Around 12km south of Lourdes, off the D821 near Argelès-Gazost, this fantastic animal park is home to many species that were once commonly sighted across the Pyrenees. The animals live on special ‘islands’ designed to mirror their natural habitat: marmots, chamoix and ibex inhabit rocky hills; beavers and giant otters dart along wooded waterways; and brown bears lord it over their own boulder-strewn mountain kingdom.
There are also flying displays by birds of prey and the park’s resident vultures. You can even spend the night in a trapper’s cabin (double €390), with windows looking into the wolves’ enclosure, or sleep in Le Refuge, a dome-shaped cabin with a floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the bears' habitat (double €390).
The park is doubly important given that many of the species here have either disappeared in the wild or are teetering on the brink of extinction – most notably the brown bear (known in the US as the grizzly), which has all but vanished in the Pyrenees as a result of hunting and habitat loss. Despite fierce opposition from local farmers, a reintroduction program using wild bears from Slovenia has attempted to re-establish a breeding population, and it’s thought that there are now around 30 bears roaming wild across the mountains.