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Some Continental Show Caves

During a two weeks motoring holiday around the Alps earlier this year Jane and I visited eight assorted tourist Caves in a variety of countries and terrain. These are just a small proportion of the caves open to the public and several have been adequately described in caving literature, many times before.  For the dedicated speleo-tourist I can recommend "Guide des Grottes d'Europe- by V. Aellan and P. Strinati (1975) and the tourist pamphlets relating to show caves published by the tourist boards of Belgium, France, Austria, Yugoslavia and Switzerland.

Grotte de Dinant “La Herveilleuse” - Dinant, Namur, Belgium.

Situated 500m vest of the attractive riverside town of Dinant.  Discovered by quarrymen, making a railway cutting in 1904 and open as a show cave since then.  The visit takes about 50 mins.  A maze of phreatic passages some 500m long on several levels with some well preserved but scattered formations and a deep, flooded area of slow moving water at river level.  Mostly notable for the aged, Gauloise-puffing Belgian guide - complete with a commentary in execrable English blaring away from a tape recorder slung around his neck. On my visit I was the only tourist (Jane being mobbed by several hundred screaming Belgian school kids outside the cave) and so I got a good look at the place.  Compare this with the trip to Postojna Cave! (see below).

Laichinger Tiefenhohle - Laichingen, Schwalbischen Alb, W. Germany.

Situated 1km SE of Laichingen and 24kms NW of Ulm.  In Jurassic limestone, this cave is a generally vertically orientated system of phreatically enlarged rifts and chambers and is the deepest show cave in West Germany, hence the name.  The visit is made by climbing down and up a series of steep iron steps which leave a goodly deposit of mud on your trousers should you spurn the gaiters provided by the management. 250m of passage is covered to a depth of 70m though further passages descend to 103m and there is another 500m of undeveloped cave.  There are few formations but the water sculpted rock and a variety of fossils make up for this.  The cave acts as one of the feeders for the Blautopf resurgence some 10km away.  Very much an enthusiasts show cave the trip takes 30-45mins.  At the entrance is a caving museum with the usual photos, bones, bits of stal, surveys, etc.  These are becoming very much of an essential item at show caves worldwide and hopefully their conservation orientated displays will not go ignored by those who visit them.

Dachstein Rieseneishohle and Dachstein Mammuthohle - Obertraun, Upper Austria.

While en route to the Weisberghaus to prepare things for the coming BEC Expedition we visited these superb caves (at children’s prices and with a tree beer thrown in thanks to a chance meeting with Siegfried Gemsjager, show cave manager and an old friend of the club).  Situated 3km SE of Obertraun and reached by cable-car these are two of Europe's finest Caves.  The Reiseneishohle for it's mind boggling ice formations which dwarf the visitor and the Mammuthohle for it's enormous phreatic bore passages.

The ice cave is extremely well lit and presented, with the tourist path in places cut through the massive ice formations making for spectacular views.  The trip covers 820m, taking 45mins to pass through the huge chambers and galleries.  The system was explored in 1910 and is over 2kms long.

Contrasting with this, and on the opposite side of the cable car station, is the vast Mammuthohle - over 35kms long and one of the world's deepest systems.   It will hopefully get even longer when connected to the 47km Hirlatzhohle which has recently been pushed to within some 500m of Mammut.  With not an ice formation in sight and few pretties, the cave owes its attraction to the huge main passage of the Paleotraun, to several mega chambers and to the high rift, which soar up above the head of the visitor.  It takes from 30-90mins to see the cave, depending on the size of the party. Unfortunately, if visited after the ice cave, it can be a bit disappointing due to its barren nature.

Yet again, an excellent caving museum with an unbelievable three-dimensional model of the Mammuthohle can be visited.  Dummy cavers in old and new styles of equipment hang from the ceiling and a slide show of the local caves and cavers runs in an adjoining room.  Well worth a visit.

Skocjanske Jama – Matavun, Slovenia, Jugoslavia.

Probably one of the largest show caves in the world with regard to passage size and certainly one of the most impressive.

A footpath from the village ascends a huge doline with the entrance to an artificial tunnel at its base. This is followed into the hill to reach a series of fantastically decorated chambers, gradually increasing in size until the roar of the river Reka is heard ahead.  Due to some adroit manipulation of the lights by the guide, the visitor is suddenly amazed to find himself some 70m above the floor of a huge, misty river passage, on a narrow path cut into the cave wall.  The path then descends to a bridge 50 above the river and follows the hall, halfway up, to emerge 45mins later at the bottom of a gigantic pothole.  This is all real Mulu stuff and completely mind blowing, the only drawback being the stink of the polluted river 50m below.  The Reka sumps in the cave to resurge near Trieste in Italy, some 40kms away.  The complete visit lasts for an hour or more and is a MUST.

Predjama - Postojna, Slovenia, Yugoslavia.

Famous as the site of the Predjamski Grad - a Renaissance castle built under the vast cave mouth where the remains of the, robber baron Erasmus's fortress stand.  The 6km of decorated stream cave below the castle are not yet open to tourists but the building itself, and the dry upper levels of the cave (Erazmova Jama) are well worth a visit - especially in a raging thunderstorm as occurred on our visit, adding much to the Dracula-like atmosphere of the place.

8km NW of Postojna, an hour or so is sufficient to visit the castle and cave.
 

Predjama

Postojnska Jama - Postojna, Slovenia, Yugoslavia.'

One of the earliest und most famous tourist caves in the world, it is impossible to miss!  Twenty one MILLION visitors at the last count, it felt as if they'd doubled that number on our trip:  With electric trains transporting hordes of assorted punters into the cave at half-hourly intervals and guides leading throngs of every nationality around the walking parts it is an experience to be savoured – once! Never again will you moan about queues at the "'twenty" or how much money they are raking in at Gough’s. At £6 a head one gets the impression that Postojna is the mainstay of the Yugoslavian economy.  (Eat your hearts out Chris and Sandra!).

We waited in a milling crowd for about an hour to get into the cave. This was enlivened by an ancient, eccentric English lady pushing her way to the front of the crowd.

Once aboard the train life becomes most exciting as it hurtles through hundreds of feet of profusely decorated passages and chambers with the formations being of an overall matt black hue. This is due to a soot layer dating from the last war when Yugoslavian patriots set fire to a German underground fuel store.  One bright spot en route is the Conference Chamber, lit by huge electric chandeliers. Just the job for Gour Hall eh, Butch?

The train eventually halts in a large chamber where everyone gathers at the sign of their chosen language. From here the guides escort the vast parties along a figure of eight route through superbly decorated galleries full of clean and glittering stal.  An artificial pool contains several of the famous Proteus Anguinus blind cave salamanders.  The tour ends at the Concert Chamber, complete with bar and souvenir shop and the railway station for the trip out.  Before leaving the cave a section of the large river passage is visited.  One emerges from the experience with a profound sense of wonder at the mysteries of the underworld and a desperate desire to go somewhere for a quiet drink!

St. Beatush6hle - Interlaken, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland.

A fairly uninspiring system of smallish passages with a few formations, going steeply up-dip from the spectacular resurgence.  The first and last sections ofthe tourist route are the most impressive due to the large volume of stream water thundering away only inches from the pathways. The trip covers 900m and takes about an hour.  Again, an excellent caving museum can be visited near the entrance.

Tony Jarratt, ,June 1986.