Expert-Led Group Tour

Spain Group Tour - Prehistoric Cave Art of Northern Spain

8 days

from £3,225pp
  • Visit the principal UNESCO World Heritage Paleolithic cave art sites of northern Spain
  • A maximum group size of just 6 people
  • Gain insight into the art and archaeology of the sites with expert, interpretative guiding
  • Experience the culture, hospitality and cuisine of northern Spain

Discover the most significant Paleolithic art caves of northern Spain, all of them UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Interpretative guided visits to actual sites, replicas and complementary museums provide a comprehensive experience of the art, which spans some 30,000 years, or over a thousand generations. Understand the archaeology of each site, gaining insight into this fascinating period of the human story, which marks the dawn of art and symbolic communication.

WHY JOIN THIS GROUP TOUR?

If you are curious about the origins of man and the history of how man developed the capacity to communicate then this tour is for you. You will travel in the company of Charles Schwalbe, an expert on Paleolithic cave art so you can be sure to receive fascinating interpretation of everything you see. The trip visits all northern Spain’s most important Paleolithic sites and culminates with a tour of El Castillo cave – the most important site in the world for both Paleolithic art and archaeology with approximately 3,000 engraved, painted and sculpted hands, animals, symbols and anthropomorphic figures scanning a period of over 30,000 years. Many sites have been closed over time and access has been strictly limited to others. The opportunity to visit some of these sites may not be available in the future as further conservation measures could be adopted.

IS THIS GROUP TOUR SUITABLE FOR SOLO TRAVELLERS? 

Our group tours are perfect for solo travellers, as travelling as part of an organised group in faraway places does provide security and peace of mind. We handle all the arrangements for you and there will be a guide on hand throughout to provide advice and help if needed. If you are willing to share, we will always do our best to match you up with another solo traveller of the same sex so that you do not have to pay for a single room.

If you would prefer the privacy of your own room and would like this guaranteed, then the single room price supplement will apply.

HOW FIT SHOULD I BE TO ENJOY THIS TOUR? 

Anyone with mobility or fatigue issues may find some of the sites too strenuous. Most replicas and museums are accessible to everyone. The real cave sites require hikes of up to 600 metres on uneven and somewhat steep terrain, or a bit longer walk of up to 1.5 kilometres on flatter terrain. Inside the caves there is generally uneven ground with some slippery/muddy areas. Many of the caves involve stairs, some over one hundred of them, and most without handrails. One of the caves visited involves walking while crouched for some distance, a sideways walk through a tight area that is not suitable for extra-large/tall individuals and a short crawl on stairs on your hands and feet. This is not meant to discourage you, simply to make you aware of the physical demands of some of the sites. People with a good general fitness level who feel comfortable with the issues described should not have any problem.

DO I NEED ANY SPECIAL EQUIPMENT FOR THIS TOUR?

Comfortable footwear with a tread on the sole is highly recommended as flat soled shoes are not suited to the slippery and uneven surfaces in the caves. A warm layer such as a polar fleece or sweater is recommended as temperatures in the caves are 9 to 13C year-round with very high humidity levels, over 90%. Umbrellas will be provided, but a rain jacket is always a good idea as it can rain anytime in northern Spain. Caves are lit with a few exceptions, where torches will be provided for you (personal lighting is not permitted in the caves due to conservation reasons). For conservation reasons, photography, video and mobile phones are not permitted in the caves but are allowed at most museums and some replicas.

WHAT IS THE FOOD LIKE IN SPAIN? 

Cuisine in northern Spain is based on traditional, fresh seasonal fare with excellent vegetables, legumes, seafood (fish and shellfish), meat and dairy. The food is generally Mediterranean and olive oil based, and you can also enjoy traditional hearty stews of the area, such as cocido montañes in Cantabria or fabada asturiana in Asturias. Spain has excellent wines, including nice local coastal and Rueda white wines and more traditional red wines from Rioja or Ribera del Duero.

WHAT WILL THE WEATHER BE LIKE IN NORTHERN SPAIN IN SEPTEMBER? 

Northern Spain has a marked Atlantic climate influenced by the Cantabrian sea and mountains. Therefore, weather is quite variable. Temperatures in September will be warm with an average of 19C. Early September should bring a respite from summer’s warmer, yet relatively mild days and some of the year’s most colourful sunsets.



Departing on:
  • 20th May 2019

For a detailed itinerary or to book your place on this tour, please contact us.

