Grotte de Lombrives

l’Antre des Géants - Grotte des Échelles - Grottes du Sabarthès - L'Aubrive

Useful Information

Location: Ussat-les-Bains, Tarascon sur Ariège, Ariège.
15 km south of Foix, 2 km south east of Tarascon-sur-Ariège. 92 km from Toulouse, 95 km from Carcassonne.
(42.82475867976643, 1.6177577463896293)
Open: 22-MAY to 12-SEP daily.
13-SEP to SEP daily 10:30, 15.
OCT Sat, Sun 10:30, 14:30.
NOV Sat, Sun 14:30.
Only after online booking.
ExplainPost-pandemic Aftermath
Fee: Regular tour: Adults EUR 12, Children (12-18) EUR 10, Children (6-11) EUR 8, Children (0-5) free, Mini Train EUR 2.
Children tour: Per Person EUR 12.
Half day tour: Per Person EUR 38.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave TopicLiving Isolated Underground
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: L=8,000 m, VR=417 m, T=13 °C, A=605 m asl.
Guided tours: Regular tour: L=2 km, D=120 min.
Children tour: D=3 h.
Half day tour: D=5 h.
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Michel Bakalowicz, Patrick Sorriaux, Derek C. Ford (1984): Quaternary glacial events in the Pyrenees from U-series dating of speleothems in the Niaux-Lombrives-Sabart caves, Ariège, France, January 1984, Norsk Geografisk Tidsskrift 38(3):193-197 DOI:10.1080/00291958408552125. researchgate
Patrick Sorriaux, Magali Delmas, Marc Calvet, Yanni Gunnell, Nicolas Durand, Edwige Pons-Branchu (2016): Relations entre karst et glaciers depuis 450 ka dans les grottes de Niaux-Lombrives-Sabart (Pyrénées ariégeoises) Nouvelles datations U/Th dans la grotte de Niaux Karstologia n° 67, 2016, pp. 3-16. researchgate
Address: Grotte de Lombrives, Route Nationale 20, 09400 Ussat-les-Bains, Tel: +33-649-444500. 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.


1210 according to legend burial of the Cathar Bishop Gaulcelm in the cave of Lombrives.
1244 according to legend the treasure of the Cathars was hidden in the cave, but beware, their treasure was a set of bibles.
1298 according to legend three counterfeiters were beheaded in the cave.
1578 visit by the future king of France Henri IV.
1917 cave leased by enineer and geologist Raoul Perpère for 99 years.
1920s developed as a show cave by Raoul Perpère.
1927 bridge over Garrigou pit constructed.
1937 visited by E.A. Martel.
1984 Human skeletal material excavated by Bahn.
30-SEP-2016 cave closed due to the end of the 99 years lease.
01-APR-2017 cave reopened by the new management Catherine Simmonot.
2017 new management of the cave, old website deactivated.
2021 cave used for Deep Time experiment by Christian Clot, 40 people spent 40 days inside the cave.


Grotte de Lombrives is located at the eastern edge of the Pyrénées Ariégeoises Natural Regional Park, inside a limestone mountain named Cap de la Lesse (1190 m asl). About forty caves are known in the Cap de la Lesse massif, located between the level of the Ariége river and about 1,000 m asl. It is part of a cave system which is in total 14 km long and has three main entrances, Niaux and Sabart in the Vicdessos valley, Lombrives in the Ariège valley. The cave system has three main levels. The upper level around 650 m to 700 m is linking the Niaux and Lombrives caves, and the Sabart cave also has passages at the level but no connection. The intermediate level around 600 m asl is also found in all three caves but there are no connections and much less passages. The entrance section of Lombrives is part of this level. And then there is the lower level around 550 m asl, the main level of the Sabart cave and the lower level of Lombrives. The levels are connected by numerous vertical shafts, especially in Lombrives cave. The main levels only occupy a vertical range ov about 150 m, but various shafts lead up to the surface. The most impressive is l’abîme Martel (the Martel abyss) which starts at the Niaux main level at 650 m and rises to the surface at 967 m asl. [Patrick Sorriaux et al 2016]

The entrance of the show cave is located high on the hillside, about 1.4 km from the ticket office at the road. To reach the cave, visitors can either walk 20 minutes or take the mini-train for a small fee. Quite funny: the ride downhill is free! Tours booked online give the time of arrival at the ticket office, the actual cave tour starts 30 minutes later at the cave entrance. The standard tour takes two hours, together with the train ride you should plan three hours.

