Chauvet cave will never be open to the public. It is the oldest decorated cave ever found, and it was only discovered in 1994. Its discovery changed everything. Experts believed that prehistoric art started out with a more primitive appearance and gradually became more sophisticated over the millennia, culminating in the triumph of Lascaux, painted 17,000 years ago. But the paintings in Chauvet are nearly twice as old, having been radiocarbon dated at 32,000 years! And they are even more magnificent than Lascaux, with their realism and sophistication. Theories about the development of paleolithic art have had to be revised.
The cave must be preserved and studied, but its importance to human history is so great that plans for a replica were made soon after its discovery. After several years and 55 million Euros it opened in April 2015. It is the largest, most detailed replica cave ever made. Every attempt was made to recreate the actual cave, including the calcite covered animal bones scattered on the floor. There is an exhibition building that you can visit before the tour that teaches you about prehistoric humans and animals. The official name of the replica cave is Caverne du Pont d'Arc, since it is very close to the natural bridge formation over the Ardèche River. Chauvet is the name of the leader of the team who discovered the cave, but they did not use his name for the replica because of tensions between the cave discoverers and the government.
Guided tours only, reservations strongly recommended and you can book online. This is a very popular attraction and if you don't buy tickets ahead of time, be aware that your tour may be several hours after you arrive at the ticket office. Tours are in French, there is one English tour per day, at 11:12 a.m., 25 people per tour. But if you can't make the English tour you may reserve any tour and use a free audio guide, which is available in 10 languages. In the summer, tours depart every few minutes and people have been complaining that the groups are too close together and the tour feels rushed. The visits are a little more spaced out the rest of the year, but you are not really allowed to linger because the guides keep the groups moving and shut off the lights when they are finished showing a section. While it is not as cold as a real cave, the replica is air conditioned, so you may want a jacket. No photos allowed in the replica cave.
Open every day of the year. Accessible to people with disabilities. The walkway is completely flat in the replica cave, so you won't trip over anything in the dim light. The tickets say that you should arrive at the tour departure point 30 minutes before the tour but that is not necessary. You just go to the departure point a few minutes early and wait for your tour to be called, there's no need to get there so early just to wait around.