There are plenty of places to stay in La Flèche, Sarthe, not far from Le Mans, from gorgeous b&bs, hotels and gites. There is even a free place to park your camper van (with free electricity) right on the pretty river front. However for something completely different and slightly wild you can sleep in La Flèche’s famous zoo!
Room with a view in a zoo
There are ten lodges dotted around La Fleche zoo overlooking various enclosures such as the tigers, wolves, grizzly bear or lemurs. Without doubt though, the lodge that has fired the imagination (it’s also the most expensive) is the brand new luxury lodge which is inside the polar bear den. No I’m not joking.
This is no stinky bear house, this is a high-living human homestead.
The window of the lodge dips right into the pool so you can see under the water from inside your room. I visited recently I couldn’t help going straight to the huge picture windows and as I stood there looking Kaito the enormous male polar bear came swimming right up to the window. Katia the female lounged at the side of the pool staring across, looking like she was wondering what had got Kaito’s interest.
The bears seem just as curious at these strange animals who appear to be as much in a confined space as they are. They’re not wrong about that aspect either. At night when the zoo is closed and everyone has gone home, the electric gates to the lodge are locked and you, the guest are shut in the zoo as much as the lions you hear roar, the elephants who trumpet and the monkeys who chatter and laugh excitedly at having the place to themselves at last.
Unlike the animals, human guests have a rather charming terrace with a hot tub, separated from the bears by a huge glass screen and food is not slung over the fence but delivered from a Michelin star restaurant in town. You can sit outside with a roaring fire, a chilled glass of Champagne, watching the bears watching you.
Everything in the lodge has been made by the zoo’s staff but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s homespun plain and simple. The lodge oozes chic style, this is luxury safari France fashion with a twist, furnishings made from local wood, smart lamps, luxurious bathrooms. But it’s the night time calls of the animals, being up close and personal with them that makes this a truly different and quite brilliant place to stay.
Not surprisingly, staying at the zoo is incredibly popular. Prices start at €115 per per person per night (2015) and increase according to which lodge you stay in and what time of the year. The price includes a delicious breakfast and Michelin star dinner, it’s no wonder you have to book way in advance.