“ Papiliorama / Moosmatte 1 / P.O. Box 160 / 3210 Chiètres / Kerzers / Canton Fribourg / Switzerland „
After a less than successful trip to the Tierpark in Bern (See review), I was surfing the net looking for somewhere else to take my mother and her partner whilst they were in Switzerland. One of the expat websites I visit has a list of family friendly and recommended places to visit and I found this under the heading for our area. A quick look at the highly professional and very convincing website (http://www.papiliorama.ch/) and we were all convinced and arranged a trip for the coming Sunday. This Sunday opening is one of its big selling points as anyone who has visited or lived in Switzerland knows that the country generally shuts down on a Sunday and we are always scrabbling around for things to do!
The Papiliorama or butterfly gardens are located in Kerzers in Canton Fribourg. Details to get to the site by car are on their well-organised website, but it is worth mentioning the fact that they have a dedicated train station next to the site, 80 metres away in fact. This station is called Kerzers Papiliorama and details of trains can be found on the SBB website. The train schedules were posted in the entrance and it looks like there are trains every hour or so to Neuchatel and connecting stations. We drove however and easily found a parking space in the medium sized car park. It is important to mention when buying entrance tickets that you brought a car as they charge you an extra 3CHF and give you an exit token in exchange, which works the car park barriers.
Once parked we took the short walk down the gravel path to the entrance, passing a small shop on the left selling organic produce which was actually growing by the path. The pleasant walk took us over a well-presented and attractive wooden bridge, past a dove cote and gave us a glimpse at some of the animals from the petting zoo. The Papiliorama itself is rather unprepossessing, consisting of a medium sized building and a number of large plastic domes that look rather dirty from the outside. Do not let this put you off, this is a wonderful place to visit and an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon in Switzerland!
The entrance fees are very reasonable, 14 CHF (£5.80) for an adult and 7CHF (£2.90) for a child (4-15 years old), plus 3 CHF if you have driven there. Maps are available at the entrance and its worth picking one up to make sure you dont miss anything. Walking into the building, past the small shop on my left, I was immediately struck by the amount of greenery they have brought in, it was like walking into a tropical jungle in places and makes an ordinary building much more interesting. As we were all starving we walked past the (very clean) toilets towards the cafeteria, where sandwiches, hotdogs and icecreams were on sale. There wasnt much variety but we all found something to our taste and we headed outside to the terrace where we were harassed for food by a rather large but very friendly pot bellied pig! Even though its school holidays at the moment, the place wasnt particularly busy, only half the tables were occupied and we were able to spend a pleasant 45 minutes relaxing in the sun and patting the pig.
Once finished we made our way back into the main building and the plastic domes which are linked to it. Only two of the four domes were open to the public when we visited, but these domes filled our time very well and it is doubtful we would have been able to go round all four in the afternoon we had allotted! The entrances to the domes are all off the main building, the corridors of which are lined with large enclosures containing an interesting mix of (happy!) animals! On our way to the Nocturama we were distracted by the roseate spoonbills, ducks and sloths who shared an area and were delighted to discover a couple of bats hanging from the ceiling when we looked up. My daughter was enraptured and it took all of our persuading to move her away towards the first exhibit!
The Nocturama is, as the name suggests, an area for nocturnal animals. To enable the visitors to be able to watch the animals the roof of the dome has been covered in a special material which gives the dome the appearance of moonlight. To enter the dome you have to go through a sliding door, wait until it has closed and then push your way through a thick black plastic curtain where you are hit by the smell. The warm, humid environment plus animals, plus visitors means that the odour is very like old body odour and quite repulsive at first, although over time it becomes merely a mild distraction! The dome certainly recreates moonlight, it is hard to make things out in the gloom especially if they arent moving. However, this is an experience I hadnt had before and I was impressed as we followed the winding path through the enclosure, at times being next to the animals and at other above them. The layout is superb and a lot of thought has been put into the path that you take through the animal enclosures, its impossible to get lost and they have ensured that you see as much as possible. So what is in there? Terrapins, crocodiles, porcupines, monkeys, ocelots and oodles of little furry creatures running around. A network of branches has been set out above the paths and if you look up you can see small animals running around above your head; or you can look into tanks full of fish, amphibians or insects, cutaway sections enabling you to see the animals in the water. A big area in the centre of the dome has been set apart from a tree in a large pool of water for the monkeys and small crocodiles. The smaller animals are allowed a certain degree of freedom due to the plastic curtains at the entrance and exit and my poor husband came face to face with a rather large cockroach on a branch; the food for the animals is live so they can catch it, hence the cockroaches and the pools of live fish for the ocelot. At length we reached another plastic curtain and pushed it aside to find ourselves in a small cave area, confused we looked around until prompted to look up by a female scream; it was a bat cave and the roof of the room was covered in tiny bats, occasionally swooping down at the visitors. My husband felt the velvety swish of bat wings against his bald head and was suitably impressed!
