Le Village des Automates near Aix en ProvenceMore than 400 mechanical toys are found in this large wooded park, 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.

Elf garden, Village des Automates, Saint Cannat near AixHowever 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.

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.

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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.

Petit train, Village des Automates, Saint Cannat near Aix en ProvenceBoth 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

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