The 🦌 Parc Animalier de Merlet is perched at 1563m, about 600m above the village of 🏔 Les Houches. It is home to around 80 animals that roam freely within the boundaries of the park: 🦌 chamois, bouquetins (ibex), deer, mouflons, marmottes . . . and even the odd 🦙 llama
[ ⇒ see here for more information about the animals that live here ]
A little history . . .
The animal park was opened in 1968, the idea of local Chamoniard Philippe Cachat, with the aim of conserving the local “patrimoine” and creating a home for 🦌 indigenous animals, and today it boasts 🌿 21 hectares of green pastures, rocks and 🌲 spruce trees. It also commands exceptional 🏔 views of the Mont-Blanc massif!
MBFF’s tips for a family visit to Le Parc de Merlet
We have had some lovely family excursions to the 🦌 Parc de Merlet (it is a great place to take family & friends who come to visit!) and our boys’ local school makes regular pedagogical visits. Here are the top tips that MBFF has learned over the years . . .
🗓 time of day / 🌷 time of year to visit – here are some tips:
- 🌷 a visit early in springtime could well reward you with some encounters with baby animals!
- ☀️ hot summer period – I would recommend that you aim to visit as early in the day / or as late in the day as possible . . . as well as easier 🚗 parking (as you will miss the crowds), you are much more likely to have encounters with the animals (in the morning, my tip would also be to first head upwards into the 🌲 forest, as the animals are often to be found in the shade of woods) / on ☀️ hot summer days, the animals will generally be resting in the cool shade of the 🌲 forest, becoming more active in the grassy areas again in the late afternoon . . .
- the marmottes are easier to spot in the late afternoon;
- ⏰ the early bird – if you manage to arrive as the park opens, then you are likely to be rewarded with lots of encounters with animals, and hardly any humans!
Do you see the marmot in the grass behind the boys?
🦌 animal count – just after the entrance to the park is a panel, giving you the news of the day (in springtime, it will announce any baby animals that have been born!). Further up the path, you’ll find a panel giving you the present count of animals in the park!
🧥 dress the part – do check the weather before a visit; at 1500m, the park can still be ❄️ cool in the shade, even on a sunny summer’s day, so do remember a warm top! Equally, for time ☀️ in the sunshine, remember sunhats, suntan lotion and sunglasses! And do wear decent footwear (trainers/hiking boots), as it is a proper hike to and around the park;
🍏 restaurant & picnics – the 🦌 Parc de Merlet has a great restaurant on site: ☕️ Le Balcon de Merlet / and there are 🍏 picnic tables on the path up to the entrance, several in the shade (picnics and food within the park are prohibited, for obvious reasons). On busy days, you would do well to take a picnic blanket with you, incase the tables are all occupied;
👶 buggies – are permitted, but they need to have decent wheels to deal with the terrain; a baby carrier is a good idea, to enable access to the 🌲 upper forest area (Chemin du Haut). The toughest part of the visit is definitely the walk from the car to the entrance of the park! Families with buggies may use the upper car park, closest to the park: 🅿️1.
🧒 for children – for little ones, the park is well-equipped; see section below!
🏔 take time to rest – you will find plenty of benches and seats for reflective chilling in the park. Take the time to sit and observe!
☔️ if it RAINS – there is a salle d’exposition, a good place to escape the wet!
📱 visitor’s guide & smartphone app – there is a letter-coded visit around the park, and a Smartphone application for your visit / see here;
🐶 dogs – are NOT allowed, though there is a small kennel at the entrance to the park (sidenote: if there is a dog in this kennel, DO NOT stroke it! A boy on my son’s school trip did this and ended up heading to the hospital rather than inside the park with his chums!);
🅿 parking – for easier parking, especially during the busy summer holidays, I would recommend that you aim to visit ⏰ as early in the day (or as late in the day!) as possible; this way, if you have small children, you will be able to park closer to the entrance in 🅿️1 (reserved for handicapped and families with buggies parking) and 🅿️2 car parks. If you arrive too late to secure the best parking, and have a buggy/backpack/not great walkers, perhaps ask the driver to drop you closer to the entrance, before he/she heads off to find a spot to park further down the hill, in 🅿️3 or 🅿️4 !
