When it comes to furry, feathery and even scaly creatures, the Poitou-Charentes is a veritable Noah’s Ark – it’s packed full of animal parks and zoos that allow you to see and get close to animals, birds and reptiles from all over the world. Many of the parks make great days out for all the family, or you can combine a couple of the smaller ones for hours of animal magic. Here are some to get you started…
La Rochelle aquarium, Charente-Maritime: One of Europe’s best aquariums, it boasts more than 10,000 sea creatures of all shapes, sizes and colours, including a massive shark tank and the tunnel of water that makes you feel as though you are underwater. La Rochelle, Quai Louis Prunier.
Zoo de la Palmyre, Charente-Maritime: One of the best zoos in Europe, set in 14 hectares in the pine forest, Foret de la Courbe, , see more than 1,600 types of animal from all five continents including polar bears and snow leopard to Siberian tigers, elephants, monkeys and apes. Les Mathes near Royan.
Vallée des Singes: Mountain gorillas are one of the stars of the show at this animal park that has thirty species of ape and monkey, many of which are free to swing and leap around you as you walk. Le Gureau, Romagne.
Zoodyssée, Deux-Sévres: As well as a range of wildlife including wolves, lynxes, deer and birds of prey, the 25 hectare animal park is also a lovely place to go for a forest walk or take a tour in a horse-drawn carriage. Villiers en Bois.
Poitou donkey sanctuary: see this endangered and historic breed that is emblematic of the region.
Les Oiseaux du Marais Poitevin: See more than 70 species of birds in the beautiful natural setting of the Marais Poitevin, known as ‘Green Venice’. Information panels around the park explain about the birds as well as plants. Le Petit Buisson, St Hilaire la Palud.
Planete des Crocodiles, Vienne: The region’s newest animal attraction, it boasts more than 200 crocodiles that are housed in large bio-spheres that reflect their native habitat. Route du fond d’Orveau, Civaux.
Safari Parc de Haute Saintonge, Charente See animals from Europe, Asia and North America (mainly deer) behave as ‘in the wild’ on a two-you’re your in chauffeur-driven, open-topped four-wheel drive vehicles. You can also go quad-bike riding on tracks that offer three different levels of expertise. Guizengeard, near Cognac; tel 05 45 98 99 31; www.safari-parc-de-haute-saintonge.abcsalles.com
Les Géants du Ciel: in the hillside old town of Chauvigny in the Deux-Sèvres, see displays of falconry and flying displays from a variety of birds.
Mouton Village, Deux-Sévres If sheep are your thing, then head for this park where you can check out 23 breeds of sheep from around the world, learn about their history and how they fit into agriculture today. You can also see cheese being made and shop! Maison du Mouton, Vasles; tel 05 49 69 12 12; www.moutonvillage.fr
Parc de l’Arche de Noé, Ile de Ré, Charente-Maritime Parrots and cockatoos from around the world are the main attraction, along with flamingos. Plus there’s an interesting aquarium too. Saint Clément des Baleines; tel 05 46 29 23 23; www.parc-archedenoe.com
Photos: © Christelle – Fotolia; Eric Gevaert – Fotolia