STARTFINISHPrice Excluding Flights £Flight cost fromSingle SupplementTour LecturerStatus 
20th May 2019 27th May 2019 £ 3,225 £ 235 call Charles Schwalbe Available

Itinerary at a glance

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Day 1

Arrival Meet and Greet
Arrival into Bilbao where you will be met and transferred to the hotel. Time to freshen up from the flight followed by lunch at a local restaurant.

Bilbao, an industrial port city in northern Spain, is surrounded by green mountains. It is the de facto capital of Basque Country, with a skyscraper-filled downtown. It’s famed for the Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, which sparked revitalisation when it opened in 1997. The museum houses prominent modern and contemporary works, but it’s the curvy, titanium-clad building that receives the most attention.


Santillana del Mar
This afternoon take a guided walking tour of Santillana del Mar, the pristinely preserved medieval village where you will be staying for several nights. The traditional architecture of the village ranges from the 12th century Romanesque Collegiate church and spans well into the colonial period. The village boasts a large number of noble towers, mansions and palaces from various periods in history. This evening there will be a briefing and introductions by your tour leader Charles Schwalbe Garcia-Lago, followed by a welcome dinner.


lunch and dinner included


You will be staying at Casa del Marques, bed and breakfast

Day 2

Altamira Cave and Museum of Cantabria
This morning, drive to Cantabria's capital city, Santander, and visit the spectacular Museum of Prehistory and Archaeology of Cantabria. A walk before lunch will also offer a chance to admire the beautiful mountain backed bay of Santander.

After lunch, stop above Altamira cave to view the landscape of coastal Northern Spain before continuing to view the cave itself. Described as Spain's 'Sistine Chapel of Paleolithic art', the vast cavern complex of Altamira was the first European cave for which prehistoric origin of the paintings was suggested. It is covered in paintings dated to between 14,000 and 20,000 years ago, of animals including European bison and bulls and was made a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985. Visit the Altamira Cave (replica) and museum.


breakfast, lunch and dinner included


You will be staying at Casa del Marques, bed and breakfast

Day 3

Cave Exploration in the Basque Country
After breakfast, travel along the scenic coast road of Cantabria and into the interior of the Basque Country. After a short walk through a picturesque rural valley arrive at the cave of Ekain (replica). Ekain has one of the finest collections of painted horses in the Paleolithic art world. While the horses will stand out, you will also see painted bison, bears and a fish, which are quite rare. The cave is considered to have been decorated over time but primarily some 15,000 years ago.



In the afternoon take a short hike (with a longer option for anyone willing) to visit Covalanas cave, which is considered a synchronic cave, meaning it was decorated during only one period which was likely more than 22,000 years ago. The cave is known as the cave of the red hinds as these are the animal most often depicted in its paintings. Prior to or after visiting Covalanas, visit the nearby cave of El Miron, an active archaeological site with evidence of habitation by modern humans during the Paleolithic.


breakfast, lunch and dinner included


You will be staying at Casa del Marques, bed and breakfast

Day 4

Cave Exploration
This morning, visit the cave of Hornos de la Peña - a smaller and physically demanding cave, it is worth the effort, with a wonderful surprise at the deepest part in a very private space of the cave for those who are physically fit. The cave is decorated primarily with engravings over a long period of time, up to 20,000 years or more, and was used during several cultures of the Upper Paleolithic by modern humans but also by Neanderthals back 80,000 years or more.

This afternoon, visit El Pendo, a cave that is a stark contrast to that seen this morning. The principal panel of art is art located in a prominent location in a very large room of the cave. This panel was decorated in the same style as a group of other caves, likely more than 22,000 years ago. The archaeology of this cave also tells an interesting story about its potential use as a gathering place during the Paleolithic era and is one of the richest sites in the world for portable art.


breakfast, lunch and dinner included


You will be staying at Casa del Marques, bed and breakfast

Day 5

The Asturias Region and Cave Exploration
Today move from Cantabria to the neighbouring region of Asturias, which is also rich in Paleolithic art sites. Drive along the rugged coasts of Cantabria and Asturias and weather permitting have a view of the spectacular Picos de Europa mountain range. Visit El Pindal Cave, located right on the sea with the entrance just a few metres above the water. The interior of the cave holds a wide array of painted symbols, several bison, horses, a deer and a mammoth figure. The art is primarily from the last culture of the Upper Paleolithic although some of the art is attributed to older periods. The cave had remained sealed for years and its paintings were discovered by chance when roadworks opened a hole into the ceiling of the cave.