On leaving the Nocturama we refreshed ourselves with a drink and went on to the next enclosure which should have contained toucans, but an apologetic notice informed us that the toucans all had flu and were at the vets! The next area contained two large boa constrictors, nice and close to the glass so we were suitably consoled! The next dome contained the Papiliorama, thankfully in the light, but with another plastic curtain to pass through. Entering the dome was an amazing experience, the area has been laid out as a tropical garden with a rising and falling path winding its way through it. The array of flowers is simply breathtaking so it took a few seconds to notice the amazing jewel like butterflies which inhabited this area. The website says that this hall contains over 60 species as well as hummingbirds and other complementary insects. Some were individual beauties whilst others clung to creepers and vines in iridescent flocks. However, the heat is oppressive and we found it difficult to complete the marked path without popping out regularly for breaths of fresh and cool air. I was amazed to see the colours and variety and charmed by the occasional site of hummingbirds feeding on the flowers. So charmed that we almost missed the Arthropodarium, another curtain leading into a cave by the entrance. Inside were a number of small cases hanging from the ceiling, containing enormous black millipedes, stick insects and giant spiders. Sadly the corners of the cases were just at toddler eye and head height, which meant that my daughter was unable to see any of the insects without help and required constant supervision to ensure she didnt lose an eye. The insects were beautifully presented and very easy to watch, although not for the squeamish! Also apparently in one of the pools in the Papiliorama is the mascot of the site, Johann the Giant Goramy, a spectacularly ugly fish who has lived on the site since 1995. We didnt see him but you can buy bits and pieces with his ugly mug on in the site shop!
Having done the main domes we took the path through the terrace and down to the petting zoo area, which was well signposted from the main building. This area was more controlled than the Bern zoo petting area, red lines indicating the areas which you are confined to. The idea is that the animals come to you, better for the animals but not so good for a frustrated toddler who was desperate to reach a rabbit! Inside the enclosure were several pigs, ten or so goats, a number of rabbits, some chickens with heavily feathered legs (very amusing) and some peahens. My daughter was consoled by a friendly goat, a pig who knocked her over and the funny chickens but its worth being aware of the rules before you take children in. After the petting area we went through a wonderful wilderness area to a temporary net awning containing more butterflies. This tent was a summer display of native Swiss butterflies and flowers, with lots of information for gardeners on how to encourage these beauties into your garden. It was a much more pleasant experience than the tropical Papiliorama, as a cool breeze kept us from overheating.
Further down the path was Pongo Plaza, the childrens playground. Set amongst a number of streams and bushes its very easy to lose a child around a corner, but it was my daughters favourite part. Every piece of equipment had been built using a proportion of natural materials so there was a fantastic snake seesaw, a wooden crocodile on springs, and several small wooden insects to sit on and wobble. The centerpiece is a large climbing frame with ropes and swings and a tunnel going through a small hill. There was also a small and wobbly wooden slat bridge over a little stream which my husband and mother braved whilst I sat in the shade and sniggered. The playground was situated next to a much larger wildlife area with a pond and marsh so there is plenty to see for adults whilst you are waiting for your child to get off the wooden ladybird! There are also plenty of wooden tables for picnics.
Having decided to visit this site thanks to the website I feel its worth a mention. As I have said before it is extremely well organized and laid out and contains all the additional information you might need to plan a visit. I was surprised to find a ticker counting down the areas of tropical rainforest left, but a quick surf of the site revealed that Papiliorama is a charitable non-profit organisation, which aims at raising awareness about the fate of tropical forests and nature worldwide, by inviting its visitors in the heart of natural exhibits., something which made me feel I was helping a little bit by visiting and paying my entrance fee.
I can thoroughly recommend a visit to the Papiliorama for both adults and children. There is plenty to pique all interests and we had an amazing day there. My daughter was so enamoured with the butterflies that she insisted on taking the free map with all of its pictures to bed with her, and has talked of little else since. Its an ideal way to spend a Sunday although it works best on a cooler day, the heat certainly lessened our enjoyment of some of the internal and external areas.
All of the exhibits are 100% wheelchair (and pushchair) compatible.
Dogs are allowed in the external areas only
Papiliorama is open 363 days a year (closed December 25th and January 1st) which is pretty superb!
During summertime : from 9 am to 6 pm (last admissions 5.15 pm)
During wintertime : from 10 am to 5 pm (last admissions 4.15 pm)
The exhibits: Papiliorama, Nocturama, Arthropodarium, Swiss Butterfly Garden, Petting zoo, Pongo plaza. The Papiliorama was born in the fertile minds of its creators, Maarten Bijleveld van Lexmond, a Dutch biologist, and his wife Catheline. Built originally in 1988 in the Canton of Neuchâtel, the first Papiliorama was destroyed by fire on the 1st of January 1995. Thanks to a nationwide solidarity movement, the Papiliorama was completed only nine months later that same year. Due to a lack of space in its original location, which prevented any extension, the Papiliorama moved in 2003 to Kerzers, in the canton of Fribourg, in the heart of the Three Lake region.