Pairi Daiza is a Belgian park of heavenly delights

Pairi Daiza | Photo by evopix via 123RF
Pairi Daiza | Photo by evopix via 123RF

Pairi Daiza is a Belgian park of heavenly delights

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

When a community of Cisterian monks founded their monastery on what’s now Belgian territory back in the year 1148, they could have hardly foreseen the miraculous transformation that was to take place on the very grounds they so fastidiously tended.

Had they been able to see centuries into the future, they would surely have been overwhelmed, and likely quite pleased, with the vision of what was to transpire on their soil. For nothing less than a faithful representation of the wonder of God’s great kingdom has come to dwell.

The name of this almost magical place is Pairi Daiza, and it’s no coincidence that when said aloud, the word sounds familiar. The term “Pairi daēza” hails from Avestan, the language of Zoroastrian scripture. It refers to an enclosed space and forms the root of the Persian word paradise.

Pairi Daiza is such a unique place it’s hard to describe in words. A fenced-in expanse of nature covering more than 136 acres, the size of more than 100 American football fields, provides an environment in which various wonders from the furthest corners of our wild and wonderful planet survive and thrive.

This space—a garden, zoo, cultural space, conservation center and historical monument rolled into one—opened back in 1993 under the name Parc Paradisio. The vision of its creator, Eric Domb, was to recreate beautiful parts of the world on Belgian ground while sensitizing visitors to the beauty and fragility of nature.

Here, a staggering 5,000 different species of animal reflecting the glory of the animal kingdom have found their earthly home. These birds and beasts reside in distinct “worlds” unto their own.

The Land of Origins evokes the essence of Africa by means of a stilted village, bright fabrics, masks and other artifacts representing the cradle of mankind and is the territory of cheetahs, hippos, rhinos, zebra and hyenas. The Kingdom of Ganesha, with its temples and lush vegetation through which elephants, orangutans and white tigers roam, replicates Indonesia and Southeast Asia. The Middle Kingdom harkens back to ancestral China and provides a harmonious home to pandas and snow leopards. The Southern Cape, representing Oceania, is the realm of Maori and aborigines, kangaroos, koalas and the Tasmanian Devil.

It’s not only earth’s warmest corners that have found themselves transported to Belgium. The Last Frontier takes visitors to British Columbia and Alaska, a land of cold harsh winters in which black and brown bear, timber wolves, moose and puma still manage to thrive. The Land of the Cold evokes Scandinavia, Russia and the Arctic and illustrates how man protects himself in such a harsh climate by means of a recreated “izba,” a rustic Russian hut built out of pine.

To remind us that roughly seven-tenths of the earth’s surface is covered with water, Cambron-by-the-Sea sees a neoclassical château transformed into an aquarium where seals play, seahorses gently bob and penguins go about their business.

Lest we forget its origins, traces of the original monastery have been integrated into the park’s design. Park visitors enter through an ancient gate overlooked by a white stone carving of Our Lady of Cambron. A columned, Renaissance-era well, grandiose stone staircase and a soaring tower with a mysterious crypt and underground escape route testify to the place’s former function.

Activities to round out one’s stay at the park include watching a birds of prey demonstration, taking a tour of the grounds in a horse-drawn cart or hopping aboard the narrow-gauge steam train.

Those longing to remain in paradise a while longer will find their prayers answered in the form of the various types of accommodation offered on-site. Some of its comfortable and cozy lodging options even include underwater viewing windows, allowing guests to observe penguins, walruses, sea lions or even a polar bear swimming past.

Of course, there will always be some who are put off by the very idea of a zoo. However, they might have a change of heart upon learning the team at the helm of the Pairi Daiza Foundation considers its primary mission the development of the human species in perfect harmony with nature. What’s more, Pairi Daiza was been voted the best zoo in Europe for three years running, from 2018 through 2020, and has won numerous other accolades for its conservation efforts.

Pairi Daiza is located in Cambron-Casteau, in the Belgian province of Hainaut, roughly 12 miles north of the city of Mons. Entry during the low season costs 37 euros adults, 32 euros ages 3-11, and is free for ages two and younger. A day’s parking ticket goes for an additional 9 euros.

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