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Burgundy tends to be a grown-up's type of place with its rich heritage and culture, and whilst there are lots of adventure sports for kids over about seven years old, what is there for the toddlers? Marilyn Floyde gets their (and her) imagination running riot at Cardoland

Cardoland Dinasaur Park, William Floyde Cardoland Dinasaur Park William Floyde Cardoland Dinasaur Park Burgundy William Floyde

In New York's Times Square there's a massive ToysRUs. Inside there's a 3-storey high animatronic T-Rex which scared the living bones out of Henry, aged 2. In Burgundy there's a whole Jurassic Park-ful of dinosaurs, just as big, but as Isaac also aged 2 pointed out, they're 'not working'. What he meant of course, was that they don't emit deafening roars - their eyes don't flash and swivel - their jaws don't open and shut menacingly and they don't move their talons up and down like a demented mantis. Consequently Isaac's Burgundy experience resulted in a mild tantrum because he didn't want to go home. On the other hand, Henry's New York experience resulted in a full-on terror tantrum because he wanted out of there - fast.  My reactions were similar to my grandsons' - without the tantrums - but I knew exactly how they felt.

Mammoths and brontosaurus

'Cardoland' in Burgundy is the result of one extraordinary man's project and passion - begun in the 1980s - now continued by his family. It's located in a grassy valley a few kilometers from Vézelay, beside the D951 road to Clamecy - but you could be forgiven for missing it, or even for dismissing it, as the signing is hand-painted, rather tired, and altogether not very clear. Such are my prejudices that I've passed it many times on my travels around Burgundy, but not considered it worth exploring. To be honest, from the road, it doesn't look promising, and it took a visit from the family to stir us into making the effort. I'm so pleased we did. Pleased for me - not just on behalf of the kids. The place has its own quiet magic, and loads to stimulate the imagination.

Cardoland Burgundy, photo William Floyde Dinasaurs at Cardoland Burgundy photo William Floyde Cardoland Burgundy photoWilliam Floyde

Because there's no screeching music, digital animation, weapons of mass annihilation, or homicidal carnage, it's very peaceful walking amongst these huge concrete beasts; catching sight of a brontosaurus through the trees, or spotting a camouflaged raptor peering at you from behind a hillock. It's pretty realistic yet not quite. They're not really anatomically correct, yet they're never Disney or Fred Flintstone. And it's not just dinosaurs and mammoths. There are spear-wielding hominids, of uncertain classification, anachronistically thrown in for good measure, together with their voluptuous womenfolk and children in harmonious groupings around the family hearth. There's also a fun kind of sandpit where any kid from age 2 to 92 can brush and trowel around discovering ancient  'finds' ,  pretending to be Indiana Jones. There's a pleasant bar and fast food restaurant at the end of the visit.

cardo's vision - 'to people the dreams of children'

Perhaps the most contextually challenging exhibits are the modern metal sculptures to be found at the entrance to the park. These include amongst others, Edith Piaf, Brigitte Bardot, Marcel Marceau and Charles Trenet; all part of the group of film stars and performers the talented Cardo was associated with during his earlier flamboyant career. According to his biographical notes, he was born in Spain in 1924 to an artist and teacher father, and dancer mother, the nephew of the famous guitarist Andres Ségovia. As a child star he danced in films and toured Europe. During the Spanish war his father was shot and the family sought refuge in France where from 1948, he developed his artistic talents and produced, designed and choreographed ballets. He was much in demand by the film industry and taught flamenco dancing to BB. In the sixties, on a long documentary shoot in Biscarosse about animal life, he began making little models of prehistoric animals - which he referenced when he moved his family to Burgundy in 1981 and began working on his dinosaur park in order "to people the dreams of children".

More sculpture than theme park, Cardoland is eccentric and creatively inspired. It's certainly not a history lesson. It's a vision of a lost world and a homage to the life and work of the remarkable Cardo, which in turn transports us back to an era when being an artist was a passion, finding expression in a variety of forms and media. I'm quite sure it's unique. It's certainly a delightfully strange tourist attraction with wide appeal, and one which Burgundy should perhaps make a bit more noise about.

Cardoland is open: June, July and August:  every day 10.00-18.00; April, May, Sept, Oct, Nov: open only on Saturday afternoons from 13.00-18.00 and all day Sunday; Dec-March: Closed. Adult entry: 10.80 euros, kids (4-12 yrs): 8.50 euros; family tariff dependant on number of adults.
Tel: 00 33 386 33 28 33

©Marilyn Floyde 2013
Photos: ©William Floyde