Le Parc de Merlet animal park 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, 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 – a visit early in springtime could well reward you with some encounters with baby animals! / during the really 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, you will miss the crowds and you are much more likely to have encounters with the animals (in the morning, my tip would also be to head upwards into the forest first, as the animals are often to be found in the shade of woods) / the marmottes are easier to spot in the afternoon / 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 . . . / 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!
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 hats, suntan lotion and sunglasses! / wear decent footwear (trainers/hiking boots);
Restaurant/Picnics – the Parc de Merlet has a great restaurant on site – Le Balcon de Mont Blanc / and there are picnic tables outside the entrance (picnics and food within the park are prohibited, for obvious reasons);
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!
For children – for little ones, there is a games booklet on sale at the entrance, a sandpit (sometimes frequented by llamas as seen in the photo below!), and activities dotted around the park / see here for more information about the parcours ludique for children;
If it RAINS – there is a salle d’exposition, a good place to escape the wet!
Smartphone app – there is a new Smartphone application for your visit / see here;
Map – see here for a plan of the parc animalier;
Dogs – are NOT allowed, though there is a small kennel at the entrance to the park;
Parking – for easier parking, especially during the busy summer holidays, I would recommend that you aim to visit as early in the day as possible; this way, if you have small children, you will be able to park closer to the entrance in P1 and P2 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!
*2018 – celebrating 50 years!*
In 1968, Philippe Cachat made the old Merlet alpage into an animal park . . . and 2018 marks the park’s 50th anniversay! There are new zones 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; perfect when you get caught out in the RAIN!
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: «La Montagne et ses secrets» at 14h and «Bois et Cornes» at 15h / see here for more details;
- photo/drawing competition – each week, the team chooses their favourite picture and photo sent in by visitors!
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 from Tuesday 1st May until 20th September 2018:
May, June and September – open every day except Monday from 10h to 18h (OPEN on Monday 7th May & Monday 21st May, Pentecost);
July and August – open every day from 9h30 to 19h30;
Children (from 4 to 15 years): 5€;
Under 4s: FREE!
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 / loyalty card available!*
- 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;
- 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 organises FREE shuttle buses to the animal park (*NEW FOR SUMMER 2017*);
- 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 for 6km until you reach the car parks;
2495 chemin de Merlet
74310, Les Houches
Tel: +33 (0)4 50 53 47 89
Parking: there are FOUR car parks serving the Parc de Merlet / there are some disabled parking spots a few hundred metres from the entrance in P1 / P1 and P2 car parks are reserved during July and August for families with small children/older family members/handicapped persons / P3 and P4, the lowest car parks, will leave you with a 10 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!