The Lombrives cave is entered though a huge portal. The tour follows the main passage to the Cathedral Chamber which is 80 m high. To make this size easier to understand for cave visitors, the guides tell the story that the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris would fit into the chamber. Obviously nonsense, as the spire of the church is much higher and the nave is much longer than the chamber. But obviously, one should never question such claims. The chamber is the result of a drop, a waterfall of the underground river. To continue the trail must ascent along the wall of the chamber to reach the higher level of the passage behind the chamber. The tour ends at an underground lake.

The cave offers two different cave trekking tours, one for children and one for adults. Participants are equipped with helmet, headlamp, and other necessary gear and explore the mostly level and huge passages. This tours follow the regular path to the cave cave lake and from here undeveloped passages are visited. And finally there are numerous events, like concerts and dinners with music inside the cave. There is also an event similar to an "escape room", participants have to solve riddles to "escape" from the cave.

One of the cave formations was dubbed Grave of Princess Pyrene after the legend. There are actually dozens of versions of this legend, but all have in common that the Pyrenees were named after a princess named Pyrene. She didn't actually care, because at this point of the story she was already dead. Hence the "grave" part of the name.

Although Lombrives is close to numerous painted caves, it does not have any cave paintings. The cave actually has a long history of human visits, starting in the Magdalenian. During an excavation by Félix Régnault in the late 19th century Neolithic remains were found. Then the cave was used during the Bronze Age as a burial site, human bones from the Hallstadt age were excavated in the 1980s. Nevertheless, the visits were obviously rather sparse. This changed during the Middle Ages, which is quite exceptional as most people of those times feared caves.

The Cathars, a Christian dualist or Gnostic movement between the 12th and 14th centuries, was ended by Pope Innocent III through the Albigensian Crusade in 1209-1229. It ended with the defeat of the Cathars, remaining members were persecuted by the Medieval Inquisition, which finally succeeded in eradicating them by 1350. During this century many caves were used by the Cathars as hideouts, cave castles or Splugas were used as strongholds, and Lombrives has its share of Cathars related visits. In 1244 the Cathar bishop Amiel Aicard was hiding in the cave after the fall of the nearby castle of Montségur. According to legend he brought the treasure of the Cathars, which was hidden in the cave. A rather annoying legend, it caused destruction in the cave by treasure hunters of later centuries. They were obviously not aware that the most valuable possession of the Cathars was knowledge, so it might have consisted of books, and the humidity of the cave must have destroyed them in months or years. Later Huguenots used the cave for the same purpose, also priests and nobles during the French Revolution, and Republicans during the First Empire. It also served as a shelter for hermits, lepers, simple shepherds, brigands and counterfeiters. According to legend three counterfeiters were actually beheaded inside the cave in 1298. The reason for this strange event remains unclear. As far as we know all those visits are legendary, there were actually no remains found.

However, early cave "tourists" definitely left a trace. The main gallery has a section with a flat and dry wall, and was used by visitors during history to leave their names. The oldest are from the 12th century, most are probably from the 19th century. The most famous is the future king of France Henri IV, who visited the cave in 1578.

