There are other interesting statistics about these caves. For instance, wine is stored to keep and eye on the temperature.
The system is 12 kilometres long though you only get to see 3 kms.
You get to ride a boat and a train inside the cave. The boat only goes a short way but the train ride is interesting and would be a real buzz for children.
There is a unique formation inside the cave that has not yet been fully explained. They're still unsure as to how it happened because it exists nowhere else in the world.
I have seen better formations in other caves but, as a cave experience, Betharram is well organized and hard to beat.
Discovered in 1810, they were one of the first grottos open to the public. As early as 1880, the British residents of Pau ventured into the grotto with the help of the local miller Losbats de Lestelle Bétharrram.
They were opened to the public in 1903, after several years of work by Léon Ross, an artist and one of the first photographers of the Pyrenees region. From the beginning, their huge popularity was literally "electrifying" for all : the grottos offering the added comfort of being illuminated.
The Betharram grottos are considered some of the most beautiful grottos in the world and are definitely the most interesting to visit because of their large variety of formations. Their natural beauty also allows the visitor to understand the key to the development of almost all dead and active grottos.
They contain 5 separate stories superimposed like those of a house, each formed during different eras.
Of course, where there's water there's apt to be fish and, though I didn't see a lot of fishermen in France, they were keen here. At least three were trying their luck and the one underneath the bridge just caught one when I was photographing him.
In the South West of France, at the foot of the Pyrenees, you will find the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Betharram. In a way, the Virgin has taken over the whole región. – Lourdes, the center of pilgrimages known world wide, is 15 kilometers from here. In the XIX century, Saint Michael Garicoïts made the the cradle of a new community, the Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
According to some the origin of the Sanctuary goes back as far as the XI century, at a time when the whole of Europe, instigated by Saint Bernard, was covered by homes of Marian devotion. When returning from their campaigns against the Moors, the knights of the Crusades came to render homage to the Virgin. Betharram was also a staging post for the pilgrims who marched from all over Europe toward Compostelle. Its name appears for the first time in 1493 under the title of Gataram.
The popular tradition bears witness to three miracles attributed to the Virgin Mary in this place.
One day when the shepherds were leading their flocks along the mountain stream, or Gave, they were suddenly attracted by a very bright light coming from the rocks. When they approached they claimed to have seen a beautiful image of the Virgin. As soon as the people of the village of Lestelle were informed, they decided to build a chapel to put in a statue (as you would), but on the opposite side of the stream to the sighting, because of the lack of space where they had found the image. But, every time they placed her there, mysteriously, she crossed to the other side of the stream. The people from the village then understood that Mary wanted to remain in the initial place. And so it was then that they constructed the first Marian Building of Betharram.
The second miracle dates back to the year 1616. Some peasants from Montaut, not far from Lestelle, were returning after a long hard day's work out in the fields when a violent wind arose and devastated the hill, threatening Betharram. The cyclone blasted the great wooden cross on the summit, but as soon as it fell on the ground, it was seen completely surrounded by a halo of light. The news rapidly spread around the country, and an immense crowd gathered there coming in procession to the chapel of Betharram to thank God for this prodigy.
Now we come to the third extraordinary event; this is important since it gave its name to Betharram. A young girl bent over the edge of the Gave to pick a flower but she fell headlong into the swirling, whirling water. She was about to be drowned when she invoked the Virgin of the Sanctuary, with a loud cry. Miraculously, a branch appeared and in this way she was able to retrieve the shore and save her life. As a sign of gratitude, she wanted to offer a golden branch to the Madonna and thus she became for all the Virgin of Betharram – that is to say – “a beautiful branch”, in the local dialect.
Fondest memory: You can see all the stuff that was erected all around the site and get some understanding of how important this place was then and still is today, even down to the small bronze statue by the river, largely unnoticed by the majority of tourists.
To these three miracles, narrated by ancient authors, popular piety has added many others, of a similar nature. One of these was even mentioned by Bernadette Soubirous who, upset because of the great curiosity of which she was subjected to, one day exclaimed: “Why seek at all cost to see me? What more do I have than others? God serves himself of me just as he served himself of the bullocks of Betharram”. Bernadette refers here to a tradition according to which some bullocks went away from the herd to dig the ground, and they found on their hoof a statue of the Virgin.
Whatever may be the historical exactitude, these miracles give witness to a fundamental truth: Betharram has always been considered as a sacred place that has nourished faith and the Marian devotion.
Hubert Charpentier (1565 –1650), a priest architect had the idea to open a hospice for the pilgrims and a house for the priests in charge, also rendered services in the parishes around. And thus, the first chapel was enlarged in order to build a Sanctuary worthy of that name, extended by a monastery belonging to the chaplains of Betharram. In addition, Hubert Charpentier also had a monumental Way of the Cross –Via Crucis – set up above the Sanctuary at the side of the hill.
The whole gave way to make this Sanctuary one of the most visited in France in the XVII-XVIII centuries, the golden centuries of Betharram. At that time it was the third most popular pilgrimage of the Kingdom, according to Saint Vincent de Paul. But the French Revolution interrupted this expansion, at the end of the XVIII century, destroyed the Calvary, confiscated the property and expelled the chaplains. The only thing saved was the Sanctuary.
Fondest memory: The way of the cross is what you next take notice of; it's more grand than any other I've seen on my travels which indicates just how popular the place was.