This afternoon visit Tito Bustillo Cave and Museum. Tito Bustillo is one of the grand sanctuaries of the Paleolithic, having been decorated for more than 20,000 years.


breakfast, lunch and dinner included


You will be staying at Eurostar Reconquista Oviedo, bed and breakfast

Day 6

Pena de Candamo Cave and Teverga Museum
Today drive through rural and mountain areas of the interior of Asturias to access several interesting sites. Visit Pena de Candamo Cave, one of the great Paleolithic sanctuaries spanning some 25,000 years. Visit the small museum with reproductions of the principal panels of the cave.

This afternoon visit the Prehistory Park of Teverga. This interesting museum has reproductions and displays of many Paleolithic art sites in both Spain and some in France. Of particular importance is the reproduction of the principal panel of art from Llonin cave, a cave not open to the public for conservation reasons. The Prehistory Park is home to living specimens of ice age animals depicted in the cave art, including European bison and cold climate Przewalski horses.


breakfast, lunch and dinner included


You will be staying at Eurostar Reconquista Oviedo, bed and breakfast

Day 7

El Castillo Cave Complex
This morning return to the Cantabria region for a visit of the El Castillo mountain Paleolithic cave complex. The mountain of El Castillo has the highest concentration of Paleolithic art in the world in a very small area, with five decorated caves, four of them UNESCO World Heritage sites: El Castillo, La Pasiega, Las Chimeneas and Las Monedas.

Visit the El Castillo Cave - this cave is one of the most important sites in the world for both Paleolithic art and archaeology. The art spans some 30,000 years with approximately 3,000 engraved, painted and sculpted hands, animals, symbols and anthropomorphic figures. The cave is literally decorated from beginning to end and contains some of the oldest verified artistic representations in the world. One painted disc in the cave has been dated at over 40,800 years old, Europe's oldest known art.

Continue your visit of the complex with a visit of Las Monedas Cave. In contrast, this cave was decorated at the very end of the Upper Paleolithic during the last cultural phase. The painted figures in the cave are principally horses and reindeer but also other figurative art as well as symbols. The art is from about 12,000 years ago and the cave shows no evidence of inhabitation, although the site is presently being studied again by a new team of archaeologists.

After lunch there will be an opportunity for a hands on activity to better understand Paleolithic art and archaeology. This may include a hunting/art workshop and/or painting of each participant´s hand by a local Paleolithic art expert artist using the same techniques and materials that were used during the Upper Paleolithic.


breakfast, lunch and dinner included

Day 8

Departure
After breakfast transfer to Bilbao airport for your departure flight.

Destination Experts

Our experts have unrivalled firsthand knowledge of Spain

Katie Benden, Travel Expert

"Katie was brilliant and very helpful. Helped to put together the itinerary I was dreaming of for my honeymoon and she was excellent with communication."

"Very happy with Katie Benden. Great service – always prompt reply to queries and always polite, attentive and informative. A wonderful holiday."

Read More

For a more detailed itinerary with great ideas on what to do and where to stay, please get in touch with our experts.

Tour expert

Charles Schwalbe

Charles Schwalbe was born in Cantabria, in the heart of the Paleolithic art cave area of Northern Spain. He is a native speaker of both Spanish and English and has lived in Libya, Spain and the United States. He studied at the University of Texas at Austin, one of the United States’ finest research universities, and holds a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Business Administration from this institution. Charles has an interdisciplinary international professional background, coupled with broad historical and cultural experience gleaned from extensive world travel.

Charles has been leading tours of the Paleolithic art caves of Northern Spain for nearly a decade and has accumulated many hundreds of hours exploring them. This includes all of the caves open to the public, as well as caves not open to the general public on a regular basis, such as Altamira, La Pasiega, Las Chimeneas and Coimbre caves. He is also familiar with the vast majority of Paleolithic art sites open to the public in France and Portugal. In addition, he has firsthand experience in important parts of the caves that are generally inaccessible, both in Spain and in France.

Charles has the privilege of living in one of the richest areas in the world for Paleolithic cave art, with ongoing active archaeological research. As such, he regularly attends lectures and presentations by many of the foremost researchers in the field. Coupled with his thirst for knowledge of all things Paleolithic, he continues to gain a broader and deeper understanding of this fascinating period of prehistory. He has given web based presentations (webinars) on Altamira and La Pasiega caves, both closed to the general public but which he has been privileged to see in recent years.

Enquire about this Expert Led tour:
Speak to a Spain holiday expert:

Group Size:

Min 4 / Max 6

Tour Expert:

Charles Schwalbe

Departure Date (S):

  • 20th May 2019

  • Moderate Activity - The tour will involve visits to a variety of sites throughout the duration of the itinerary and be at a moderate pace. The tour may occasionally involve slightly longer walks, but nothing over 4 hours.


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