What's the biggest tourist attraction in the Loire Valley? Or in France's région Centre? You might think it would be a famous château like Chambord, Chenonceau, Cheverny, Azay-le-Rideau, or Chaumont-sur-Loire. But it's not. It's the Beauval zoological park in Saint-Aignan. The zoo is changing our landscape.
Le ZooParc de Beauval, on the south side of town and just two kilometers (1¼ miles) from our house as the corbeau flies, attracts nearly a million visitors a year nowadays. The zoo is by far Saint-Aignan's largest employer, and the owners of the zoo have not only expanded the site by acquiring more and more land, but they are building more and more hotels around the town.
I was surprised a couple of weeks ago to find a new hotel complex going across the road from the town's main supermarket, SuperU, also located on the south side of town. It was the construction cranes that caught my eye. This new hotel complex, the zoo's fourth, will offer another 130 hotel rooms for tourists to rent.
There's already an imposing Chinese-themed hotel out at the zoo, called Les Pagodes de Beauval, and it has about the same number of rooms. There's a Bali-themed hotel, older, just across the street from Les Pagodes. And there's a new vacation apartment complex in town, on the site of Saint-Aignan's old gendarmerie base, that caters to zoo visitors. I just heard on the national news that Beauval's giant pandas, acquired from China a few years ago, are getting ready to have a baby. That will draw even bigger crowds.
So the town is really changing. It's not just the old Saint-Aignan that I did a series of posts about a couple of months ago (starting here, scroll down to the bottom of the post and click the "newer post" link to see more). Traffic is worse. Stores are more crowded. Living out here surrounded by the Renaudière vineyard, we don't feel it on a daily basis, but when we try to cross the river on the town's narrow old stone bridge, we feel the pain. And the changes keep coming. On n'arrête pas le progrès.