Grottes de Matata


Useful Information

Location: Near Meschers, 13km southeast of Royan. No parking, park along the road.
Open: APR to SEP daily 10-19.
OCT to NOV daiöy 10-12, 14-18.
Last entry 30min before closure.
[2020]
Fee: Museum: Adults EUR 5, Children (6-15) EUR 3.50, Children (0-5) free.
Groups: available.
Hotel: APR to SEP daily 9-19.
OCT to MAR daily 8-12, 14-18.
[2020]
Classification: SpeleologyErosional Cave SubterraneaCave House
Light: electric.
Dimension:
Guided tours: self guided, D=45min. Audioguides in English, Deutsch - German, Français - French
Photography:
Accessibility: no.
Bibliography:
Address: Les grottes de Matata, 67 Boulevard de la Falaise, 17132 Meschers, Tel: +33-546-025229.
Hotel de Grottes, +33-546-027002.
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.

History

730 inhabited by Arabs.
844 used as hideout during viking attacks.

Description

The Grottes de Matata are a series of erosional caves located high above the valley and estuary of the Garonde river. There are two levels of caverns. They were formed by the erosion of the river and when the river cut deeper fell dry. The dry and comfortable caves face south, which makes them ideal for living. They were used by man during centuries, the result are numerous alterations. A part of the caves is used by the Hôtel des Grottes de Matata, the rooms open on a balcony and offer a view over the river. The next part of the caves is used by the Crêperie des Grottes de Matata.

The caves also contain L’écomusée, a local heritage museum and a nature museum of the Garonde estuary. It tells about the modern and historic life in the area and the caves. An interesting information explained here is the sturgeon, who lived in the river and was hunted for caviar, his eggs. But too much fishing and pollution of the river decimated them in the mid 20th century. Today the number of sturgeons in the river rises slowly but continually.

Ten caves are used by the museum. One shows the daily life in the 19th century with contemporary furniture, kitchen utensils, a collection of local antique crockery, traditional costumes and headdresses. First only poor people lived in the caves, but tourists, who came here for swimming in the sea, brought income. The sunny and warm terraces made them ideal for restaurants, cafés and bars, which were opened along the cliffs. The restaurant Grottes de Matata was one of the most popular. The restaurant and the kitchen were restored with the original 19th century furniture.

The Lovers’ cave was - according to legend - used by Charlotte de La Trémoille, the princess of Condé, to hide her illicit relationship with her young page Permilhac de Belcastel. The cave is reached by an internal staircase and a secret door carved out of the rocks.

Another cave contains a collection of Cretaceous fossils. Typical are ammonites, nautilus, sea urchins, corals, and oysters which lived in a shallow, warm, and oxygen rich sea.

The room about a colony of pirates and shipwreckers who lived in the caves during the Middle Ages is a little too kitschy. If they actually lived here it was definitely less romantic than the reconstruction. But the strategic value of the outlook is obvious. The outlaws ambushed ships navigating the estuary towards Bordeaux. This worked while the King of France governed only north of the river, and the Aquitaine was occupied by the English. The river was the border and a sort of no mans land. The piracy was finally stopped during the reign of Henry IV with decoys. Commercial ships were packed with soldiers and hidden canons.