Ponts Naturels à Minerve

Useful Information

Location: Minerve
Open: No restrictions.
Not accesible in case of high water levels.
Fee: free.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave. GeologyNatural Bridge
Light: bring torch
Dimension: Pont Grand: L=228 m, H=6-28 m.
Pont Petit: L=125 m, H=15 m.
Guided tours: self guided, D=45 min.
Photography: Allowed.
Accessibility: With limits, there are no steps and no need to climb, but the trails are rough.
Bibliography: E. Ferrane (1901): Les cavernes des environs de Minerve, Spelunca Memoires, Paris 1901
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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The small town Minerve is located on a meander core, or at least almost a meander core, composed of fossil rich limestone. On the west side is the river Cesse, on the east side the river Brian, the confluence is right at the southeast corner of the town. Once a Katharer town, it is today a tourist city living from 300,000 visitors per year and the excellent wine, which is produced in the area.

Both rivers form nice gorges, and there are numerous walking trails around the town to explore all the cliffs, small caves, dolly tubs and so forth. But the last two oxbows of the Cesse have a pretty unique sight which is rather exceptional. The limestone is karstified, and there are not only river caves and erosional ledges, but also real karst caves. Two of those caves - or probably two pieces of the same cave - were occupied by the river, and are now used as shortcuts through the limestone cliffs. The cutoff of the spur which is normally done by erosion and produces a meander core, is here done by a cave.

There are two of those caves, which are called pont naturelle (natural bridge). The caves are both through caves, both have a road on top and one is even used as a bridge for this road. So it is easy to understand why they are named such. One is called the Pont Grand (Big Bridge), but the other one named Pont Petit (Small Bridge) is actually more than 100 m long and definitely not small.

The Pont Petit (Small Bridge) is located about 600 m west of Minerve in a south bending meander, crossing the meander core. On top is the road D147 which comes from the big parking lot of Minerve and meets the D10E1 on the southern side of the Cesse. The easiest way to reach the upper entrance is from this road, 80 m noth of the crosiing. The through cave is really big, the passage is at least 15 m high, so the only gear you need is good shoes. The floor is like any dry riverbed, covered by round pebbles, sand and clay. A lamp is helpfull but not really necessary. At the lower end you can see the first houses of Minerve. Follow the river bed for 200 m to the next cave.

The Pont Grand (Big Bridge) is almost twice as long, 228 m, and has a section which is 25 m high, which is actually a chamber of decent size. It has one bend, so it is not possible to see the other entrance, but when you stand at the bend, you are able to see both. Again, only good shoes are required, but we recommend a pretty good lamp, to illuminate the enormaous passage.

Both caves are the actual the riverbed, so when the river has water - which is rather uncommon - the caves are flooded. We used the huge amount of pictures on the web to make a statistic, which is far from being complete, but gives some idea. During the last years there were several weeks in May or April, when the river had water. If you don't care or wear rubber boots it should be possible to visit the caves anyway. The river is rather shallow and it does not change its character inside the cave. If you want to be sure you can walk through dry caves you should visit in summer or autumn.