Nausicaa is the largest aquarium in Europe
And that place is Nausicaa, the largest aquarium in Europe. Situated in Boulogne-sur-Mer, near Calais, it’s house to 2,500 species of marine life and, better of all, is barely 90 minutes from London by Eurostar making it, probably, the final word day journey from the capital.
Past the lure of visiting France, the promise of penguins, sea lions, big manta rays and hammerhead sharks gained a right away and enthusiastic response from two half-term youngsters, my daughter Isabel and her good friend Emma.
After a speedy 70-minute journey into Calais-Frethun and a fast 20-minute taxi trip we arrived in Boulogne-sur-Mer in double-quick time and had been quickly outdoors a low white constructing designed, I feel, with a nod to the form of a large manta ray.
The brand new star attraction is The Excessive Seas. As you journey down by escalator, the shifting photographs of dolphins and hammerhead sharks provide the impression you’re deep under the floor of the ocean.
The tank itself, modelled on an island off the coast of Columbia, options the identical ecosystem of the excessive seas together with greater than 10,000 coral vegetation and fish you’d discover in that habitat.
Within the Mankind And Shores exhibit, each fish conceivable from each ocean on the earth seems to be there, together with clownfish and eagle rays. There’s additionally a tropical lagoon stuffed with brilliantly vibrant fish and shimmering coral.
As many as 58,000 specimens name this aquarium house and the newly-extended and refurbished attraction presents the right place to see a few of the world’s most unique creatures.
It’s not simply creatures of the deep seas which delight. Coastal waters comparable to estuaries, mangrove swamps, lagoons, island coral reefs and seagrass beds additionally function giving guests a well-rounded training on the earth’s various ecosystems.
The engineering is a feat too, with tanks containing 17,000 cubic metres of water and a 60ft-long tunnel the place all styles and sizes glided proper above our heads. We stood mesmerised as ocellated eagle rays, an iconic open sea species with a wingspan of 10ft, carried out majestic balletic dances nearly inside attain.
Nausicaa, which opened in 1991, is considered one of France’s hottest points of interest with 16 million guests a 12 months. It’s greater than an aquarium, it’s a centre for the invention of the marine surroundings and is enjoyable, instructional and scientific, instructing how we are able to defend the oceans.
After an enlightening 5 hours within the centre, we had simply sufficient time to go to the traditional city of Boulogne-Sur-Mer, a 10-minute stroll away alongside the marina, the place the previous port remains to be utilized by some fishing boats to drop their catch.
Rue de Lille, the bustling major avenue, is lined with outlets and cafes, their home windows laden with essentially the most vibrant and scrumptious treats. We sampled a number of on the Fred boulangerie on Place Dalton earlier than wandering as much as the oldest a part of the city the place we walked beside the unique metropolis partitions.
Isabel and Emma on the Shake Fingers statue
Probably the most outstanding landmark is the spectacular Basilica of Notre-Dame de Boulogne, which homes the longest crypt in France beneath its 330ft-high dome.
Sadly there wasn’t fairly sufficient time to take pleasure in Boulogne’s different delights: the 13th-century fortress, its museum and French market, and its stunning shoreline.
By 9pm we had been again in the actual world, arriving into St Pancras and considering our magical time.
Nausicaa (dialling from the UK: 00 33 three 21 309 999/nausicaa.co.uk), Tickets £21 per grownup/ £15 per baby.
Eurostar (0343 218 6186/eurostar.com) presents return fares to Calais from St Pancras from £58.
Boulogne-sur-Mer tourism: go to boulogne.com