Not legendary at all was the visit of E.A. Martel in 1937, only one year before his death. He was obviously still quite fit as he visited a steel bridge, which was constructed by the engineer Perpère in 1927 across the Garrigou pit, 4 km deep in the cave. Raoul Perpère (*1864-✝1950) was mining engineer and geologist, he worked at mines and built tunnels. In the 1910s he built the Perpère cars, and his foreman Chevrolet went to Canada to build Perpère cars, then to the U.S.A. to found Chevrolet cars, which is today a subsidiary of General Motors. He worked with Gustave Eiffel to calculate the Eiffel Tower in Paris and he built planes in Toulouse with Pierre Georges Latécoère. In the 1920s he developed Lombrives as a show cave. He installed electric light and built a power station to produce the necessary electricity. The famous bridge across the Garrigou pit, named after Adolph Garrigou (1802–1897), used the same technique as the Eiffel Tower. It is located at the Salle de l’Empire de Satan (Chamber of the Empire of Satan), and is the access to the low level of the cave system, 150 m below. In early times it allowed the descent with a winch. This chamber is today visited on the long cave tour, the passage is not developed from the cave lake to the huge chamber, but level and spacious.

The cave was operated by the Perpère family for almost a century, because they had a 99-year lease, which ended on 15-SEP-2016. Élisabeth, his great-granddaughter, and her husband René Bodin operated the cave for 34 years. The town offered a new lease for nine years, but investments into a show cave have long payback periods, and considering their age, they decided to retire and the cave was closed. They even planned to sell the custom built train.

Lombrives is quite infamous for absurd statements. The old cave website was full of exaggerations, including being the la plus vaste grotte d’Europe (largest cave of Europe). They stated the cave was 39 km long with seven different levels, while it is actually 8 kilometer long with three different levels. The statement was modified now and then, so it was sometimes the largest show cave of Europe, or it was the largest cave of France. And there was the claim that the cave was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. Finally, they even celebrated the 25th anniversary of the entry and expected representatives from Guinness to join the celebrations. As far as we know this never happened, and there actually never was a cave record concerning Lombrives. The origin of this nonsense is rather weird: Guinness once listed a few caves of France in the French edition, as background info to the records. The list with half a dozen caves (out of ten-thousands) contained Lombrives, and actually Lombrives was the longest of this arbitrary subset. The next step is obvious: the cave management deducted, their cave was the longest (of this list). And they shamelessly used this fallacy and other nonsensical superlatives for advertising purposes.
Strange was also that their website and all tours were available only in French. Spain is only 25 km away, but they did not offer a single line in Spanish - or any other language for that.

The cave was reopened by Catherine Simmonot in spring 2017. She changed a lot, from the parking lot to the cave tours, and she actually plans to have 400,000 visitors per year, quite ambitious. She also changed the policy and allows taking pictures now, she actually sent emails to known cave photographers with an invitation to take some pictures. She planned to research the legends which were told by cave guides and find the real facts behind the stories. There is a completely new website, the exaggerations were removed and now the website is in French, English and Spanish. The guides do at least a short explanation in English on each tour now. But still numerous websites with fantastic reports about the biggest cave of Europe and its Guinness World Record exist on the web, misinformation dies hard. And the road signs to the cave still have La plus vaste grotte d'Europe on them. So far the website does not contain a single line of background on the cave, only the stuff we normally put into the "Useful Information" section above.

And the time for silly marketing stunts is obviously not over yet. In 2021, a group of 15 people spent 40 days inside the cave to explore how humans react without natural light and daily rhythms. The Deep Time experiment was organised by French-Swiss researcher Christian Clot. However, the conduct of the experiment seems to have been amateurish to say the least, and its outcome rather insignificant. For one thing, such experiments have already been carried out several times in the 20th century, so that new discoveries are rather unlikely. Also, the experiment would have had to be conducted as a double-blind experiment to provide reliable results. It has also been criticised that the experiment was conducted without a meaningful strategy.

Our personal opinion is: cave expeditions spend many days underground without exploiting this in a media-friendly way. They actually do research, surveying and scientific investigations while they are underground. And not only do they pay the costs themselves, but they do it in their spare time, because speleologists are enthusiasts. How about funding such expeditions instead, collecting data on a broad basis, not just in a spectacular but singular experiment. This project has no speleological benefit and only uses the cave as a marketing tool. It was absolutely unnecessary to use a cave for this experiment, any mine, bunker, basement or even a windowless lab would have been much more efficient and much cheaper. Doing this in a cave is obviously just marketing at the expense of nature.