Let’s be honest, the prospect of going to any theme park is a bit naff. You have to drive to the middle of nowhere, pay a king’s ransom to get in and then spend most of your time either queuing for every ride or looking for your lost friends and family who are probably stuck in a separate queue.
But regardless of all of this, I do love them.
I’ve been to both of the Disneylands in the USA and done a fair few of the other big names like Busch Gardens and Six Flags. Australia and Asia are into theme parks in a big way but I was surprised by how many there are in Europe, the home of high culture and the freezing cold. I’ve sampled a few, such as Thorpe Park outside London, and found they stack up to the best in the world.
But which one is the best?
Hands down. I went there with Carmen and had an absolute ball. Carmen lived in Paris with a French family many years ago and we were in the city of lights for her host mother’s birthday. We had a spare day – I wanted to go to Euro Disneyland – but Carmen’s host sister insisted we go to Parc Asterix. She simply said ‘Zeus’ over and over again, which was confusing – but seemed sophisticated and French – so I went along with it.
If you don’t know the story of Asterix, let me explain.
Asterix is a comic book character who lives in a small village during the Roman occupation of Gaul (what France used to be known as). Asterix and his best friend Obelix (who has superhuman strength from falling into a cauldron of magic potion when he was just a little baby) have a series of crazy adventures throughout the Roman Empire which are educational as well as bloody hilarious. There are more than twenty volumes in the series and they are well worth a read, even if you’re old and grey.
I loved the books as a child and must confess I still flick through a few now and then. But I wasn’t expecting much from Parc Asterix. Disney has a menagerie of wild and crazy characters in cool situations that lend themselves perfectly to rides and games. But Asterix? What could an illustrated, albeit humorous, version of the ancient world serve up? Well, this for starters:
Lots of freakin’ rollercoasters. Lots of them.
There was a twisty one that rolled along a metal road, an old school style wooden one that cracked and creaked and warped as the cars sped across its spars and a really fast one that made us feel a bit sick.
But the big daddy of them all was Zeus.
The headline act. A super fast, twisting behemoth of fear and ancient Greek resentment.
I may have complained about it previously, but I think queuing actually has its good points.
I don’t mean that I enjoy the annoying act of waiting. I don’t. But standing in a slow moving line beneath a rollercoaster that whizzes past every thirty seconds leaving a doppler smear of people’s screams ringing in your ears builds suspense better than Hitchcock. Every 20 people ahead of you in the line that get into the cars bring you closer to the moment of truth. ‘Is this too dangerous?’ you ask. ‘Can I back out now without seeming like a wimp?’
Then it’s your turn.
With Zeus, you lower yourself down into the still warm seat of the carriage (hopefully the very front one!) and let the metal restraint snap into position. No turning back now. The attendents waive you off with a bored salute and the pneumatic pistons on the track kick the rollercoaster into motion. Zeus has you in his grasp. Up and up you go, higher and higher, closer and closer to the big drop. And then…
I won’t spoil it for you. Go yourself. You won’t regret it!
What you need to know
How to get there: Parc Asterix is about s 30km north of Paris on the A1 motorway if you drive. There’s a shuttle bus that leaves from the Louvre and trains from Charles de Gaulle airport.
Costs: 44 euros for 12 and up and 33 euros for 3-11 year olds.
When to go: We went on a sunny day in spring. It was still too cold for the water attractions but the crowds were lower so we go on to the rides pretty easy. Summer is definitely the busy season!