"Some beautiful stories are the result of chance, of happy circumstances, and of a lot of effort: such was the case for the Caves of Saint Cézaire.
Thanks to the memories collected from Mrs Josette LELOUP, the granddaughter of the discoverer, Léon DOZOL;
Written by Ms Christine DELANGLE
A new idea is generally like the dawn; it finds most people sleeping.Sirius
"The land on which these caves are located was, and still is, the property of the DOZOL family: a farming family. The nature of the soil and the climate predestined the plot for the cultivation of vines, olive trees and wheat.
In this context, Léon DOZOL was working the land intended for his vines, conscientiously scraping the soil, and he discovered a gaping hole. Far from thinking that this was a discovery that would change the very course of his life, he continued to work his land for years, and used this hole as a very practical cavity to evacuate all the plant detritus from his field, as well as all the stones that were in his way...
Finally, it took a rainy day, which thwarted the farmer's plans (to harvest wheat with his family called in as reinforcements for the work) so that, intrigued by the capacity of this hole that had never been filled, Léon DOZOL decided to descend at the end of a rope, just by the light of a candle, in order to understand the importance of this cavity. This was of course the greatest astonishment imaginable, which he quickly shared as he descended again in the company of his wife, Octavie née PELACY; relayed by his sister and his brother-in-law. This first descent was made up to the actual Balcony and even up to the big stalactite, which gave them an idea of the importance of this cavity. They did not immediately understand the possible repercussions on their family's existence. Let's not forget that they all considered themselves to be farmers...
A friend of the family, Dr GUEBARDH, was invited to see the cave as well. Remarkably surprised, he encouraged the DOZOL family to continue the discovery and especially the development of the cave. Thus, for about ten years, Léon DOZOL, in addition to his work as a farmer, built the current staircase to access the bottom of the cave as easily as possible.
From 1902 onwards, the cave had to be secured (it had been looted); hence the idea of the first small hut above the cave entrance, with a solid door.
Then began the first advertising campaign... A great word to sum up the efforts of Léon DOZOL's eldest daughter, Marie, who was very active with her father. Indeed, it was the young woman who took charge of the first photos at a studio in DRAGUIGNAN. And so, in 1900, the work was completed; the cave was ready for use; the first visits could begin.
Oh sure! Nothing like what we know today...
But let's put it in context! First of all, let's consider that Léon DOZOL wanted above all to be a farmer; it was thanks to this that he was able to support his family... Hence the idea, when visits began to become more frequent, of charging an entrance fee (to compensate for the loss of income from his agricultural output). Moreover, Léon Dozol was above all in his fields; when the first visitors came to the caves, they had to go and look for him in the middle of his estate! For he was not only the discoverer, the master builder of the works but also the first guide of this marvellous cave...
Then, let's imagine the situation of the Caves of Saint Cézaire at that time: no real road to get there, just tracks for horses; no electricity, either (visits were done by candlelight)...
And then, and then, a detail that we neglect today: no paid holidays at that time. Who could afford a recreational visit to the caves, and such a pleasure trip? Only the aristocrats of the time: rich Englishmen from Cannes; and a strong Russian concentration from Cabris.
But it didn't matter what the conditions were at that time... Visitors were enthusiastic: in 1900, visiting a cave was a pure wonder, a real curiosity. Moreover, the first visitors refused to believe that such a marvel was the work of nature; they imagined Léon DOZOL as a sculptor... Which makes us smile today, but let's put ourselves in context once again!
During these first visits, of course, there were no additional services, just the possibility of bringing back a few postcards from this escapade, thanks to the pugnacity of Marie DOZOL, who, without really weighing it down at the time, initiated in her own way, the additional trade of the caves of Saint Cézaire.
Then the 1914-1918 war came along, and the caves were closed...
End of the first phase of the caves, revealed by this lucky dig, with the awakening of this remarkable audacity: to make these caves visible to as many people as possible!
Man's power is measured by his constructive thinking. With the same materials, one builds a palace; the other a thatched cottage. The stone encountered on the way is an obstacle for the weak; for the strong, it is a step to riseCarlyle
Between 1918 and 1920, it was another unexpected event that made the family want to go even further...
