10 of the Best …. Animal Attractions in France


From tots to grannies, everyone enjoys an animal park and France offers some unforgettable close encounters; France expert Gillian Thornton picks 10 of her favourites.

Le Parc des Oiseaux (Rhône-Alpes)

Best animal attractions in France, Parc des Oiseaux

Clustered round a central lake, the Bird Park at Villars les Dombes showcases birds from around the world in landscaped areas reminiscent of their natural habitats. The biggest collection of birds in France – and one of the most diverse in Europe – the park’s collection includes many endangered species. Watch the amazing Birds in Flight show, see baby birds in the nursery, and watch feeding times for penguins, pelicans and birds of prey.

Nausicaa (Nord-Pas de Calais)

Opened in 1991, the French National Sea Centre in Boulogne is far more than just another aquarium. Through a fascinating display of marine creatures and habitats, Nausicaa graphically illustrates why we all need to take responsibility for the world’s oceans. And by the time you’ve watched ethereal jellyfish under ultra violet light; looked down on the teeming life of a coral reef, and walked beneath sharks, you’ll want to do your bit too. Promise!

The Camargue

Best animal attractions in France, Black bulls on the Camargue

Largest wetland area in France, the Camargue spans the vast Rhône-Delta and includes areas of marsh, paddy field, and grazing land. Permanent home to the famous white horses, black cattle and pink flamingos, it’s also a stopping off point for migrating birds. Ask at any local tourist office about family-friendly nature tours on foot and on horseback, by boat and 4×4 – an unforgettable experience in a unique natural environment.

Zooparc de Beauval (Centre)

More than 5700 animals live in this glorious wooded park near Saint-Aignan in the Cher valley, a key player in the European conservation network. Expect a ‘Wow!moment’ around every corner as you come face to face with many rare species including koalas, giant pandas, and manatees, white lions and tigers. Watch the action at animal feeding time as well as bird flying displays and sea lion shows.

European Bison Reserve at Sainte-Eulalie (Languedoc-Roussillon)

Best animal attractions in France, Bison Reserve

Part of an Anglo-Polish project to conserve Europe’s last wild bison, the park was set up here on a forested hillside in 1991. More than 30 bison now live in near-wild conditions with minimum human intervention. Visitors tour the reserve safari-park style in carriages drawn by beautiful heavy horses – a real treat in itself. The bison aren’t bothered by horses and will often graze right beside the carriages. Awesome.

Parc Zoologique de Jurques (Normandy)

Deep in the Calvados countryside, this charming animal park is a delightful place to spend an afternoon as you move seamlessly through the different continents of the world. Resident species include antelope and white lions, lemurs, monkeys and red pandas. Walk through the parrot jungle, pet the residents in the children’s farm, and watch rescued Barbary macaques scampering up the steep cliff of an old quarry beside Barbary sheep and mandrills. (Reopens Feb 2015)

Les Loups du Gévaudan wolf park (Languedoc-Roussillon)

Best animal attractions in France, Mongolian Wolves, Copyright Sylvain Macci

High in the mountains of Lozère above the Lot Valley, this fun family attraction at Sainte-Lucie has a serious conservation purpose. Established in 1985, it is home to more than 120 wolves from around the world, all living in semi-freedom. Learn all about them in the visitor centre, then look down into their enclosures from viewing platforms. Visit in early summer and you’ll almost certainly spot some of the cute new cubs.

La Ferme aux Crocodiles (Rhône-Alpes)

All children are fascinated by crocodiles and at Pierrelatte in the Rhône Valley, your family can meet more than 400 crocodiles at close quarters in perfect safety. Unique in Europe, the Crocodile Farm is home to many different species, and not just crocodiles. Giant tortoises, free-flying tropical birds and lush vegetation add to the atmosphere inside the giant greenhouse and, in summer, both crocodiles and tortoises can bask outdoors in the sun.

La Forêt des Singes (Midi-Pyrénées)

Take your little monkeys to interact with an enchanting collection of sociable Barbary macaques or Magots within sight of Rocamadour, one of France’s most spectacular perched villages and places of pilgrimage. The Monkey Forest is home to around 150 individuals who live freely within the reserve. There are plenty of human guides on hand to help you interpret the behaviour of the adults and babies within different social groups, and fabulous photo memories are almost guaranteed as the macaques, in turn, watch their human visitors.

Magnificent horses at the National Studs

Launched under Louis XIV to provide a ready supply of war horses, the French network of 22 national studs or haras nationaux today assures the breeding of quality animals for competition as well as maintaining native breeds. One of the grandest is the Haras du Pin in Normandy – nicknamed the ‘Versailles of the Horse’ – which offers guided tours and Thursday afternoon shows in summer. And don’t miss the shaggy, chocolate-brown Poitou donkeys at the Haras in Saintes near La Rochelle.

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