Loire Valley #3: Fauna and Fungi

Last week I escaped city life and spent a relaxing week with my parents in the Loire Valley. I came back with 500 photos, so I’m breaking them up into a five-part series (don’t worry — I’m not posting 100 photos a day!). Hope you enjoy!

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As I continue to bombard you with Loire Valley recaps, I thought we’d take a break from the châteaux in favor of some animals and mushrooms.

I. Zooparc de Beauval

Anyone who knows me also knows that I love zoos. I know I’m not supposed to, or that at the very least I’m supposed to be extremely skeptical of wild animals kept in enclosures for our viewing pleasure, but I can’t help it. So I was very pleased to discover that France’s largest zoo was a mere 20 minutes away from our little moulin.

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The zoo is probably best known for its collection of white tigers, but they also have a number of other uncommon animals that I enjoyed watching too:

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Okay, these deer are not that unusual, but they were so pretty.

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And yeah, raccoons are not that unusual either, but I loved how they were all curled up together on the roof of their hut. I also love that the French word for “raccoon” is “raton laveur,” which means big rat who cleans things.

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They also had a giant anteater, an animal that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen in person before. It may be difficult to see what’s going on in the photo above, but it’s the anteater’s extremely long tongue (it can be up to 45cm long!) darting out to search for unfortunate insects.

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These tapirs were being pretty boring, but I thought they were so cute. Look at those toes!

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Having a very civilized snack. Not pictured: the porcupine fanning his quills, the koalas who refused to face their audience, the albino wallaby, and many more.

Unfortunately for the purposes of blogging, the best feature of the zoo was almost impossible to capture on film. They have just opened a giant amphitheater on the edge of the zoo that is the home of a truly breathtaking bird show. We weren’t even planning on seeing it, but we happened to be nearby right before it started, and I’m so glad we stopped. The show opens with a series of birds of prey flying low overhead, going between perches on either side of the theater. Then some legging birds walk out and beat rubber lizards on the ground for treats from their trainers (more entertaining that it sounds, I swear). The finale was the most amazing part: dozens and dozens of birds flew from a giant bird tower (I am pretty sure it is literally a giant tower full of bird homes, guys) about 750m away and then flew around the arena, to and from their various trainers. Hawks, eagles, vultures, cranes, pelicans, and more. If you’re in the area, it’s definitely worth seeing.

And here are some panda pictures for you because you can never have too many of those:

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II. Cave des Champignonnière des Roches

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We also stopped by a mushroom cave and underground village in the area. The caves started out as a quarry, the stone from which helped build many of the châteaux in that part of the Loire. Now the caves are home to mushroom farm that produces button mushrooms, oyster mushrooms (multiple varieties), shiitake mushrooms, and blue foot mushrooms. Each type of mushroom grows out of a different kind of container. The white blocks above are full of shiitake spores.

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The oyster mushrooms are grown out of similar blocks that have been covered with thick black plastic. The mushroom farmers feel for nascent mushrooms and cut holes in the plastic out of which they grow in big clusters.

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The blue foot mushrooms (and the button mushrooms) grow in big, shallow beds of dirt that are sprinkled with spores. On our tour, we picked button mushrooms to taste on the spot and I have to say, it was genuinely the most flavorful button mushroom I have ever had in my life. I’m not sure how feasible it is to eat only cave-grown mushrooms for the rest of my life (best guest: not feasible at all), but it’s not often that I think about a plain, raw button mushroom weeks after eating it.

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At the end of the tour, we ended up in this cave, which has been carved into a life-sized town, complete with pigeons and dogs and cats. An artist spends several months in the caves each year working on this project, which is basically a giant time capsule. He believes that the government will protect important buildings, such as cathedrals, town halls, and castles, but that everyday houses will be lost to time.

The caves were a strange little stop, but I really enjoyed it and would recommend it as an entertaining châteaux-break if you’re making your way through the Loire Valley.

That being said, we’re back to the châteaux tomorrow!

 

 

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