The MERCANTON studios had the idea of making a film which would take place between the commune of Saint Cézaire and the Lérins Islands: a film which was also known and which starred Charles VANEL: "Phroso" (after a novel by Anthony HOPE, directed by Louis MERCANTON)
The DOZOL family agreed that part of the filming would take place in the caves; and then, surprise! For the purposes of the film, generators were used to reveal this magnificent mineral landscape.
That's right! It was, in fact, the first time that the cave was lit up in this way... And of course, the whole DOZOL family had to admit that this changed everything: their cave was certainly already superb in the light of candles and acetylene lamps... But the clarity of the electric light revealed a veritable mineral case in orange tones, all in transparency.
It was decided! The work had to go further...
And the tenacity of the family, reinforced by their passion, meant that the electrification of the Saint Cézaire cave was completed after a year and a half of work, carried out by Léon Dozol's sons (Joseph and Marcel). These same generators remained in operation until 1965...
And so, in this new atmosphere, thanks to electricity, visits could develop.
At the same time, the family was working on another project: to create a road worthy of the name in order to meet the ever-increasing demand. This road was started around 1922 by Léon DOZOL's son, Marcel, who was greatly helped in his task by Mr POTER (the first guide from outside the family). To give an idea of the work done by the two men, one has to imagine the transformation of a simple 1.5 km track, poorly marked out (from the present "Florescence" perfume factory to the present entrance to the Grottes park).
It was this same Mr. POTER, a faithful ally of the family, who searched with unfailing tenacity for a possible exit for the cave, with the help of a dowser. Tracks were found, but without any indication of the depth... Hence the abandonment of this project, which was too ambitious without great material means.
It was a hard work which required all the energy of the two men, during approximately 8 years, but they believed in it... Contrary to Léon DOZOL (for whom everything went too fast) and who one year before his death, repeated unceasingly: "You will never see a car here! Which, of course, makes one smile when one lives today to the rhythm of the noria of holidaymakers' cars and buses during the summer season...
But you have to imagine how far the discoverer had come between his initial digging and the expansion that the caves were already experiencing in the 1920s... And from then on, the cave's aura never ceased to spread, and little by little a new clientele arrived, for example from Belgium, during the 1930s. People started talking about a tea room that offered hot coffee, served in beautiful porcelain cups and with silverware... A whole era to cater for this rich clientele.
A more complete range of services was developed from 1928 onwards, with the opening of the first restaurant in the Grottes.
In fact, the RICOU coaches offered rich holidaymakers tours from Nice, passing through the GORGES-DU-LOUP to reach the Grottes de SAINT-CEZAIRE, before setting off again in the direction of the perfume factories of GRASSE...
Provided that the Grottes were able to offer a catering service!
The family was courageous and the women of the family decided in chorus that this would not be a problem, but rather a new opportunity to be seized.
Thus, a little before the 1930s, the lucky visitors had the opportunity to taste the unique meal cooked with good heart by Eugénie DOZOL (wife of the second son of the discoverer) and served with just as much passion by Joséphine DOZOL (wife of the eldest son of Léon DOZOL).
At that time, the menu included a variety of cold meats and an omelette with fine herbs, garlic and parsley, followed by a veal chop with seasonal vegetables;
and to finish, seasonal fruit; all served with taste on a pretty little yellow and white checked tablecloth...
Already at that time, the desire to satisfy the clientele as best as possible was present, as it has never ceased to be from generation to generation
This is how the restaurant was maintained for about ten years...
And yet, the work was much harder than it is today:
let's not forget that at that time, water was not available from the tap;
food preservation required the supply of ice packs from GRASSE; washing machines were still in the limbo of human thought ....
Yes, but the family merger was omnipresent;
The goodwill and versatility of each person for the smooth running of the business:
a spirit that all the Grotto's managers managed to pass on, even when, faced with the rapid development of what was to become a fully-fledged tourist activity, it was necessary to hire staff from outside the family fold. But this is another story which will be the subject of an exclusive chapter...
Until the Second World War, the activity of the Caves of Saint-Cézaire developed.
Thus, over the years, thanks to the considerable work carried out by the family, all visitors were able to benefit from the riches of nature and the resulting modernisations:
greater ease of access, electrification, and a superior service offer, both in terms of quality and quantity...
But then the war came...
And the caves fell asleep again, jealously hiding their wonders for 7 long years...
For fear that resistance fighters would come and hide there, damaging this natural masterpiece...
"Genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspirationEdison
The end of the war and the desire to reopen the caves to the public was marked by a first phase of heavy electrical work.
In fact, 7 years of closure and humidity had taken their toll on all the previous work: the entire network had to be rebuilt immediately...
Once again, the family, passionate about their natural treasure, did something about it...
And the Grotto was once again dressed in light, making it worthy of admiration.
At the same time, the whole road had to be rebuilt, which had also suffered a lot...
Once this was done, visitors were able to return in ever greater numbers;
and it was in the 1950s that the need for coloured tickets, in groups, which we know today, became apparent.
The days when people went to look for Léon DOZOL in his fields to obtain the right to visit were already long gone!
In addition to the fact that there were more and more visitors, they also came from more and more diverse backgrounds, with a certain recurrence of nationalities over the decades.
In fact, the history of the Caves shows that there have been series of visitors, like fashions, by region, by country...
For example, in the 1950s, the caves were visited by miners from the Pas-de-Calais who came from the castle of MANDELIEU-LA-NAPOULE.
A tour was proposed to them including the caves, the Perfumeries of GRASSE and the potteries of VALLAURIS.
They came in large numbers each time (in groups of 60), until 1980, when the coal mines closed.
In the 1960s, Saint Cézaire had two holiday camps for young children: the LENS camp (Pas-de-Calais) and the "Vaillants" camp in Nice.
It was in 1965 that teachers included a visit to the caves in their school outings:
a phenomenon that has spread widely to the present day.
At the end of the 50's - beginning of the 60's, it is a new film shot both in the Caves of ST CEZAIRE and in the caves of LA FOUX (a large resurgence which plunges into the Siagne) which will attract a huge number of people, in the middle of October (normally a very quiet month!) to the great astonishment of the whole team at the time.
In the 1970s, a third film, "L'oiseau bleu" (The Blue Bird), was also set in the Saint Cezaire caves, but this time without any impact on the cave's reputation.
The 1980s saw an influx of Dutch people, visiting as individuals (not in large groups); and Swedes. The Dutch visitors are still very present today. The Swedish phenomenon, however, has developed quite differently. In the 1960s, the caves welcomed Swedes in large organised groups, both in spring (April-May) and in autumn (August-September), as part of the major tours offered to them:
One of the tours took them from NICE airport to GRASSE by shuttle bus; then a visit to the Caves of SAINT-CEZAIRE, before leaving again for CASTELLANE, where they were offered a night in a hotel before discovering the next morning the GORGES-DU-VERDON where a picnic was organised. It was in this context that the SAINT-CEZAIRE Caves were put on Swedish time... Until the circuit was completely abandoned because of aircraft problems and schedules that were difficult to keep... From then on, like the Dutch, the Swedes no longer had to come in groups, but as individuals.
In the 70s and 80s, the Caves were faced with the very sympathetic emergence of senior citizen groups: interest from this population has been growing over the years...
In the 1990s, it was the residents of Denmark who made the Caves famous, so much so that, in conclusion, the son of the discoverer of the Caves, Marcel, liked to repeat: "Only the Queen is not here...". ...So many of her subjects came at that time!
So of course, faced with these massive arrivals, it was necessary after the war to learn to manage more and more staff; to learn to respond to the tastes of such a varied clientele. And it is precisely this great ability to adapt that has enabled the Grottes de SAINT-CEZAIRE to develop on a national and international level.
As we have said, what has always saved this small family business was the harmony between all the members and the versatility of each one.
Because, of course, the caves remain, but the family members become clearer as time passes. So the family's policy has always been the same: to touch everything in order to be able to replace themselves when the time comes...
For example, let's start again with the discoverer, Léon DOZOL, and also the first guide.
He was replaced by his son, Marcel, who also had the task of training all the other guides, including Mr Emile BRE, Mr Gaston POTER (who, as we have seen, had helped to build the initial road)... And to mention only the most important ones, in terms of the longevity of their careers within the Caves (often several decades):
Mr. Roger BELLETTINI (full-time guide, who also had a gift for electricity; very valuable for the Grotto), Mr. Gaby DOZOL (postman by profession who came to give his time as a part-time guide), and since 1982, Mr. Tony CALKO, head of the guides, still active.
To which, in order to be complete, it is necessary to add all the young people of the CORLAY/LELOUP families (descendants of the DOZOLs), as well as many students, in order to cope with the summer period and the influx of visitors.
