A trip to France conjures up thoughts of culture, wine, gastronomy and glamour but the natural beauty of the country should not be overlooked.
Ecotourism is becoming more popular in France among travelers seeking to get away from the hustle and bustle to experience nature with as little impact on the environment as possible.
Thorenc Manor and Biological Reserve is located in the Haut-Thorenc region in the South of France, one hour from Nice and Monaco. With over 1800 acres of land surrounding a 16th century fortified manor, it has plenty of natural beauty to observe.
The reserve, run by Dr. Patrice Longour, is committed to the preservation of original and indigenous European wildlife. Visitors have the option to join a safari by foot or a horse-drawn wagon but because there are no barriers between you and the animals you must be with an official guide at all times.
The main species that you will encounter include red deer, European bison, wild boar and the famous Przewalski’s (pronounced sheh-VAHL-skee) horses.
Many believe that Przewalski’s horses are indigenous to France. Horses similar in appearance (thick necks, large heads and stocky girths) are represented in ancient cave paintings at Lascaux and Chavet in south western France but historians and scientist are not in agreement on this point. What is agreed upon is that this species of horse is unique because it is the only wild horse in existence that has never been domesticated.
STAY THE NIGHT
Most of the visitors come for the day but the reserve has several ecological options if you want to stay the night. There are three types accommodations on the property. The 16th century manor house has basic rooms with a traditional Provincial country farmhouse feel.
The Bioclimatic Villa rooms are housed in a recently remodeled chalet-styled building. During the renovation the environmental impact was minimized by the use of local natural or recycled materials and renewable energy. These modern rooms are larger and have beautiful views of the reserve. The restaurant is also located in this building.
The eco-lodges are the best way to experience the reserve. Even though it is more glamping than survival in the wild, they still offer a thrilling sense of adventure.
The five lodges make the least impact on the natural environment. They are made of wood, canvas and stone, which are fully removable and are stored during the winter and reassembled in the spring in a different place from the previous season.
Our “room” had a very comfortable bed, solar powered lights and the complimentary champagne was a nice bonus. Before dinner we kicked back and enjoyed the views shocked that our 10 year-old was inside playing games on the iPad. That did not last long after we announced that a group of Przewalski horses were having an evening stroll right in front of our lodge.
A NIGHT UNDER THE STARS
A tasty cookout dinner is included in the experience and is an excellent opportunity to get to know your guides and the other guests better. While not everyone spoke English we were still able to communicate and had a wonderful night.
The lodges are surrounded by fences so you are in the zoo and the animals can come over and take a look at you whenever they want. For safety reasons, and to ensure that the wild animals stay wild, you cannot leave the enclosure without a guide and should not attempt to approach or feed the animals.
Our evening ended with us gazing at the stars on our deck followed by an early night to bed, with the exception of a middle of the night family outing to the loo because we were all afraid to go alone.
To reduce water consumption and the emission of effluents, each ecolodge has a bathroom with a solar shower and a dry toilet that uses sawdust and wood chips. This was the cleanest outhouse I have ever used.
In the morning we had a light breakfast and a walking tour with the Reserve’s knowledgeable and friendly guides.
Children of all ages are welcome at the reserve but they must follow the rules with respect to the animals. There is a children’s playground near the visitors center that includes a small rock climbing wall and other climbing structures. The restaurant has a children’s lounge where kids can curl up on comfy chair and read or watch TV. In warmer weather there is a small natural pool for the family cool off in.
TIPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL STAY
- When reserving a room send an email requesting a guide that speaks some English and take along a translation app that works offline if you only know a bit of French.
- When finding the Reserve using GPS don’t be confused with Thorenc, which is a small village about 15 minutes away.
- Bring your champagne and an extra bottle of wine to dinner with you and you will be sure to make fast friends.
- Bring warm clothes, even in the summer months it can get quite cold in the evenings and the early mornings.
- We tipped our guides because they were fantastic.