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 ExpertStatus 
20th May 2019 27th May 2019 £ 3,225 £ 235 £ 565 Charles Schwalbe Available
  Click here to see what is included/excluded

what is included

  • Accommodation as detailed
  • Accompanied by Charles Schwalbe throughout
  • Accompanied by English speaking local guides
  • Airport transfers
  • All entrance fees to sites visited
  • All meals mentioned in the itinerary
  • Gratuities for local guides, drivers and porters
  • Transport as detailed in the itinerary

what is excluded

  • Drinks with meals
  • International flights
  • Items of a personal nature
  • Travel insurance
  • Visa

TO ALLOW FLEXIBILITY, OUR GROUP TOURS DO NOT INCLUDE INTERNATIONAL FLIGHTS AS STANDARD. WE CAN ARRANGE INTERNATIONAL FLIGHTS ON YOUR BEHALF AND THE ABOVE IS AN INDICATION OF COST, BASED ON RETURN FLIGHTS DEPARTING FROM LONDON. ALL INTERNATIONAL FLIGHTS FROM THE UK ARE ATOL PROTECTED.

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. This afternoon there will be a walking tour of the city. Later this afternoon there will be a small presentation on the Paleolithic art of Northern Spain.

**Important note regarding clothing and footwear**

Please ensure that you pack comfortable shoes with good tread on the bottom. The real caves that you will visit can have slippery/ wet/ slightly muddy areas. A warm layer is a good idea as well. Caves are around 5-55f year round and very damp with 95% humidity. A light rain jacket is worth packing as the weather can change quite quickly.

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.


lunch and dinner included


You will be staying at Hotel Melia, bed and breakfast

Day 2

Ekain and Altamira Caves
After breakfast, travel east along a scenic highway and then 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. 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', Altamira was the first cave in the world for which Paleolithic origin of the paintings was suggested. It contains paintings dated as old as 35,600 years, while it´s famous poly-chrome bison are from about 14,500 years ago. Altamira was declared 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


This morning there will be some free time to explore the medieval village of Santillana del Mar. Around 11am we then meet to visit the cave of Hornos de la Pena - a smaller and physically demanding cave, it is worth the effort, with some of the world´s finest and most unique Paleolithic engravings, unable to be seen in most other caves. The cave is decorated primarily with engravings over a long period of time, up to 20,000 years or more, and was used by modern humans during several cultures of the Upper Paleolithic, but also by Neanderthals back 80,000 years or more. This afternoon visit the El Castillo mountain Paleolithic cave complex and its interpretative centre. The mountain of El Castillo has the highest concentration of Paleolithic art in the world in such a small area, with five decorated caves, four of them UNESCO World Heritage sites:

Visit Las Monedas. 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.


breakfast, lunch and dinner included


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

Day 4

Cave Exploration
This morning visit the caves of El Miron and Covalanas located on the same mountain. Visit the cave of El Miron which is an active archealogical site and was the site of a rare Paleolithic burial. Afterwards make the short hike up to Covalanas cave and intimate sanctuary cave principally decorated with female red deer, likely from more than 22,000 years ago.

This afternoon, visit El Pendo cave. The cave was decorated primarily in the same style as a group of other caves, including Covalanas, but the placement of the art is a stark contrast to other caves. The principal panel of art is located in a prominent location in the largest room of the cave. 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 attributed to the Magdalenian, the last culture of the Upper Paleolithic, although some of the art could be from older periods. Next visit the replica of the cave of Covaciella. 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, another one of the great Paleolithic sanctuaries with art spanning some 25,000 years. Prior to entering the cave, visit the small museum with reproductions of the principal panels of art in the cave, as well as a reproduction of the cave of La Lluera.

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 another visit of the El Castillo mountain Paleolithic cave complex. 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 nearly 3,000 figures including hands, animals, symbols and anthropomorphic figures. Techniques include painting, engraving and rare sculpture. The cave is literally decorated from beginning to end and contains some of the oldest verified artistic representations in the world. This afternoon visit the Museum of Prehistory and Archaeology of Cantabria. This comprehensive museum has one of the world's finest collections of Paleolithic portable art.


breakfast, lunch and dinner included


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

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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