Calling all nature and wildlife lovers! For those of you looking for a break from the City of Light, plan a day trip to Espace Rambouillet, set in the Forêt de Rambouillet. Located 45 minutes west of Paris, this natural park was created in 1972 and is the second largest protected forest in France. Its sprawling 75,000 acres are filled with wild animals, ponies, hiking trails, activities and shows.
My family of four discovered this national treasure thanks to our Aunt Nathalie and Uncle Bertrand. Nathalie raved about the Spectacle Rapace, which is one of the main attractions. Literally translated, this is the Predator Show. For about 30 minutes, you can see owls, falcons, eagles and vultures walking and flying around you. We arrived just in time to experience it. Nathalie told us that the last time she came, an eagle flew right at her… I thought there must have been something lost in the French translation.
As we settled onto a wooden bench encircling the grassy arena, the show presenter explained the wild birds’ behavior and gave some instructions. My ears perked up when I heard, “restez assis, surtout les enfants”. The arena was packed with families, crawling babies and tiny excited kids, who clearly didn’t know how to sit still. This presenter must have been hoping for a miracle.
Get Up Close With Eagles and Vultures
The show opened with an owl walking around the arena. Cute, I thought. I had never seen an owl so close up. Then some owls started to fly around us. I love owls, with their big googly eyes. Then, you notice these handlers standing behind you with meat in their hands. And, soon enough, there are falcons flying over your head to get their prey. The eagles and vultures come next and swoop in from all angles. And, seriously, they fly right at you, so your reflexes better be quick as you need to duck your head.
I smothered my 3-year-old on my lap, like a mama bear protecting her cub, while a vulture almost took off our heads. Whether you’re a bird lover or not, this show is amazing and gives you a rush. It’s rare to see wild birds walking inches from you and flying right next to you – or, if you’re lucky, right at you!
After the show, we had a nice balade through the forest. If you’re stealthy, you can spot deer or a family of sangliers (wild boar). It’s a real nature adventure with freely roaming animals. We finally called it a day when the boys’ legs reached their breaking point. Like a well-orchestrated parting gift, we saw some majestic eagles, sitting like statues on perches, as we left the forest. It was breathtaking and surreal.
There’s so much to do in this forest that you could even plan a weekend trip. Here are some tips and a bucket list of activities for your next visit(s):
Tips for Visiting With Younger Kids:
- Get a wagon to pull the kids around. Little legs get tired after about an hour or two of walking, climbing trees and jumping over rivers. We heard a broken record chorus of “I’m tired, I can’t walk anymore”, as we tried to make it out of the forest.
- Let the kids play on the jungle gym before you start hiking. Your kids will spot it right after you get your tickets, before you enter the forest. We didn’t have time for the boys to play, since we needed to make it to the aviary show. Our boys were obsessing about the jungle gym during the show and our afternoon hike. So let them get it out of their system!
- Bring a picnic lunch and snacks, as there are picnic tables at the playground.
Activities for the Whole Family:
- L’Odysee Vert: This is a sensory and educative hike on a suspended bridge in the trees. The path is 300 meters long connected by 18 bridges. There are 17 environmental themes to learn about.
- Pony rides: for kids 15 months – 8 years old (30 kg max)
- Be a falconer for a day: for adults and children 14 and older
- Be a forest worker for a day: for adults and children 10 and older (minors must be accompanied by an adult)
- Be an animal caretaker for a day: for adults and children 12 years and older (minors must be accompanied by an adult)
- Team Building Nature: groups of 15 or more can join together to preserve the environment and the animals. Some projects already completed include: counting large animals to monitor the population, promoting forest regeneration, maintenance and care for the aviary center, trail maintenance, firewood harvesting, forest plantation and development of ponds
It’s a wonderful outdoor break for the family and friends, less than an hour’s drive from Paris.
Route du Coin du Bois, 78120 Sonchamp
Tel: +33-1 34 83 05 00
Open from April to October, 10:00am to 6:00pm.