Parc Animalier de Sainte-Croix – at the hearth of European Nature

Parc Animalier de Sainte-Croix – at the hearth of European Nature

Since we moved to Germany we have been a lot in touch with nature.

Maybe it is because we live on the edges of a luxurious forest in the Taunus or probably we needed to find again our inner balance after so many years spent in a concrete jungle.

In any case, without us really being 100% aware, we seem to be on a path to find out and re-discover the European natural environment as it was before humans started converting forests into cities and hunted wildlife only to protect their farms or for the fun of hunting.

It is clear that such pristine natural environment would be better enjoyed by venturing the real wild. However, this is not always possible due to a combination of lack of time but also because these natural environments are shrinking more and more and almost becoming unavailable – which is really sad and worrying at the same time. As an example, nowadays there are only 500/600 wolves in the whole of France and they are just extremely skewed in some alpine territories – as a consequence they are extremely hard to spot. In Germany we have only 150 wild wolves and I will stop the statistics here but you probably got the point.

This is why, our need to better understand European natural environment passed also by the amazing visit of Parc Animalier de Sainte-Croix in France Rhodes.

In this post, we will give you some tips about:

What is the Park about and how it is structured

The best words to define Parc de Sainte Croix are probably conservation and education.

The park’s main intent is to conserve some endangered species (like the wolves, bears and lynxes) and also provide a real-life education on how to protect nature and respect it. Lynxes for example are taken in the park and although they do not enjoy a very wide area to stay they are cured and re-educated to be then released in the wild.

As you can see from the map below (courtesy of the park’s website) the park is organized in different areas which correspond to different paths you can take to explore it depending on the animals you want to see:

Plan of the park – courtesy of http://www.parcsaintecroix.com

The BLUE path takes you to discovering mainly the deers, the brown bears, the foxes and the lynxes. The blue path is particularly nice because it also walks by an open area where storks have their nests and it offers a great opportunity to watch them very close by. If you are also lucky while walking around the blue path, you can also see birds in the ponds. We did not see many but to be honest we did not even stop to watch carefully if any interesting bird could have been observed. The estimated time to go through the blue path with appropriate photo opportunities is 3 hours.

The GREEN path walks you through the wolfes (grey, arctic and black). The estimated time for going through the green path by taking pictures is about 2 hours. In my view this is the main attraction of the park.

The RED path is worth especially for walking by the red pandas and lemures. Estimated time for walking by the red path is 1 hour and 30 minute (even including photo opportunities). This is probably the part of the park we liked (slightly) less. Read more at this link.

The YELLOW area is where a country side farm is reproduced – both in terms of set-up and farming all related typical farm animals (donkeys, horses, cocks, rabbits, pigs, etc). Unless you have very young/small kids we do not recommend to spend significant time in the yellow area – there are not many photo opportunities in this area. In any case you will pass through it almost forcefully to enter and leave the park so you might have a glimpse.

The ORANGE path is the new world. It was still work in progress at the time of our visit and you can read more about it at this section of the article.

To take the full tour of the park you need to plan for a full day (unless you sleep in the park). In order not to rush along the various photo opportunities it is recommended to enter the park at the very opening time.

The park is also equipped with two restaurants facilities. One is located close to the entrance while the other is just in the area of the wolves inside the green path. If you are looking for a bite in the park we definitively recommend this second restaurant in the green area (see picture) which is overlooking the arctic wolves.

Postcards from the park

I hope you will enjoy this gallery of pictures taken during our visit. Please note all pictures are copyrighted:

These are definitively the top three experiences we will bring in our hearth forever:

Sleep in the park

We absolutely recommend sleeping in the park.

More importantly we recommend choosing the lodges inside the areas where wolves are. This is an amazing experience and – in full honesty – this is also why we wanted to visit the park.

The lodge we stayed is part of the group of lodges called Hameau des Loups. They are among the newest lodges opened in the park so far.

These lodges are located at the hearth of the area where grey wolves are.

They are very premium, built in top natural materials and they are extremely comfortable. They are equipped with immense windows overlooking the natural environment of the grey wolves.

This is the reason why you really have the feeling of being part of the wolves’ pack. The wolves are coming all around the lodge fairly frequently and it is amazing to see them playing around, chasing each other or just resting in front of your windows – at very close distance.

The night itself has been one of the most incredible experiences of all for two main reasons:

  • the huge windows have no curtains – as such, when sleeping at night you really have the feeling of sleeping in the forest. When we stayed at the park, it was also a full moon night and when we woke up during the night – we could see the forest outside of the window illuminated by the moon rays and that was quite magical. Not having curtains also means that you naturally wake up early in the morning. However, this is a real gift because it is typically when wolves are mostly active. This is what the kids also enjoyed because they could see the wolves as they would not have imagined.
  • during the night you can hear the wolves hauling – this was terrific. Listening to wolves hauling during the night is an amazing experience we will never forget (especially the kids).

