France - About the Country

France is a huge country, and in one way it is the birthplace of speleology: ExplainE. A. Martel was French, and he started caving, became a true caver and published his results in papers and books, which made him also famous. Other famous cavers were ExplainRobert de Joly, and ExplainNorbert Casteret. Until today, there more cavers in France than in any other country. Most outfitters are found in France, most famous probably Petzl, which was founded by a caver, and while most material is sold to climbers and mountaineers, they have a speleological department until today. And of course, France has probably more show caves than any other country. According to our own statistic [2023], there are 112 show caves in France, and only the U.S.A. (161) and China (130) have more show caves, obviously a rather unfair comparison, as both are considerably bigger than France.

And as a special highlight there are the painted caves. Concentrated to two main regions, along the Dordogne and in the Pyrenees, they are probably the most impressive kind of caves. The visitor numbers are astonishing, even more if one realizes, that most of those caves are actually closed to the public and only copies can be visited. It seems millions of people travel to France every year to see a copy of a cave on the original location instead of seeing it in a natural science or archaeological museum nearby.

Because of various reasons there is an abundance of subterranea in France too. The biggest sub-category of subterranea is the hundreds of cellars at the Loire river, of which dozens are open to the public. They were built as underground quarries, where the rocks for the buildings and châteaus of the Loire valley were quarried. Another huge part of subterranea is owed to the fact that France is the most important wine nation. Wine is a sort of general food, there are virtually millions of wine cellars. And a lot of them offer guided tours including wine tasting. It's impossible to list all those venues, so we just list the most interesting, exceptional ones.

Finally, France is a heavily indstrialized country, with many mines which were abandoned during the 20th century due to falling prices on the world market. With enough people travelling on weekends, there was a good base for many to be transformed into tourist sites. We have listed 58 show mines [2023], which is not bad, but countries like Germany, Great Britain, and Italy have much more. It seems there is still some development thought, many of those show mines and mining museums were created in the last 20 years.

It seems it became en vogue in France and Belgium to rename mining museums into Ecomusée (Ecologic Museum). By this simple trick a museum about an industry which destroys landscapes, pollutes the water, kills the workers, and causes social problems while it exists and even after it ended, is turned into something green and ecologic and good. A really machiavellian idea we appreciate! See TopicEcomusée for further info.

A few words on languages. French tourist sites are—to an astonishing amount—offering tours and information in multiple languages. It is, after all, a country which has a lot of income from international tourism. But the smaller sites offer only French tours, publications and websites. Many countries in Europe teach a mandatory second language at school, which is generally the international language English. France is the Grand Nation and they are convinced (with some justification) that French is also an international language. But unfortunately, it's twice the work to have two international languages and so most countries settled for English. Concerning travelling this means that it was always quite difficult to talk to French in English, probably one reason why Americans blame French to be impolite. Fortunately, this has changed, they also learn English as a second language at school, and in recent years it was becoming much easier to find someone with basic knowledge in English at tourist sites.

Unfortunately it's not that simple with internet resources, there are several huge problems. Unfortunately, France has a problem with the internet; they are somewhat out of synch. We guess it started with teletext or BTX in the 1980s. At that time, the first digital data streams were sent by analogous tv, radio and telephone. This was low quality and very expensive, so it more or less flopped in most countries, except in France. The French telephone company was quite progressive and made BTX, the French name was Minitel, very cheap by abandoning the yellow pages and offering Minitel very cheaply to people who gave up their phone books. It worked quite similarly to the internet, there were pages with information about various topics and show caves started to create their own page on BTX. But as they already had a sort of internet, they had no need of "the" internet, which came ten years later in the 1990s. As a result, most venues had no webpage. They started catching up in the 2000s, but it seems they never understood the value of static web pages and were so impressed with animation that they used Flash. French websites had by far the highest number of Flash animations, not for single pages or topics; the whole website was a Flash animation. The drawbacks are simple and massive: there is no way for a search engine to find keywords, if there is no text on the website. They are virtually invisible, hard to find, and impossible to translate with an online translator. And since people nowadays agree that Flash was a bad idea and most browsers no longer support it, the French have collectively turned to more modern nonsense, dynamic single pagers and Facebook. They're not alone in this misguided decision any more, but somehow, since the 90s, when choosing technology, they always seem to go for the one that's least convenient for foreign speakers. We don't have an editor who speaks French, but Google or deepl translate well enough to extract the important information. Except when such technologies are very effective in preventing them from finding the text.