If you asked the vast majority of people who lived outside of central Europe to name a theme park in France, the most popular answer would undoubtedly be Disneyland Paris. There will, however, be some who are big fans of a certain satirical comic, and they will immediately respond with Parc Asterix. Based on the famous Gaul created by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, this park has enjoyed increasing success since it first opened in 1989 and it is very much an antidote to the fluff and pageantry of Disney. So it is just for kids? We think not.
Despite his diminutive stature, Asterix is renowned for clobbering Romans and letting rip with blasphemous comments at obscure gods. Mickey Mouse he certainly is not. Along with Obelix, his oversized, trusty sidekick, Asterix has enthralled readers for decades and holds a unique place in the history of French literature. So that's you all caught up on the little guy himself; lets check out his park.
Located 22 miles north of Paris and 20 miles from its rodent-dominated competitor, Parc Asterix offers everything you would expect from a top end theme park. While kids may whinge at the lack of characters on every corner – as mine did – parents will relish not having to take 150 photos an hour.
The layout is more Portaventura-esque in that it's arranged into historical zones. First up are the Romans who, despite numerous attempts, never succeeded in capturing Asterix's holdout village. There is a good selection of rides here as well as an amphitheatre where several shows are held. Here you meet the first characters Portaventura – a legion of centurions who accost visitors before flinging themselves to the ground. The performance can get a bit lost in translation but is still enjoyable.
Next up is Ancient Greece which plays host to the lake, dolphinarium, and two of the biggest crowd-pulling rides in the park. The Tonnerre de Zeus is one of Europe's biggest roller coasters and the wooden construction fits in perfectly with the surroundings. The second one is Goudurix; named after a character who is forced to confront his fears. These offer top notch adrenaline rushes for those taller than 1.2m and 1.4m respectively, and are worth queuing for.
What you soon realise is the amount of opportunities there are for getting wet at Parc Asterix and a good soaking is guaranteed on LA Descente du Styx which replicates white water rafting. If being scared is your thing then head for the Transdemonium; the ghost train set in the Medieval village. Older kids and adults will handle this better than little ones if the tears were anything to go by but then again, why would you want a 5 year old to be scared witless? What? Because he was insufferable in the car? Ah, yes. Good point.
The real highlight for many is right in the centre of the park at the Gaulish village. From 12.30pm Asterix, Obelix and the rest of their friends come out to meet the children and pose for pictures betwixt all the cuddles. While many children will have no idea who the characters are, they seem to love them anyway. The chief's wife Impedimenta was a big favourite, as was Obelix.
This, combined with the good selection of gentler rides, makes it a great day out for little ones. Even though you know they are merely actors in costume seeing those favourite characters you have read about all your life up close and personal is a real thrill for adults. In fact, parents seem even keener than their kids to have their photos taken with them. Overall, Parc Asterix has achieved the very difficult task of striking that balance and creating a theme park which really does appeal to all ages and for that we salute them.
At the time of publication (Feb 2015) ticket prices were 46 euro for adults and one should check the park is open on the dates you are interested in going - it's closed for the winter and a sprinkling of dates the rest of the year.