Each year, a joyful, close-knit team was reconstituted, with a tradition of a big meal where everyone was invited on 15 August: both to celebrate the end of a new summer season, as well as Saint Mary's Day, to celebrate "Aunt Marie" (Léon DOZOL's eldest daughter) with dignity.
This versatility and handover have been confirmed more than once in the life of the Caves, in the other activities.
For example, Mme LELOUP (granddaughter of the discoverer) was actively involved in the bar in winter and in the cash desk in summer. Her uncle, Joseph, was the cashier, while Joseph's brother, Marcel, was the guide. When Joseph died, the business had to be reorganised, and Marcel (the discoverer's son, and first guide) became responsible for the cash desk, while his daughter, Josette LELOUP, took over the coordination of the guides, and as a result, the bar fell into the hands of Eugénie (Josette's mother).
Humans had to adapt; so did the buildings...
We have seen that in 1902, at the time of the first visits, following an attempt to degrade the Caves of Saint-Cezaire, a small, securely closed shed was erected above the entrance to the Cave.
To meet the expectations of the many visitors who sometimes had to wait a few minutes, the original shed was replaced in 1924 by a larger pavilion including the hall and the shop, as they are today.
Then in 1935 a large garage was built in place of the present bar. This garage became the bar in 1965, when the caves were connected to the EDF.
In 1954, the municipality decided to relieve the traffic congestion on the road to the caves (originally a two-way street). The road to Saint-Cezaire was completed. One more comfort for the visitors...
In order to adapt to a large and diverse clientele - in this case, young children - 1960 was the year in which the present courtyard was built under the terrace. Thus, when young children had to wait between two visits, they could, even in bad weather, take the time to eat at this covered place, equipped with tables and benches (as you can still see it today).
And again, in response to attempted burglaries (3 attempts in 1964), the buildings were secured with strong protective fences.
Already, many things had changed, both materially and in spirit...
When you think that Léon Dozol considered himself above all a farmer, and that he initially envisaged his cave as a loss of income (imposing the idea of a paying visit).
50, 60, 80 years later, we have to rethink everything: learn to manage a real business; learn to manage the flow of tourists...
A remarkable family rise.
A daily effort.
But in the end: what an achievement!
" Become what you areEmerson
So it was!
However, in addition to the staff and buildings, the services offered to this clientele were also decisive. And in this area too: adaptation and evolution were the key words...
As we said, immediately after the war, without water or electricity, the restoration activity became too heavy. It was abandoned...
On the occasion of certain large groups, the women of the family organised a family snack around a good coffee and tasty "oreillettes",* which they made themselves.
The bar activity was already very busy, with at the beginning, simple coolers loaded with ice cream, to ensure the freshness of the products! Then, with the electrification, everything became simpler and allowed a more varied offer: ice creams, pancakes and snack since 2002.
In order to evolve and offer an even better quality of service, in 2008 the Grottes restaurant was opened, which allowed (as in the original days of the RICOU coaches) groups of visitors to spend a pleasant full day on the Grottes site, from the very pleasant terrace, shaded under the hundred-year-old lime trees, with a view over the 6-hectare park.
Following this same idea of a privileged location where it is pleasant to recharge one's batteries, 2009 should allow for further innovation with, -in spite of the unchanged price of the cave visit ticket-, access to a botanical path.
In addition to its "oxygen bubble" aspect, this route also allows a better understanding of the context in which the cave was discovered: the terrain, with its relief, its plants and its fauna, as it was at the time of the discovery of the Saint Cézaire Caves.
In the long term, the idea of a large park, entirely enclosed, is beginning to germinate, allowing the enjoyment of the entire space, with children's areas, various games, farm animals... But this is another project, courageously carried at arm's length by the current manager, Mr Christophe CORLAY (a descendant of the family): a young, dynamic person who has undoubtedly inherited the courage and stubbornness of his illustrious forefathers. To be continued...
*Small flat Provençal doughnuts, flavoured with alcohol or orange blossom, and covered with sugar
The guides themselves had to adapt to this increasingly international clientele, and the tours were systematically organised in French and English, with a whole system of written translations provided free of charge to visitors, so that they too could enjoy the details and finer points of the cave.
Nowadays, 7 translations are available: German, Dutch, Danish, Italian, Spanish, Polish and Russian.
