The air is thick with tropical humidity. I take a deep breath; it tastes of earth; green and warm. The Cub scampers ahead of us through the jungle, past great towering plants, her hair curling in the damp air. I can hear a waterfall nearby somewhere, but the lush foliage is too dense to see it.
But this is no ordinary jungle, though it looks and smells just like one. The paths are paved and the sky is like nothing else on Earth. A honeycomb web of steel stretches across the sky above us, enclosing the jungle in a giant bubble.
We are inside the Rainforest Biome, at the Eden Project, Cornwall.
The Eden Project
The Eden Project is the brainchild of Sir Tim Smit, the same man behind the restoration of the Lost Gardens of Heligan, just along the road. (Incidentally, these gardens are also an absolute must-see on a holiday in Cornwall).
The Biomes are built into a hillside, in a disused quarry. The bubble design was chosen as it is flexible and could cover the uneven ground, as well as looking pretty spectacular and futuristic. It took 230 miles of scaffolding to build the Biome frames.
The Eden Project is now an educational charity committed to creating sustainable ways of life and supporting locals as well as people further afield.
The Rainforest Biome
The Rainforest Biome is always our first stop. As someone who’s had very itchy feet since having children it’s fun to step into a tropical jungle for a little while and pretend I’m on holiday! Novelty factor aside, there is some great stuff to be discovered.
The Biome is set out in separate sections for different tropical habitats around the world, with example of both fauna and human habitats found in each rainforest environment. The Cub adored the traditional Malaysian house that you can walk through.
Some unusual and rare species are cultivated here. We saw the titan arum, the largest flowering structure in the world. I’m not sure how much bigger they were going to get when we saw them but the flower only opens for about 12- 48 hours after spending years growing. A bit like the giant rafflesia that the husband and I saw when we visited Borneo, the titan arum smells of rotting meat when it blooms.
The paths winding through the jungle lead slowly upwards until you reach the jungle walkway. It can get pretty hot in the Rainforest Biome and so there are some cooling-off points for you to rest in if you get too warm. There’s a great view from the top of the walkway. A new section, the Weather Maker, including a rope bridge, has just opened.
We continued on to the waterfall and then towards the plantation area where crops including bananas and coffee are growing. Make sure you stop for a smoothie at the Baobab bar!
The Mediterranean Biome
Cooler and more open than the Rainforest Biome, the Mediterranean Biome is just as interesting. Spring is a wonderful time to visit with vast swathes of tulips and wildflowers in bloom. Instead of thick tropical scents, the lighter air here is filled with the fresh aroma of herbs and citrus fruits.
Wine buffs will appreciate the vineyard area and the sculpture of Dionysus (Bacchus) cavorting in the centre. As well as the Mediterranean you can journey through South Africa’s fynbos, a Californian garden and a new Western Australian exhibit. All of these areas are carefully maintained and the horticulturalists will happily answer any questions you might have.
The Cub enjoyed tiptoeing through the winding mosaic paths, looking for cork sculptures and tiny birds flitting through the shrubs. We walked past silvery olive groves and spiky aloe plants before taking the opportunity to relax with a meal and an ice cream in the restaurant.
The Eden Project places a huge emphasis on education and sustainability. In each of the Biomes you will find a wealth of information about the plants and their uses. The gardens outside and the path down to the Biomes also have plenty to interest adults and children alike.
Inside the Core, a building adjacent to the Biomes, you will find an interactive educational experience for learning about plants, ecosystems, evolution and more. Most of this was beyond the Cub, but she burned off the rest of her energy in the soft play area hidden in a corner.
Educational courses run at Eden; take a gardening or botanical art course, or even a degree.
Special seasonal events happen throughout the year; check online before you go to see what’s happening. There’s also a concert arena which has hosted many big names over the years.
Know Before You Go
We have visited the Eden Project twice in the last couple of years. Both times we went were really quiet: we went just either side of the May half term. Try to visit outside of school holidays if you possibly can; I’ve heard that the Eden Project can get super busy in the holidays.
The Eden Project is easily reached by car and is signposted well on the roads from Exeter and Plymouth. We visited when we were staying in nearby Fowey. In the future you may be able to find accommodation onsite; plans are underway for an eco-hotel nearby.
The Eden Project is suitable for buggies and wheelchairs. There are plenty of baby-change facilities.
Make sure you’re wearing layers as the Rainforest Biome in particular can get very warm even if it’s a cold day outside. If it’s sunny you should also make sure you take sun cream as you can burn inside the Biomes.
The food on site is good; we have eaten in the restaurant in the Mediterranean Biome and in the cafe between the Biomes. We haven’t tried the terrace restaurant in the Core. It’s a little on the pricey side though.
You can usually validate your tickets for a year so if you want to come back don’t forget to do this!
The car parks are huge and quite far away from the buildings but you can take the bus from the car park to the visitor entrance rather than walk.
Of course, if you are more adventurous, you can always zipline over the site or take a ride in a giant swing! Tickets and further details can be found on the Eden Project website.