More than four hundred automata, or mechanical toys, are dotted around a very large wooded park in the Village des Automates, a pleasant destination for families with small children.
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Located 17 km / 10.5 miles north-west of Aix en Provence in the small town of Saint Cannat, the eight hectares / 20 acre Village is a local institution of many decades’ vintage. More recently, some visitors have complained of poor maintenance and broken or simply old-fashioned machines. And admission is pricy, though entrance is free for kids under three (for further details see the website below).
But the Village also has a rather appealingly nostalgic and gentle, low-tech quality and its setting, concept and secondary attractions add up to a good bet for younger children that should keep them happy for an hour or two.
The larger automata are set in the gardens and include an open-air installation by the entrance to the park based on Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.
However most of the machines are smaller and are housed in brightly-coloured cabins behind glass panels; you have to press a button to get the figures moving and trigger a little scene that comes accompanied by songs and music.
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There are several dozen different themes including the story of Pinnochio complete with whale, pirates, dinosaurs, an elf garden (pictured above), Sleeping Beauty’s castle and Mexico. You are given a map of the Village des Automates at the ticket office to help you navigate around.
Among the other features are a spacious car park, numerous picnic and play areas, toboggans, pedal cars and a little train (for which you have to pay extra), a snack bar, toilets and a small petting zoo with "happy farm animals" such as goats, sheep, ponies, donkeys, hens and ducks.
Both the car-park and the Village itself are well-shaded with plenty of trees, an appreciable plus point in the summer, and there’s plenty of space to move around with a pram or a pushchair (stroller).
The Village des Automates is open daily between April and mid-September and on Wednesdays, weekends and school holidays in winter. Website for Le Village des Automates
Where: Le Village des Automates, chemin de la Diligence, RN 7, 13760 Saint Cannat. Tel: (+33) 4 42 57 30 30