The Village des Tortues is a zoological park for turtles, set in a nicely wooded location next to the village of Gonfaron in the department of the Var, on the edge of the Massif des Maures.
With its vast variety of turtles, the Turtle Village park is a great amusment for kiddies of all ages, and is very educational about our fine armoured friends. We visited on a busy holiday weekend, and watched not only the turtles, but all the little kids running about with great excitement.
The seemingly randomly-organized park blends well into its natural setting of Provencal maquis, but is layed out rather cunningly so that you can tour the entire park along a single route without having to search out any "lost" sections.
Most of the enclosures are open, except for very low fencing, with natural vegitation, and quite well maintained. A section of very small turtles is screened completely on the sides and the top, we guess probably to prevent local birds of prey from dining on the residents.
The turtles are grouped by geographical areas, and sites for each type of turtle have large, clearly written (French and English) informative panels that are interesting and educational. Some of the main areas are for turtles of: the Balkans, Russia, Madagascar, Senegal, East Africa, and Corsica.
There's also a wonderful Travle Through Time (Le Voyage dans le temps) section, with information and huge models of prehistoric turtles.
The village includes turtles (over 2500), a turtle clinique, a turtle quarantine site, terrariums, turtle nuseries, a buvette, an open-air audio-visual room, and a sales shop.
What's in a Word
In British English it is normal to describe these reptiles as turtles, terrapins, or tortoises, depending on whether they live in the sea, in fresh water, or on land. Thus the green sea turtle, Chelonia mydas, is considered a turtle; the red-eared slider, Trachemys scripta elegans, a terrapin, and the eastern box turtle, Terrapene carolina carolina, a tortoise.
In American English it is common to call them "turtles" regardless of habitat, although "tortoise" is used as a more precise term for the land-dwelling species. Ocean-going species are sea turtles. "Terrapin" is reserved for the diamondback terrapin, Malaclemys terrapin, a North American species whose name is derived from the Algonquian word for this animal.
Speakers of Australian English tend to use turtle for both marine and freshwater species and tortoise for the terrestrial species.
The word chelonian is increasingly popular among veterinarians, scientists, and conservationists working with these animals. It is based on the Greek word chelone, meaning tortoise, and is used, for example, by the Chelonian Research Foundation.
Disclamer. We're not certain that we've linked the photos and the names correctly. We photographed a lot of turtles and a lot of information signs, but didn't always get the two matched properly.
Hermann's tortoise (Testudo hermanni hermanni), La Tortue d'Hermann is the star of Turtle Town. This is the only French land turtle, and is found only in the central Var (the general area of Turtle Town) and in Corsica, favoring the hot, dry lands of garrigue or maquis, especially where the cork oak grows. Up to 18 cm (7 inches) long and weighing 1.5 kg (about 3 pounds), Hermann's Tortoise is one of the rarest reptiles in France, and one of the most precarious. It's absolutely protected, and can not be caught, carried, transported or sold. The menaces for Testudo hermanni hermanni are forest fires (far too common in this area), weed wackers and general urbanization.
The Madagascar starred tortoise (Astrochelys radiata) and the African giant tortoise (Geochelone sulcata) that you will see here are among the most endangered species in the world. The starred tortoise, with it's lovely "star" radiations, can weigh up to 18 kg. They enjoy the cacti, thorn bushes and baobabs of the dry savannahs.
Another Madagascar tortoise is the little (Pyxis arachnoides).
The elephantine tortoise (Dipsochelys elephantina) from the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean is represented by a realistic, life-sized bronze model, since it doesn't support this dry Mediterranean climate.
The Greek marginated tortoise (Testudo marginata) is the largest tortoise of the Mediterranean region, up to 45 cm long and weighing 4 kg.
Balkan tortoises (Testudo boettgeri), from eastern Italy, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Albania, Greece and Bulgaria, are a bit bigger than the local Hermann's tortoise, and similar looking.
The small Russian tortoises (Testudo horsfieldii) were imported as "garden tortoises" back in the 60s, 70s and 80s, and there are still many of them in European gardens. From southern Russia and parts of China, this little guy was not only exported, but even ground up for dog food.
The (Mauremys leprosa) terrapin is the rarest terrapin living in France, with about 100 of them in an isolated little valley by the Spanish border. The breed is much more common in Spain, Portugal and North Africa.
The snapping tortoise (Chelydra serpentina), la tortue haragneuse, is imported from the United States and is often sold as a "small turtle" in European animal shops. Buying it is rather short sighted: they grow to 60 kg, have powerful jaws and are carnivores. And they are aptly named for their aggressive personality. (The French haragneuseis closer to vicious or ill-tempered.)
The African spurred tortoise (Centrochelys sulcata) is the largest land turtle in the world, with males weighing up to 100 kg. Once common in central Africa, they now exist only in small isolated regions of Senegal, Mali, Chad and the Sudan. The Centrochelys sulcata dig 15-meter deep dens in the earth to survive the hot, arid African summers.
Leopard tortoises (Geochelone pardalis) are non-aggressive, herbivorous turtles from East Africa. They are being sold more and more in Europe, but they don't survive the typical French climate very well.
The European pond terrapin (Emys orbicularis), tortue boueuse, is the most common turtle in France. They are aquatic, liking ponds, small rivers, calm inlets and canals.
You can learn how to determine the sex of a turtle and to find its age, like counting the rings of a tree — and you don't even have to cut it in half to count the years. Discover what to do if you find a turtle on its back, and learn how turtles make more turtles. Turtle eggs, for example, are all small, unlike birds, where large birds lay large eggs and small birds lay small eggs. The small East African pancake tortoise () lays a single egg, while sea turtles like (Dermochelys coriacea) lays up to 150 eggs at a time.
Learn about what turtles eat, and what eats turtles. You can visit the turtle clinic, the quarantine house, terrariums, nurseries of baby turtles and a tropical greenhouse.
About Turtle Village
Turtle Village is a scientific association run by naturalists to protect the turtles. The entrance fees and shop sales are used to support this endevour; this is not a commercial enterprise.
All of the turtles of Turtle Village are given by private individuals, or seized by customs, and they receive over 1500 turtles a year. Here they are cared for, cured of injuries in the clinic, sometimes bred, and eventually returned to their native habitat.
Open: 7 days, March-Sept, 09h-19h; Closed: Dec, Jan, Feb.
Discover more in ProvenceBeyond
The buvette is a snacks-drinks place, with a few outdoor tables. There are a few picnic tables in the village and some in the parking area.