These two large, adjacent play parks, one outdoor, one indoor, are an ideal 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 Village des Automates is a large wooded park with over 400 mechanical toys. Founded in 1986 and run by the same family ever since, it's a popular local institution.
The Village des Automates has been joined more recently by a very large indoor game park, Montopoto, on the same site: click here to read more about it.
Though Montopoto is state-of-the-art, some adults complain that the Village des Automates is rather old-fashioned. But small children seem to love its appealingly nostalgic, gentle quality and its setting, concept and secondary attractions should keep them happy for an hour or two.
The larger automata are set in the eight hectare / 20 acre gardens and include an open-air installation 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.
There are several dozen different themes including the story of Pinnochio complete with whale, pirates, dinosaurs, an elf garden (pictured), 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 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.
The Village is well-shaded with plenty of trees, an appreciable plus point in the summer, and there's space to move around with a pram or pushchair / stroller.
It offers most of the rides you expect from centres of this kind: a ball pool, trampolines, toboggans, climbing frames and so on, plus slightly more unusual ones such as pedal-powered "helicopters" which run on a raised monorail.
It bills itself as aimed at children aged from one to eleven, but is most suitable for kids aged three plus, although there is an area reserved for very tiny tots. Some rides such as the electric cars come at an extra charge.
However visitors to both the Village des Automates and Montopoto can enjoy a free musical show on certain days during school holidays. Staged in a separate room, it's inspired by children's classics such as Peter Pan or The Snow Queen and lasts around 45 minutes. Check the website for dates.
Birthday parties can be catered for if booked ahead and there's a snack bar. Visitors, adults included, have to remove their shoes, so bring socks (though, if you forget, you can buy them on the site).
The Village des Automates and Montopoto are open daily between April and mid-September and on Wednesdays, weekends and school holidays in winter.
In both cases entrance can be pricey but you can make savings by buying a combination ticket to them both.
Website for Le Village des Automates and Montopoto
Where: Le Village des Automates and Montopoto, chemin de la Diligence, RN7, 13760 Saint Cannat. Tel: (+33) 4 42 57 30 30. There's a spacious free car-park.
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