Visiting Zoo De La Palmyre: Royan, France

The town of Royan, France, is located north of Bordeaux, near La Rochelle, on the west coast of the country. It is known as a seaside resort town, with beaches stretching in both directions, and is centrally located for touring vineyards, shopping, cultural activities, and the many surrounding communities.  There are many accommodation options in the area, including a Club Med Resort.

We traveled on the shoulder season, so most of the tourist stops were just opening, and the ‘resort feeling’ of the town was not in full swing.  A stop at the tourist information centre in town was our first stop, where we were told that the highlight of the area was Zoo De La Palmyre, home to over 1600 animals.

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Entry fees were reasonable in comparison to other large zoos – 17 Euros for an adult, and 13 Euros for children aged 3 through 12.

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Unlike other zoos in North America, the animals at La Palmyre were far more free to roam. The pens were large and natural-looking, and there was a notable lack of glass walls, high fences, and warning signs. European attractions in general are less concerned with warning visitors about their safety, and more reliant on the common sense of tourists.

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Because of the lack of high walls and fencing, the giraffes are able to get up close and personal with visitors!

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While some zoo-goers like to think of feeding hour as prime visiting time, we (completely accidentally) arrived during… mating season. Elephants and ostriches and rhinos – oh my! Not for the faint of heart.

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When we visited, we got hand stamps at the entry, and were permitted to exit the zoo throughout the day for coffee breaks, or to have lunch in the town, and then to return without charge to the zoo. This was one of the best arrangements for this; in most zoos, museums and other attractions, the food is over-priced and less than delicious. Allowing visitors to leave and return solved this, as there are many cafes in Royan which offer a better meal and greater cultural experience.

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As Canadians, French is not a complete foreign language, but for those non-French speaking travellers, the zoo is relatively bilingual, and you shouldn’t have any trouble with entry, or learning about the animals and their habitats.

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The zoo is a 6 minute drive from the Club Med Resort, and a 5-10 minute drive from camping parks for tents and trailers.

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Opening hours and entry prices for Zoo De La Palmyre are listed (in English) on their website here, along with times for the sea lion and parrot shows.

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Top Five Ways to Save in Paris

There are so many ways to break the bank while in Paris, why not give your wallet some time off and enjoy these cheaper options, while still getting the best of this city?

(1) Accommodation

Sure, there are amazing places to stay in Paris, and there are even less-than-amazing places that can still cost a small fortune. By opting for a week in Paris, the rates on Airbnb can be reasonable, especially for two. For just over $250CDN we had ourselves a room. This is not luxury accommodation, and the apartment was teeny tiny, shared with a Parisian business student. But remember – Paris is not where you come to stay inside. If you can get a place with a fridge and a hot plate or microwave, you’ll be able to cook, saving big on food costs.

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(2) Museums

If you haven’t seen enough art in your life, by all means check out some of the many galleries in Paris. If you’re like us, though, maybe one is enough. Some Paris museums and galleries are free all day, all the time, like author Victor Hugo’s house, or the Musée Curie (Institut du Radium), home to Marie Curie’s laboratory and chemistry lab. In the off season (Oct. 1-Mar. 31), the Louvre offers free entry on the first Sunday of the month. The Musée d’Orsay is open for free the first Sunday of the month, all year round. A whole list of free entry times for Paris museums and galleries is availablehere.

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If you want to get inside the Louvre but are not loving the massive line, try entering via the Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre Metro stop. You may need a Metro ticket to get in, but it’s much cheaper than the entrance fee for the gallery. Once inside, there is a beautiful tiled mall leading to the museum, and you are able to see some art, purchase postcards and people-watch from indoors.

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The Pompidou Centre is also accessible without paying a cent, and although you won’t be able to view any of the exhibits, the building itself is fascinating (all of the internal workings are on the outside of the structure, colour coded for plumbing, electricity, etc.). The gift shop is full of interesting books and home decor, you can see some art in the lobby. The grounds outside are often filled with buskers, and just around the corner is a little music themed water feature.

(3) Restaurant meals

Main entrées in Paris restaurants can be a huge drain on finances. Not that they aren’t delicious, and if you’re feeling flush, by all means eat away. But if you’re feeling strapped, skip the entrée, and go straight for shared appetizers. Oeuf mayonnaise (hard boiled eggs with French mayo), soupe à l’oignon (French onion soup), salads, and other specialties are all a fraction of the cost of a main dish, and perfect for sharing. Bread is often included with the meal, and coffee at a restaurant is a special treat, so sharing starters saves not only money, but room for dessert.

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Our favourite stopping place is L’As du Fallafel at on Rue des Rosiers, in the Marais. The falafels are excellent, and if you eat in, not only is it super speedy, but the atmosphere is really something to see. We took our dinner to go – even though it was raining – and ate them under a tent at a market. The falafels are massive, so sharing is definitely possible. Vegetarian friendly! Of course, picnicking is always an option, either in your AirBnB as we did, or in one of the many parks of Paris.

