouzarine (SCMB) found the connection by digging in the clay from the Grotte des Comitards. The important thing was not that the cave was now much longer, it was actually that it was possible to explore the new passages without diving through the siphon or pumping.
As French show caves go, this cave, east of Lyon, is a relatively small cave but has a couple of interesting features. There is a chapel built in the large entrance passage, accessed by steps, from the path into the cave, crossing the stream that resurges from the cave. Internally there is a large, well-decorated chamber, part of which has the spectacular gour pools. Finally, there is a maze of narrow high level passages, now well polished by the passing of visitors over the years, that intersect the higher parts of the entrance canyon passage and afford impressive, airy views of the passage below and of the chapel.
Text by Dr Richard Shaw (2004), Record No 9 pp 10-11. With kind permission of the author.