The small French town of Les Eyzies in the Dordogne has frequently been described as the World Capital of Prehistory. The National Prehistory Museum is here, and it is at the centre of a concentration of some of the more spectacular Ice Age cave art. This town, and the area is a popular tourist destination. With so many archaeological sites open to the public, where do you start?

A listed UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979, the Vézère Valley has 147 prehistoric sites and 25 decorated caves. Not all of these sites are open to the public, and they are not all managed by the same organisation. So you get to the Les Eyzies area, wanting to see as much of the prehistory as possible, and even with the best research ahead of time it can be difficult to know where to go first.

The entrance to the Pôle international de la Préhistoire.

A very modern building below the cliffs of Les Eyzies.

For any first time visitor to the Vézère Valley, I strongly recommend that you make the Pôle international de la Préhistoire your first point of call. Not only is there no admission charge (which is always a bonus given the cost of getting into the various caves and museums soon mounts up), it was recently (inaugurated in July 2010) set up with the specific aim of providing information to visitors wishing to explore the prehistory of the area. Whether it is just a few of the caves and/or museums you would like to see, or you are interested in exploring the prehistory of the area more thoroughly – the range of facilities on offer here makes this a perfect information centre for everyone to get their bearings.

Set just below the cliffs of Les Eyzies and above a stream the Pôle international de la Préhistoire is staffed by multilingual assistants who are eager to help with your requests for information. A series of very modern and minimalist but state-of-the-art displays provides physical and archaeological orientation. A 3D map shows where the sites, caves and museums are, whereas the multimedia displays provide an introduction and background to the archaeology of the prehistoric inhabitants of the area; namely the Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons.

A display showing life size reconstructions of a Neanderthal and a Cro-Magnon man.

Minimalist but state-of-the-art displays introducing visitors to the prehistoric inhabitants of the area.

Introductory display on the Neanderthals at the Pôle international de la Préhistoire.

An introduction to the Neanderthals.

Done at the Pôle international de la Préhistoire, you are now ready and equipped to explore one of the most beautiful areas of France and some of the most spectacular prehistoric sites in the World.

Having finished at the Pôle international de la Préhistoire:

• Read the Tips for Visiting the Dordogne’s Ice Age Caves with Children.
• Plan your days in the Dordogne with this definitive Guide to Cave Art in France.