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Top zoos & aquariums in France

Where to find added drama on holiday

While zoos (and aquariums) have long been favoured excursions for generations of holiday makers, they are not without controversy.

It’s generally accepted that if a zoo is keeping animals safely and humanely in order to help preserve the species then that is a good thing and morally acceptable. This does of course raise problems of ensuring a varied gene pool for future population growth and the issue of returning animals to the wild. 

Suffice to say, a good zoo will balance education, research and welfare, while at the same time providing enjoyment and interest to paying customers whose cash will assist the long-term protection of the animals.

France has some stand out zoos and aquariums where conservation goes hand in hand with tourism.

La Palmyre Zoo, Royan

La Palmyre Zoo Royan, Charente-Maritime

Founded in 1966 and attracting 700,000 visitors each year, this is an impressive zoo covering over 40 acres of the Coubre pine forest on the Atlantic coast. There are some 1600 animals from 115 species to admire, including Asian elephants, polar bears, orangutans, lemurs, flamingos and zebras.

A number of unique habitats have been developed, reflecting the animals’ natural surroundings and providing for their respective needs. Sign posting is very good and it’s easy to wander round enjoying the different theme to each of the landscapes.

La Palmyre zoo, like many, has an excellent reputation for its animal conservation work.

La Rochelle Aquarium

La Rochelle Aquarium Charente-Maritime

This is one of Europe’s largest aquariums with 3 million litres of sea water (half of which is devoted to the shark tanks!), and over 70 aquaria. Home to over 12,000 creatures it’s set beside the old harbour in a wonderful position in the town and is now the number one attraction of the Charente-Maritime.

On arrival you descend in a ‘submarine’ and begin your underwater journey. There’s plenty to see, with a large open-ocean tank for sharks and rays (and walk-through tunnel), jungle zone with piranhas and the daintier but no less fascinating sea horses and swaying jellyfish. Vast panoramic viewing windows allow you to feel really immersed (inevitable pun intended)

Zoo Parc de Beauval

Zoo Parc de Beauval Near Blois, Loire Valley 

Regarded by many as France’s most beautiful zoo, this is certainly one of the largest. Aside from the usual suspects, there are some unusual creatures: white lions, white tigers, manatees, hippos and giant pandas (the only ones in France) are all big draws. The African Savannah zone is home to wildebeest, giraffe, rhinos and more. 

The Australian House offers a rare chance in Europe to see koalas, as well as red kangaroos and wallabies.

The Big Cats area includes snow leopard, jaguar, lions and pumas, while the Gorilla Complex provides the necessary habitat for a fascinating gorilla family.

Cerza Safari Park

Cerza Safari Park Near Le Havre, Normandy 

South of La Havre, this safari park enjoys a setting beside a pleasant lake and has two walking trails so you can get to see up close some of the world’s most fascinating animals. The zoo ‘train’ is another means of travel around the park. Along the way you’ll encounter Indian rhinos, giraffe, tigers, dwarf kangaroos, gazelles and energetic gibbons.

La Fleche Zoo Safari lodge

La Fleche Zoo La Fleche, Pays de Loir

Dating from 1946, this is a venerable zoo and home to a variety of animals: lions, tigers, elephants, black panthers, grizzly bears, hippos, polar bears and much more. 

It’s well laid out with discrete viewing windows in places, allowing you to get close  but without being overly intrusive on the animals. There are underwater windows for otters, penguins and sea lions.

Zoo de Doué

Zoo de Doué Doué-la-Fontaine, near Saumur 

Set in an old quarry in the heart of the Loire Valley, this is the only troglodyte zoo in the world, with tunnels and waterfalls adding to the sense of drama as you wander.

Vallée des Singes Romagne, south of Poitiers 

Monkeys, apes and gorillas in an open environment

Reserve Africaine de Sigéan

Nausicaa, National Sea Centre Boulogne 

More than simply an aquarium, this is a large establishment dedicated to conserving marine life. With over 50 aquariums and 36,000 sea creatures there’s plenty to see. 

Reserve Africaine de Sigéan Near Perpignan, Languedoc

A popular reserve with lions, bears, zebras, elephants, alligators and more. A drive-through safari section is always a hit, followed by a walking trail to view different animals.

Mulhouse Zoological Park

Zoo de Pont Scorff Morbihan, southern Brittany

With lions, cheetah, snow leopard and others, this is a big cat paradise. Other creatures include hippos, giraffes, wolves and lemurs so there is plenty for everyone.

Mulhouse Zoological Park Mulhouse, Alsace 

An interesting zoo, being also a noted park and listed by the French Ministry of Culture as being one of the Remarkable Gardens of France. Spring brings a wonderful show of some 400 kinds of iris and hundreds of dahlias in summer with trees in fantastical shapes. Bears, lion, tigers are dramatic residents, as is the red ibis – a startlingly vibrant, and completely red, bird.