(4) Eiffel Tower

For me, the Eiffel Tower is no match for the Arc de Triomphe. The view isn’t as good, the crowds are bigger, and the touristy-ness doesn’t do it for me. But if it’s on the top of your list, save by taking the stairs the first two floors, visit at the end of the day as the sun goes down, and really make sure you want to go all the way to the top (not for those who are remotely afraid of heights).

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Once you’re up, take your time. There is no limit on how long you can stay, and make sure to ask a fellow tourist to take your photo. Sure, selfie sticks are great, but if you’ve gone all the way up, get a proper photo. Seriously.

(5) Souvenirs

The entrepreneurial Parisians would love to sell all you English tourists cheap souvenirs for triple their worth. Instead of indulging in a plastic Eiffel Tower model, try grocery stores for chocolate, funny snacks, and drink mixes to bring back (check your customs policies first – usually animal products, fruit and veg, and other related items are not allowed back into your home country). The department store Monoprix has everything from groceries to clothing to colouring books and stationary, and for kids especially has loads of fun activities to entertain on the plane, and they are guaranteed to be different from what you’d see at home. Outside of the touristy neighbourhoods, dollar stores are common, and have similar offerings, perfect for bringing back for a large group of family or friends.

Check out these five things to splurge on while in Paris here!

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The Five Best Things to Splurge on in Paris

Oh Paris. As one of the most beautiful, most visited, and possibly most expensive cities in the world, budget travellers beware. For most voyagers hitting Europe for the first time, Paris is almost always on the bucket list, but is a surefire way to blow the budget. But really, if there was a city in which to go a little overboard, I’d choose Paris any day. Some things are just worth splurging on.

(1) Delis, bakeries, and grocery stores

We bought croissants at our local bakery every morning. Expensive? A little. Truly Parisian and well worth it? Definitely. Bakeries are a destination in themselves. Children will love all the intricate delicacies, and the staff are always happy to let you practice your French. If you stay in one place long enough, the owner may even become a new friend. Grocery stores are a must for us. Delis and small groceries can tell you so  much about a culture and how a country feels about food. We always pick up some kind of cheese, locally made jam, coffee, and fruit to have in our room for midnight snacks and breakfast.

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We had dinner in a couple of nights, with food we got at the grocery, and no need to cook. Yogurt, macarons, bread and cheese, fruit and veg… save on the restaurant, and enjoy the grocery store. Bonus- pick up a cheap bottle of French wine at the same grocer!

(2) Metro tickets, and transport

Transportation, depending on your budget, can look like a splurge or a save. For us, it was a bit of both. The temptation when traveling on a strict budget, is to not purchase any extras, including Metro tickets. However, the alternative to this is to splurge on taxis to and from the airport, and day trips on pricey trains out of the city. We compromised, and went with the RER (B-line) train to city centre (saving on the cab) and purchased a book of 20 Metro tickets to last us the week. The kiosks from which you buy tickets are in both French and English, the airport staff are friendly if you get really confused, and the RER lines connect to the regular Paris Metro so if you happen to find yourself in a summer rainstorm, you can transfer lines without going outside. Trips on the RER B are included in a Pass Navigo or Paris Visite Metro pass.

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Having the freedom to take the Metro anywhere, at any time, saving hours of walking from destination to destination, is well worth the expense. Many of the Metro stations should be destinations in themselves, covered with art or mosaic tile, filled with musicians, and giving you a taste of Parisian life you would surely miss by staying above ground. Don’t forget to keep your ticket with you until you exit the station completely. Some stations require you to reenter the same ticket to exit.

(3) Arc de Triomphe

Yes, that’s a lot of stairs to climb and yes, that does seem like a lot of money just to climb all those stairs (5 euro each for students with valid student ID, or 8 euro for adults, children 17 and under are free!) but the view is worth it. Not only can you approach via the Champs-Élysées, where the window shopping is spectacular, but once you reach the top, just watching the traffic is amusing.

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The Arc de Triomphe is located in the centre of Paris, with all the districts or arrondissements branching out from it. The traffic moves around the traffic circle in what really does look like no sense of order. The honking horns at rush hour can be deafening. But if you have a poor sense of direction after wandering the city for a few days, the whole geography will become clear. It can get crowded, and very hot, so choose your time of day wisely. Every day at 6:30pm the torch at the base of the Arc de Triomphe is rekindled to honour the unknown French soldier lost during World War I. Often, veterans come to lay wreaths, so if you time your visit right, you might get a slice of history along with your stunning view.

(4) Day Trips

To me, there is nothing better than getting out of the city for a day. Try Monet’s gardens, the Palais Versailles, or just pick a small town at random and hop on the train. It may be a bit of a pricey venture, but you’ll see so much more France once you leave the city. We didn’t get to do this on our last trip, and really missed it.

(5) Cafés

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Sit on a patio, or in those wicker chairs on the street. Watch the people. And go all out on a coffee. Afternoon coffee is not the most expensive purchase you’ll make, nor is it the cheapest. But it is possibly the most Parisian (and potentially cliché) thing you can do. While you’re at it, have dessert, or really savour the little chocolate that comes with the café au lait.