We began the holidays with a visit to a zoo at Haute Touche. Yesterday as an end-of-holiday treat we went to the ZooParc de Beauval. Ruadhri went there with school in June and he’d been raving about it ever since. And since we needed to film some animals for a project we’ve been asked to work on, well, that was the decider. Off we went.

Beauval is a bit of a haul from here. It took two and a half hours to get there. Rors seems to have got over his travel sickness, finally, so we didn’t have to keep stopping for him. But everyone was happy, we have an endless supply of music CDs in the car, I had a sock to knit, so it was a good trip.

The zoo suddenly appeared out of nowhere. There was very little signage and publicity on the way, unlike with Haute Touche. But Beauval is on a different scale altogether. We couldn’t believe how many cars were already in the very large car park, and it was only 10.30 am.  Generally French people are late starters. Cars poured in continuously as we changed into hiking boots and had a large elevenses. Rors had told us, correctly, that you’re not allowed to take picnics into the zoo. You can come back to the car park, which is surrounded by wooden picnic tables, for refuelling, but that didn’t appeal. We scoffed as much as we could to get us round.

Photo from Beauval website

There was a queue at the entrance, but that gave me time to work out it was going to cost the four of us, three adults (the adult rate starts at age 11 which seems steep) and a child, €82 to get in. Ouch. The minute we got through the gate, my camera batteries went flat, or so my camera claimed. Now, I think my camera remembered just how many photos I’d taken at Haute Touche and went on strike. Those batteries hadn’t been in long. And then Caiti’s apparently recharged batteries turned out not to be. But did a single shop or café at the zoo sell batteries? Sadly no, which is a steady source of revenue lost to them. Someone’s not on the ball at Beauval. But Caiti had her phone and Chris had the video camera so all was not lost!

We didn’t leave the zoo till 6pm. It was utterly fantastic, as well as huge. We were all on our knees when we got back to the car. We’d seen a colossal array of animals, including white tigers and white lions (of which the zoo is very proud, and while they’re undeniably handsome, you can’t help thinking they’re ordinary lions and tigers that have been out in the sun too long!), okapis which are a bizarre giraffe/zebra cross, tapirs, piranhas, koala bears (the only ones in France and all spaced out on eucalyptus), coral reef fish, manatees, otters, rhinoceros (white and Indian), tree kangaroos, meerkats (hooray!) and raccoons. The penguins were probably our favourite. They had an enormous swimming area, which was glass sided on the lower end. This was amazing. We spent hours watching them dart through the water after fish at feeding time, and then bob around once that was over. We could have watched them forever.

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Then there was the spectacle. We got to the allotted spot, the sea lion arena, quarter of an hour early, and it was already nearly full. By three it was jam-packed. For the next hour we were mesmerised, first by the rapaces (birds of prey), who were stunningly beautiful as they soared around above us, and then by the sealions. The big male, King, was the star, but all the sealions who performed were brilliant. I haven’t a clue how you train a sealion. We have never managed to train our dog Nessie beyond ‘sit’ and ‘stay’, so how you teach a sealion to balance a ball on its nose, fetch a rubber ring to rescue the trainer who’d fallen in, and clap or balance on their flippers, well, who knows. The sealion display wasn’t tacky ot too exploitative. The animals were clearly loving every minute and it was a fantastic way to appreciate just how intelligent they are.

White tigers - photo from Beauval website

The tropical serre (greenhouse) was excellent. It was hot and steamy with waterfalls, walkways through the trees, and a huge tank with manatees and stunning jungle fish swimming lazily around. A tiny monkey scampered out of a tree onto the bridge in front of us, looked at us, and then scampered back. Magical!

Our last port of call was the Chinese/Asian area. The deco was a tad over the top with Chinese statues and lanterns everywhere, but a lot of work had been put into it and it was atmospheric. We saw the snow leopard and the fisher cats, the stars of that section. But I enjoyed every single animal we saw.

During our visit we’d seen the penguins, gorillas, elephants and raccoons being fed. The zoo lays on plenty of such attractions during the day. It really is a very well-run outfit.

The zoo is well laid out, with plenty of cafés, loos and benches. When we can afford it, we’ll definitely go back!