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A well-executed animal park offers visitors a glimpse into nature’s boundless wonder, opening windows into worlds that are difficult or impossible to see outside of the park’s closed setting.

Le Parc Animalier de Sainte-Croix, nestled in the picturesque French province of Lorraine, gets the concept spectacularly right.

The park owes much to its placement. Its 300-odd acres are situated on the edge of a protected nature zone, and its footprint includes thick forests, wide-open fields and small but vibrant bodies of water. It is within this setting that Sainte-Croix weaves a stunning menagerie of animals.

The park is cleverly divided into two primary trails. One features animals native to the area; the other houses animals from around the world. This nifty arrangement injects some needed serendipity into the often-predictable experience of navigating an animal park; rather than marching from one cluster of similar animals to the next, you’ll often be surprised by the creatures lurking around the next bend.

On one path, the visitor will pass bison, followed by an island of lemurs, then a sprawling pen of timber wolves. The opposite trail positions brown bears between lynx and mouflon sheep, with owls, boars and beavers interspersed. The layout rekindles the sense of wonder one hopes to have in the face of nature’s magnificence, a feeling that can be stomped out by too many predictable slogs through less-inspired creature collections.

I’d recommend ignoring the map and simply wandering the two trails at your leisure. Each requires about 90 minutes to fully absorb.

Like many forward-thinking modern parks, Sainte-Croix goes to considerable lengths to obscure the barriers separating animal from man. It is successful with a few exceptions: in particular, a handful of bird cages seem overly cramped, their inhabitants difficult to view clearly through a thick mesh fence. But on the whole, one can appreciate the animals — kept in what park literature describes as “semi-liberte” — without that tinge of regret that comes from seeing them enclosed.

The park offers a handful of attractions beyond the two main trails, including a farm-animal petting zoo and a child-focused adventure course featuring a labyrinth, bridges and forts. Non-French-speaking guests are advised to avoid the Bubo le Hibou performance center, where an unintelligible puppet show was on offer on the day of my family’s visit.

One of the park’s primary attractions can’t be completed in a single day trip. Sainte-Croix offers overnight accommodations in unusual, rustic cabins. Guests can spend a night overlooking the island of lemurs or in the midst of a wolf pen, watching the fascinating animals through full-length glass panes.

My family and I are already planning our night among the wolves on our next trip to Sainte-Croix. It seems a logical next step to fully experience a beautiful park that constantly tries, and almost always succeeds, in surrounding its guests with the beauty of nature.

broome.gregory@stripes.com Twitter: @broomestripes

Directions

From Kaiserslautern Military Community, take Autobahn 6 through Saarbrücken and across the French border. Follow signs to Strasbourg onto the A320, then the A4. Exit near Freyming in the direction of Puttelange-aux-Lacs, where you’ll find consecutive roundabouts; get on the D30 on the first, the D565 on the next. A string of French highways follows: Turn right on D674, left on D22, left on D27 and right on D95. You’ll see signs to the park by now; follow them down the rural road Route de Sainte-Croix just before entering the town of Rhodes. This route involves a handful of French toll roads.

TIMES

Open daily at 10 a.m. from late March to early November. The park’s usual 6 p.m. closing time stretches to 7 p.m. through August.

COSTS

Cost for those age 12 and older is 19.50 euros for the day or 29.50 for two days; children’s fees are 14.50 and 21. Students and seniors over 65 pay 18 euros; children under 3 get in free. Guided train tours cost 3.50 for adults and 2.50 for children. The park accepts credit cards.

Accommodations

An overnight stay in the park’s on-site lodging starts at 198 euros for two adults; various packages including multiple days of admission and meals are available. Visits outside of the park’s normal spring-to-fall operating season also can be arranged.

FOOD

Planning is key. If you like French food, you’re good to go, as the in-park eateries offer a fine and affordable assortment of local cuisine. If not, you’ll want to bring your own lunch or stop en route. But beware, the isolated park isn’t convenient to any off-site restaurants; the midsize town of Sarrebourg offers the only nearby range of choices. INFORMATION

The park has a beautiful and useful official website at parcsaintecroix.com, in German and French. An English translation is in the works, according to the site. Sainte-Croix also posts frequent French-language updates to Facebook and Twitter.

— Gregory Broome


Stripes in 7



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