Grottes de Bétharram

Grottes de Betharam


Useful Information

photography
Grottes de Bétharram, France. Public Domain.
Location: Chemin Leon Ross, 65270 Saint-Pé-de-Bigorre.
At Saint-Pé-de-Bigorre, 25 km from Pau, 15 km from Lourdes. From Pau towards Lourdes or Lourdes towards Pau follow D937, turn south at Saint-Pé-de-Bigorre.
(43.101696, -0.186477)
Open: 07-FEB to 25-MAR Mon-Thu 14, 16, Fri 14.
16-MAR to 09-JUL daily 9-12, 13:30-17:30.
10-JUL to 27-AUG daily 9-18.
27-AUG to OCT daily 9-12, 13:30-17:30.
NOV to 24-MAR Mon-Fri 14:30-16.
Last tour 30 minutes before closing.
[2022]
Fee: Adults EUR 16.50, Children (4-12) EUR 11.50, Children (0-3) free.
Groups (10+): Adults EUR 14, Children (4-12) EUR 10.
[2022]
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave SpeleologyRiver Cave
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: T=14 °C.
Guided tours: D=80 min. Français - French Deutsch - German English Chinese Español - Spanish Nederlands - Dutch Italiano - Italian Polish - Polski Português - Portuguese Česky - Czech
Photography: allowed without flash
Accessibility: upper part wheelchair accessible, only in the morning after appointment
Bibliography:  
Address: Grottes de Bétharram, Chemin Leon Ross, 65270 Saint-Pé-de-Bigorre, Tel: +33-562-418004, Fax: +33-562-418725. E-mail: contact
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.

History

1810 discovered by a former grognard (officer) of Napoleon.
1836 cave explored by Professor Mermet.
1888 explored by a group of the Club Alpin de Pau (Alpine Club Pau Section) members, Larry, Campan and Ritter.
1889 visited by Armand Vire.
1898 explored by Léon Ross of St Malo.
1900 begin of development.
1903 opened to the public by Léon Ross.
13-APR-1907 dye tracing experiment by Edouard-Alfred Martel and Léon Ross.
1907 prehistoric engravings discovered by Emile Cartailhac (*1847-✝1933).
1913 construction of exit tunnel started.
1918 cave taken over by his son Albert Ross.
1925 exit tunnel completed.
1973 train through exit tunnel built.

Description

The Grottes de Bétharram are the only show cave in France, where the visitor crosses from one department to another underground. Actually it's also the border between two regions, one entrance is in Midi-Pyrénées, the other in Aquitaine. A shuttle bus brings the cave visitors from the ticket office to the cave entrance, which is some way up a hill. The cave is a well visited tourist destination, as a result of its proximity to Lourdes.

The cave was discovered in 1819, the name of discoverer seems to be lost, only that he formerly was an officer of Napoleon was handed down. That's a rather useless information, Napoleons army was very big, and he had many officers, and so there were a lot of them around after the defeat at Waterloo in 1815. However, the cave was not explored, at least no report has been preserved. The first known exploration was in 1836 by Professor Mermet. He published his results and the cave became known to naturalists. The first more intensive exploration was made by three members of the Club Alpin de Pau (Alpine Club Section Pau), namely Larry, Campan and Ritter. Until then only the level of the entrance was known, but there are a number of shafts and being mountaineers they went down one shaft and they discovered the second level. The director of the Laboratoire de biologie souterraine (Laboratory of Underground Biology) at the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle (Museum of Natural History), Armand Vire, visited the cave in the following year. He published the discovery in the Mémoires de la société de spéléologie (Memoirs of the Speleological Society) almost 10 years later.

But the development of the cave was made by Léon Ross (*1847-✝1933), painter and photographer, born in Saint-Malo. He came to the Pyrenees in 1880 and was quite active. He built an electricity plant on the Gave de Pau to light the Royal Hotel in Lourdes. After he had explored the cave he started to develop it as a show cave in 1900, he even built a bridge over the Gave de Pau in 1902 to access the entrance to the caves. In 1903 the new show cave was inaugurated. Visitors arrived by horse-drawn carriage from Lourdes and Pau.

The exit tunnel was built between 1913 and 1925 by his son Albert Ross who official took over in 1918. He was quite successful by launching a racing stable and his trotters ran all over southwest France. The horses were named Grottes de Bétharram, which was a great advertisement for the cave. Unfortunately he died young in 1926, and Marie, his courageous and determined wife, took over. Their son Edmond realized that the number of foreign tourists increased and translated the explanations given by the guides into five languages in 1955. This was the first time in France that tours in foreign languages were offered in a cave. He also built the train through the exit tunnel in 1973, which makes the tour less strenuous and is a fun for children.

Today the cave is operated by his son Albert Ross in the 4th generation. He was able to make the upper level wheelchair accessible by replacing 120 steps with a ramp.

The parking lot at the Ousse river south of Bétharram is the start of the tour. From the ticket office a shuttle takes the visitors to the entrance of the cave located 2 km away. The cave entrance is a huge portal followed by an equally huge passage full of speleothems. One highlight are nice cave pearls. Through several chambers with speleothems the Gouffre (shaft) is reached and the tour descends on numerous staircases. The lower level contains a cave river and the tour continues with a boat trip on the Lac Souterrain (underground lake). The cave is left on a small train through an artificial exit tunnel which ends right at the parking lot.