Being the heir of a castle is a dream that fascinates, but it can become a big headache when its maintenance costs hundreds of thousands of euros.
It was like this for Count Paul de la Panouse, who in 1965, at the age of 21, had to find ways to finance the castle of Thoiry, which has belonged to his family for 400 years. It started by receiving visitors, but then came up with the idea of taking advantage of the 40-hectare park to open a zoo. With the help of a friend of the circus director, he tidied up the spaces, bought an elephant, some bears and two hundred animals from Africa. In May 1968, while Parisian students were building their barricades, the first tourists discovered the “African Reserve of Thoiry”.
The impressive success – 500,000 visitors in 2019 to find the 750 animals spread over 400 hectares – is undoubtedly the fruit of the innovations that the Count and his wife, Anabelle, have always brought to the park: lions dinner, opening in winter, truck -seva, wild lights festival, tiger tunnel, lion zipline, Safari Air Park, or Wild Forest. This creativity did not stop with the crisis. Looking for unique experiences, Thoiry is scheduling the opening in May of the “Lairs of Thoiry”, twenty bungalows, hidden stilts where guests can lie down and watch the bears and bison’s nightlife, and will be awakened by the roars of the lions, the shrieks of the elephants or the howling of free wolves.
The bungalows are simple, without heating or air conditioning, but with a king size bed and full bathroom, and special windows so you can watch the animals with due discretion. Reserving a burrow also entitles you to privileged programming. The visitor is greeted by a guide who delivers the survival equipment, flashlights, binoculars, night vision devices needed to get close to the animals. After an exclusive visit to the park, it’s time for a barbecue and, back at the bungalow, to enjoy the magical concert of screams and noises typical of each species present in the zoo. And if you wake up early, you can still take the opportunity to say goodbye to your favorite animals before opening to other visitors.
If Thoiry’s success came through the park, the castle , still inhabited by the family , must not be forgotten . Built from 1559 onwards, its dimensions follow the golden number used in the pyramids, in harmony with the solar cycles, the central room marking the winter and summer solstices. Having been in the same family since 1612, Thoiryit houses an exceptional collection of archives that Paul de la Panouse proudly displays. There are thousands of documents recalling an impressive genealogy, which include King Louis XV, a deputy of the Revolution and a calife from Cordoba, as well as thousands of books fueled by his passion for reading. His second passion maybe, the first being this exceptional park that he built with daring and creativity, and where he likes to walk watching the animals, talking to a family and even serving as a guide for a group of visitors who will have had an exceptional experience.