By Matthew Head,
A small town in the Loire Valley, Doue la Fontaine is packed with interesting surprises you might not expect. Here’s a good guide to what to see and do.
The town of Doue la Fontaine isn’t much to look at on first glance. It’s town centre isn’t perhaps the most attractive, although there is a very good market here every Monday. Also in the summer months there’s always an attractive and innovative floral display in the small car park in front of the church, just off the Rue des Fontaines. Last time I went it included a working water wheel and all sorts, and it stands as a good testament to the genuine pride the French have in the appearance of their towns.
The town has a long history, and in medieval times it was home to the oldest inhabited Keep in France, although sadly the majority of these medieval remains have long since been lost. Some of the medieval arches can be seen at the entrance to the main pedestrianized street, just off the Rue Foulon. They look at bit out of place now, as most of Doue’s buildings are much more modern in style. There’s also a very nice tearoom on the Rue des Halles, just off the main pedestrian street called Cafe de la Rose, which is usually empty but I can assure you does excellent cake!
The name of the aforementioned tearoom gives us a nice link into Doue’s first set of attractions I’m going to mention – the rose parks. Doue is absolutely rose mad – there are roses in the shops, metal roses hanging from the street lamps, rose carvings in the pavements, roses everywhere. That’s because the town has a long history of growing them, and there are two attractions in the town which are well worth a visit. Firstly is the Chemin de la Rose – a 14 hectare park with over 13000 roses growing happily in the ground. It’s 6 euros 50 a pop to get in for an adult, which isn’t bad at all considering how beautiful it is. Obviously it’s best to visit in the summer months when the roses are actually out, otherwise it’s not really worth it. The other main rose based attraction is the Ferme d’Antan – Maison de la Rose.
This, in my view, in perhaps the better attraction to pick out of the two if you only want to do one and if you like roses but you’re not rose crazy. That’s mostly because this place has got a lot more going on. It’s been empty both times I’ve visited, but like the cafe from earlier don’t let that put you off. It’s a little rough around the edges but I think that just adds to the charm. There’s a sizable collection of roses here, and if you go out of season you’ll get a discount on your entry which is nice. I went in August once and got the discount, but a lot of the roses were still blooming and smelling lovely, so it’s a good bargain if you do it that way.
There are peacocks roaming about, as well as troglodyte houses to explore in the rocks, traditional french farm machines to look at and a nice number of farm and domestic animals to see and stroke. When I last went there were pigs, donkeys, chickens, geese, guinea pigs, rabbits, horses and goats (look out for the goat with the little bell on its collar! Adorable!) And there’s a lovely gift shop packed with rose-themed goods.
This is it. This is, beyond doubt, one of the best tourist attractions I have ever been to. The Zoo at Doue – so good I went there five times – is world famous, and quite rightly so. The setting is a series of quarry holes and caves, but the people who created this place have gone to every effort to transport you to far away places around the globe. The enclosures for the animals and the bits that you walk in are so well merged that you’ll wonder whether there are actually any enclosures there or not. There are vast forests of lush bamboo and other jungle vegetation, mist machines and birdcall sounds to give that authentic jungle feel, and waterfalls and streams criss-crossing your path all over the place.
I cannot emphasize how aesthetically pleasing this place is, and even better, how good it is for the animals here. Here the animals truly are royalty. Every species has an enclosure that as closely as possible replicates their habitat. Some of my favorite enclosures are the ones set in the African plains – wide open spaces with realistic looking watering holes. The rhino and giraffe and zebra that live in these enclosures couldn’t look more at home.
There’s an African village selling tribal wares, and a petting zoo for the youngsters and big kids alike. What’s also great are the enclosures where there aren’t any barriers at all – all that separates you from the flamingo is a foot high fence, and all that keeps the monkeys in is about 6 foot of water surrounding their island – no fences or cages at all. Brilliant! Of course, this attraction does get very busy in peak periods, and it seems to be pretty busy off peak too. It’s not uncommon to drive along the road and see a queue down the street to get in, so leave early or if possible plan your holiday at a time when the kids are still at school.
There is a good restaurant area in the zoo – very clean and very authentic looking, but again it gets very busy, and the staff seem to get a little forgetful under the stress. My advice is to either take a packed lunch, or eat once you’ve finished at the little Italian place which is literally just next door to the zoo and is very good. Toilets are places nicely throughout the zoo, as are little ice cream and drinks stands. Admission is quite high at 17 euro 50 for an adult, but do bear in mind how much there is to see and do. It will be well worth it.
Doue la Fontaine represents a brilliant day out, if not two days – you could easily spend the best part of a day at the zoo. Don’t be put off by the rather bland town centre – there is a wealth of things to do (more than I’ve mentioned here,) if you just have a bit of a poke around.