France is a huge country, and in one way it is the birthplace of speleology: E. A. Martel was French, and he started caving, became a true caver and published his results which made him also famous. Other famous cavers were Robert de Joly, and Norbert 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 there are 109 show caves in France, and only the U.S.A. have more show caves (161), obviously a rather unfair comparison, as the U.S.A. have numerous states 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 nubers are astonishing, even more if one realizes, that most of the 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 chateaus of the Loire valley was 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 some even offer guided tours.
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. Actually we have only a rather small amount of show mines listed, but we guess thats a result of the fact that we do not have an official list of show mines.
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, polutes 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!
A few words on travelling in France and visiting underground sites. This website is in English and we do speak German and English. We have no editor speaking French, as a result there are a few problems both visiting and listing french attractions. French tourist sites are - to an astonishing amount - offering tours and informations in multiple languages. But the smaller sites offer only French tours, publications and website. And unlike other countries, French do not have a huge number of people who speak English. So if you visit a site which is not officialy mulilingual, you will have problems to get any info or talk to poeple.
Concerning internet resources there are several drawbacks. We recognized a certain tendency in France, to either have no website or have a website made of pictures with text on it or of flash animations. The drawbacks are simple and massive: there is no way for a search engine to find keaywords, if there is no text on the website. They are virtually invisble, hard to find, and impossible to translate with an online translatior. It is also very hard to contact caves on the internet, harder than in most other countries. In general we recommend to make a phone call, if you speak French, or send a fax.