Finally, the Cave Shop has developed remarkably over the years.
From a simple postcard shop, it became a shop specialising in minerals and regional products. The need to evolve became apparent very early on, under the leadership of the various women in the family (including "Aunt Josephine", wife of Léon DOZOL's second son, and mistress of this space).
As early as 1930, entire boxes of pottery from Annemasse, in Savoie, were ordered to meet the needs of a clientele fond of these products.
Then, in 1970/1980, the shop was particularly appreciated for its VALLAURIS pottery and its pretty paintings made of limestone truly chiselled under the action of a petrifying spring of SAINT-NECTAIRE. Already, the idea of the current shop was born: to promote products in relation with the mineral wealth, and to develop the knowledge of the regional products
It was not until the 1980s that the shop began to offer the first minerals in bulk or on bases.
Finally, in 1988, the shop started to distribute the first jewellery.
Today, with a constantly growing collection of minerals, it is both a souvenir shop related to the visit to the caves (postcards, leaflets), a space for discovering local products (alcohols, aromatic herbs) and, above all, the sale of minerals according to their lithotherapy properties.
Evolving with the times, this shop now also exists on the net, on the site: www.geobootik.fr, to allow you to find all the products of the mineral space, from your home, with very informed cards on the various selected minerals.
Cave of yesterday, cave of today, cave of forever...
Just like a human being, our Grotto of Saint-Cezaire lives at its own pace.
Summer is synonymous with effervescence: a staff of 12 people to satisfy all the work stations; crowds and joyful cries of children continuously, from opening to closing. We live to the rhythm of the arrivals of buses and private cars; the groups alternate at a steady pace, always respecting the safety rules. Jules' world is not to be trifled with!
Yes, if you have visited, you know our friend Jules, the unconditional host of the Caves (so named by visitors since the 1930s)! If you don't know him yet, our guide will tell you about his bright white presence in the middle of his orange calcite world... In the middle of summer, come and taste the naturally refreshing atmosphere of a cave...
Summer is replaced by a slower pace from September onwards: an ideal month for our senior citizens. We all start to take time to live again... It's back to school, and all the young students who came to help us for the season go back to university. The days are shorter, but the warmth is so pleasant. There is still time to enjoy a good plate of fresh salad prepared with care by our chef, after the visit of the caves. Holidaymakers without children are not mistaken: this is an ideal time!
With the onset of autumn and the first frosts, visits become rarer. Slowly, the Grotto closes in on its secrets... The staff shrinks to three people who look after the day-to-day business, and follow up on everything that could not be done during the hectic summer.
December is coming. Father Christmas and Jules don't mix...
It's time for Jules to get some well-deserved rest: all spring and summer, he has been lighting up the eyes of hundreds of children. In December, it's Santa's turn to work his magic...
But Jules sometimes feels lonely... Fortunately, the world is a good place!
The guide will tell you this too: to keep this worthy old man company, the Fairy comes out of her room during the long winter days... And she starts to play a lively tune on the great organs of the cave.
We too, the staff, seem to hear this little melody...
No, that's it... The days are getting longer again; spring is showing itself around us through the sun in the trees: the mimosas...
That's it! The first winter holidays are coming, and with them, the first laughter of children, the happy families are back!
Oh, but listen!
That's it... The teachers bring the children back to us in whole classes.
Yes, no doubt about it! One bus, two buses... The car park is covered with them; on all sides, children of all ages are running around, happy to visit, playing with a balloon while waiting for their turn.
And the same answers from the guide: "No! There are no bats in the Caves of Saint-Cézaire. No! No dragons, either!"
It's over, Jules! No more sleeping. It's time to reappear in the light...
It is the little fairy's turn to rest: from now on, it is the guides who, with their great art, will play you a melody...
And the first heat is back...
A year has already passed,
Leaving us with a head full of beautiful memories,
Finding ourselves ready to take on new challenges
For you, with you,
French people and tourists from all over the world,
Who came by the hundreds, by the thousands...
Making a lie of Leon Dozol himself
When he said:
"You will never see a car here...
Thank you to nature for this marvel she has given us,
Thanks to the work and the pugnacity of the DOZOL/CORLAY/LELOUP families
Thank you to all the staff, past and present,
Thank you to all of you, visitors for a day, or the faithful among the faithful
Who contribute to the development of this unique adventure.