Sleeping in these lodges clearly offers views and photo spots for the wolves that are not accessible from anywhere else in the park and it also offers the opportunity to observe the social life of wolves up close.

The service in the lodges is also very premium, the dinner is served in the lodge and it only requires a little bit of warming up in the microwave. Overall, it is also very good quality and enjoyable. The beers, juices and water are also included in the price while for wine there is an extra charge.

The breakfast is served in the morning and left outside the lodge door. The breakfast is also very complete. The lodges are also equipped with Nespresso machines in case you need coffee to fully wake up in the morning.

Please find below some additional pictures of the wonderful lodges.

It is also fair to say that the experience is also quite expensive. For one night in full board we spent € 750 for the four of us. However, the experience is definitively worth it.

Wander in the park outside opening times

Especially if you go in the park during Winter opening – or more in general if you end up sleeping in the park – you will have the chance to wander around the park basically on your own.

You can enjoy seeing animals at unusual hours.

This is particularly relevant because if you are up to photography you can enjoy couple of shots of wolves at the blue hour at sunset or dawn.

Eat a cricket!

The experience in the park will also be remembered because we ate dried crickets.

Yes you read it right, we ate a real cricket. This was kindly offered by our ranger who was suggesting that we consume too much food we actually do not need and we are about to destroy an entire eco-system for that. Eating crickets and insects is actually a very good way to get the proteins and nutrition elements we need while avoiding having a negative impact on environment. It requires some leap of faith but I am also convinced it helps. I am sure this will be the food of the future.

The cricket was actually very good, tasty and….crispy!

The whole experience in the park has been amazing.

Honestly, we truly believe that the park would be even better without the red area/red path.

We did not fully understand why to mix lemures and gibbons with a very typical mittel-European animal and natural environment. This seemed to us a bit out of context and gave to the park a little bit more the zoo feeling rather than the natural park feeling.

To be clear, this natural park feeling is maintained in all other areas, it just drops in the red zone.

In addition, i also found the aviaries where some of the birds where kept very very small (even bird of preys like owls were in relatively small aviaries). Also this bit of the park gave too much the zoo feeling which the park does not deserve.

Obviously this is to our personal taste and we respect the work that the park does also with these animals and we are absolutely confident that the staff in the park gives to all animals the vital space they deserve to live absolutely in line with recent scientific requirements.

Organize your visit

The park is open almost all year round. It is normally completely closed between November / December.

What’s important to know when planning your visit is that the park has two opening seasons.

  • Winter opening (normally January through end of March): during the winter opening the park is only open to visitors who are spending the night in the park in one of the lodges.
  • Summer opening (from April till October): the park is basically open to everyone – both people who are spending the night in the park but also daily visitors.

The opening times of the park during the day are longer during Summer opening and shorter during Winter opening.

Choosing to go for Winter or Summer opening could have quite a significant impact on the number of people you will be sharing your experience with.

We decided to go at the end of the Winter opening (end of March) and I would definitively recommend this choice. The park was basically only for us and another dozen visitors. In addition we also enjoyed, included in the package, a private guided tour of the park by a very skilled and knowledgeable ranger. The only negative was that the ranger was only French speaking and the kids could not really understand a lot of what he said despite my best efforts to go for simultaneous translation.

The small negative of going for the Winter opening is that you will not see a lot of deers (at least we did not see them during our visit).

Still – if you like photography – you will have all the time and space of the world to take the pictures you like without many people bumping into you.

If you plan to sleep in the park please also make sure you book very in advance. The park only has only 18 lodges and they get booked very fast for the entire year especially for the week ends. So plan your trip well in advance to make sure you can really find the date and time you look for.

In any case, we recommend to check the parc website at www.parcsaintecroix.com

More importantly we also recommend you give a call to the park operators to get more details because for example the difference between Winter or Summer opening was not very clear by the website and we better learnt about it after having talked with the park agents.

What’s coming up

At the time in which this article is posted the park is planning to open a new area – called the New World – to reproduce the natural environment of Canada. There will be wonderful new lodges and the New World will host the north American black bears, coyotes and other wildlife species from that part of the world.

While this might sound as a contradiction to the willingness of reproducing the European natural environment in reality, this is not really opposite to the intent. What the park wants to show is actually the fact that in different parts of the world there are wildlife species that are in fact similar to each other. So they basically want to show the power of the evolution theory by Charles Darwin by demonstrating that brown bears are close relatives of black bears.

For what we could observe – although still work in progress – this is going to be a fantastic addition to the park both in terms of wildlife but also in terms of lodges.

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