As we approach the mysterious Toussaint holiday, during which the veil between worlds is said to be at its thinnest, it may well be time to inject a little Disney into your life, particularly if you are in the company of youngsters enjoying the late season school break.
Did you know that France has the only theme park in Europe dedicated to biodiversity?
Cornwall’s Eden Project on steroids
Terra Botanica lies to the north of Angers on the old Capucins golf course and the aerodrome of Angers-Avrillé.
The scheme for the park was hatched as early as 1998 and the grounds open to the public now extend to over 12 hectares of landscaped gardens.
The attraction includes 12,000 metres square of greenhouses displaying a variety of plant communities, from arid zone to tropical rainforest, just as you’d expect of a plan that seems to be a version of Cornwall’s Eden Project – only on steroids.
There is a Disney twinkle at Terra Botanica
The Societé Sferg-Coteba, a multi-disciplinary association of companies responsible for the practical implementation of Terra Botanica from its earliest days in 2000, was also fittingly responsible for the creation of the grounds at Euro Disney and the Astérix Park.
And yes, the Disney twinkle may be there, but the park’s vision has always been to showcase the importance of the plant world to our human experience of planet Earth, as well as to emphasise the importance of sustainability.
An interesting subplot is the successful underlining of King René of Anjou’s legacy in bringing plants from the Mediterranean region up to the Maine-et-Loire basin.
Four plant-themed ‘universes’
Although the attraction, which does look very much as if it genuinely offers something for every age group, experienced a faltering start when it was officially opened in April 2010, business seems to be steadily booming now.
From 2010 Terra Botanica has offered what it calls four plant-themed ‘universes’.
‘The Great Explorations’ features the story of the plant explorers in previous centuries, with special focus on both the Butterfly House and the Tropical House, one of the largest in Europe.
‘The Unusual Plant’ takes an inside look at plant curiosities, such as carnivorous plants and the greenhouses of climate extremes: look out for the Cold Greenhouse with a fabulous wall of ice and the Mist Greenhouse, home to over 2000 species of orchids.
‘The Origins of Life’ tells the story of the ancient world of plants at the time of the dinosaurs.
The fourth universe, ‘Escapade in Anjou’, has a special focus on the old roses brought by King René of Anjou from Provence – a bit late for roses this year, but it may tempt you to make a repeat visit next June?
Ride in a walnut shell or hot air balloon
Each ‘universe’ offers a variety of pedagogical games and activities, as well as enticing you to use some unique methods of transport – if this was a fun park, you’d call them ‘rides’!
‘Journey in a Nutshell’ allows you to view the park as if you were travelling in a huge walnut shell – move yourself around, pedal-car fashion, on a set of rails built up close to the forest canopy.
Or you could choose a tour of the whole site on a miniature train (‘Little Train of Plants’), before rising up in a hot air balloon 150m above the grounds (‘Terra from the Sky’).
Environmentally friendly ideas
The true gardeners amongst us will have much to learn from the ‘Water-Free Garden’, encountering plantings that haven’t been watered by hand in over four years, for this is an experimental ornamental garden that aims to test the plants that are bound to feature in our future landscapes.
The ‘Potager’ will showcase extensive collections of pumpkins, squashes, courgettes and tomatoes in October – as well as increasingly popular practices like permaculture and waste recycling.
The ‘Smart Garden’ is, in effect, an educational game that will lead anyone of any age to discover the ‘smartest’ and most environmentally friendly techniques for the modern plot.
Photo: Autumnal colours at only theme park in Europe dedicated to biodiversity; Credit: Thierry Huguenin
Fifth ‘universe’ in the treetops
The year 2021 saw the addition of a fifth ‘universe’, the 7,000sq-metre ‘Mysteries of the Forest’, hidden at the heart of a 20-hectare wood, and allowing visitors to experience the secrets of both the forest floor and the forest canopy by means of child-safe walkways.
Follow your route along the ‘Giants’ Causeway’ – several metres high in the tree canopy – and you will encounter giants symbolising aspects of forest life, such as Robur the Strong (for the mighty oak tree), Mycena the Sweet (for the prolific fungal growths and subterranean connections) and Lokas the Mischievous (for the giant ‘spirit’ or ‘realm’ of the forest).
Fly like a bird with virtual reality
April 2023 saw a new experience added to ‘Mysteries of the Forest’. Thanks to the ‘Canopy of Birds’, you can ‘fly’ – virtually, of course – through the forest canopy, while wearing the wings of a bird.
Or climb up into the 15-metre observation tower to explore an ingenious system of ziplines, walkways and slides and experience the home of birds in real time.
Visit at night when the plants glow
With the introduction of ‘Terra Nocta’ in 2022, the park was open for evening exploration, accompanied by an astonishing sound and light show featuring hundreds of spectacularly illuminated plants and trees, at the heart of which lies the mythical World Tree.
Terra Botanica teamed up with an innovative young designer, Sophie Humbert, the director of a start-up company called L’Aglaé, which ambitiously researched and created a new kind of eco-responsible night-time lighting it hopes will be used increasingly for outdoor events and cityscapes.
It consists of a nutritive serum – biodegradable and without genetic modification involved – that is taken up by plant roots so that their veins glow in the dark in a range of colours.
Photo: Light and sounds show uses illuminated plants and trees; Credit: Terra Botanica
Halloween and pumpkin walks
The nocturnal walk coincides with the Fête d’Automne and this year, with a special circus theme, you can enjoy not only the autumn colours of the forest, but also the sight of thousands of pumpkins decorating the walkways.
In honour of the spookiest season, experience flying skeletons swooping from the trees and watch a special 4D version of the film Dracula!
Terra Botanica (route d’Epinard, 49000 Angers) is open weekends in October from 10am to 6pm and every day during the Toussaint holiday (21 October to 5 November); Terra Nocta starts at 8pm.
Pre-order your tickets online: dated tickets €18.50 for adults and €15.50 for children (special family rates). Terra Nocta costs an additional €11 for adults, €9 for children.