Parcours ludique and children’s acitivites
Children will have a great time at the 🦌 Parc de Merlet; as well as animal-spotting, there is:
- 🗺 a games booklet on sale at the entrance (see here for more information about the 🗺 parcours ludique for children);
- 🏖 a sandpit (sometimes frequented by llamas as seen in the photo below!);
- and activities dotted around the park;
2018 – celebrating 50 years!
In 1968, Philippe Cachat made the old Merlet alpage into an 🦌 animal park . . . and 2018 marked the park’s 50th anniversary! There were new zones added to celebrate this milestone:
- 💤 la zone de silence – an extension to the park of 3000m² to ” la roche à Soupla ” and a new relaxation and silence zone!
- 🏔 spot panoramique – with wooden African seats (made in Merlet!);
- new chalet d’accueil – at the entrance to the park;
💤 la zone de silence: shh, sit and look . . .
The 🦌 Parc de Merlet has lots of special activities to offer over the ☀️ school summer holidays / see agenda for dates:
- 🎨 face-painting on certain days with Mam’zelle Pastel;
- 💤 Siestes Musicales (piano tunes from Anne Gaillard to be enjoyed);
- 🌈 Espace Animation – here you will find free activities for children . . .
We have not yet tried this, but the 🦌 Parc de Merlet offers an opportunity to ❄️ snow-shoe through the grounds with a guide during the snow-covered months . . . this way, you get to meet the animals in a different way / 2h walking / from December until March (depending on snow conditions) / reservations: 06 78 50 03 96 / price: 35€ for adults and 25€ for children / see here for more details;
The 🦌 park, the restaurant and the souvenir shop are open every year from May until the end of September.
🗓 opening hours: in July and August, the park is open from 9.30h until 19h30 / outside of the summer holidays, please check on the website!
🗓 May, June and September – open every day except Monday from 10h to 18h (OPEN on Monday 7th May & Monday 21st May, Pentecost);
[ note for 2021: you are asked to reserve your entrance for weekend visits, public holidays and summer holidays (this is to avoid too many visitors at peak hours) / reservations here ]
💵 price: adults: 8,50€ / children (from 4 to 15 years): 5,50€ / under 4s: FREE! (note: there is now a loyalty card!);
♿️ reduced mobility: see here;
binocular hire: 4€ (ID and deposit required);
🗺 good to know: Livret Guide du Parc & Carnet de Jeux available – 4€ each or 7€ for the two!
🚘 getting there:
- 🏔 HIKE – you can hike to the 🦌 Parc de Merlet (there are several different hiking options), which can make a visit a great part of a family balade. There are also further hikes leading off from the 🦌 Parc de Merlet (like to the Chalets de Chailloux or the Refuge Bellachat);
- 🚞 TRAIN / 🚌 BUS – you can take the train for FREE (with a tourist Carte d’Hôte or a resident’s Carte Gens de Pays from Vallorcine/Servoz) and then from the Gare SNCF Les Houches, the 🦌 Parc de Merlet (as of 2017) organises 🚌 FREE shuttle buses to the animal park;
- 🚗 CAR – if arriving by car, you should take Exit 27 St-Antoine Merlet in Les Houches / you will then cross the 💦 Arve river and head up the winding road for 6km, until you reach the car parks;
🅿 parking: there are FOUR car parks serving the 🦌 Parc de Merlet / there are some disabled parking spots (and for families with buggies) a few hundred metres from the entrance in 🅿️1. 🅿️1 and 🅿️2 car parks are reserved during July and August for families with small children,older family members or handicapped persons / 🅿️3 and 🅿️4, the lowest car parks, will leave you with a 10mins to 30mins walk to the park entrance – which is good to know if you have small children, or if you are with a buggy or with weak walkers! (in this case, I would recommend dropping the reluctant walkers at 🅿️1, where there is a small roundabout, and then parking lower down. There are explanatory pannels on the path up from 🅿️4, so there is some activity!