Imagine for a moment you find yourself in an unfamiliar landscape, surrounded only by thick, massive bamboo stands stretching to the sky and allowing just a few rays of sunlight to reach the ground around you, the only sounds the bubbling of nearby brooks. You might think you’re in one of East Asia’s magical bamboo forests, such as Japan’s legendary Arashiyama.
But you sure wouldn’t expect such a thing in the south of France, n’est-ce pas? More specifically, south-central France, not far from the city of Toulouse. Europe’s biggest bamboo forest at 34 hectares (84 acres), La Bambouserai is part of Cévennes National Park. It was founded in 1856 by one Eugene Mazel, a spice trader and amateur botanist who was one of many Europeans back in those days fascinated by all things “Oriental,” and who imported hundreds of species of plants from miniature to giant (and today numbering more than 300) from Japan, China, and even the Himalayas to create this exotic oasis.
This national park, 937 square kilometres (362 sq. miles) in size, is one of ten in France, and is also designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site. A lovely mix of forests, meadows, and rocky heights, it’s also dotted with caves and prehistoric megaliths, and is the country’s only national park that’s home to hundreds of farms as well as charming traditional villages and towns. In short, plenty to explore!
But back to the Bambouserai, it’s not just the soaring bamboo that so impresses but also features like the hills landscaped in serene Zen style called the Valley of the Dragon; a water garden; a nifty botanical labyrinth; and a recreated traditional Laotian village. A very different corner of France indeed – so come fly to Toulouse and prepare to be wowed!
Photo: Alexandre Durez-Lutz