A Summer Guide To Europe's Theme Parks: No: 3 Futuroscope, France

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The Independent Travel
Futuroscope is the brainchild of Senator Rene Manory who, in the mid-1980s, decided that his depressed agricultural region of the Vienne might be revived by the introduction of some major tourist attraction. The geometrical, steel and glass structures that make up the park stick out like an alien landing site on the flat fields north of Poitiers.

Inside the various pavilions are examples of the world's most advanced film technologies: Imax and 3-D screens, "dynamic" cinemas, interactive cinemas, screens above you, below you and staring at you from every side. There are films that invite you to be a monarch butterfly or a falling raindrop, to get inside a plant, to dive in the Red Sea, to climb Everest or explore the pyramids of Egypt. When you get tired of all these visual stimuli or sickened by the rocking seats in the dynamic cinemas or bored with things leaping at you in three dimensions from the screen, you can visit the children's playground, the shop selling regional products or one of the park's nine restaurants.

In the evening, through the summer, there are laser shows at the lake, and the park is holding an interactive and video games festival in the first weeks of July.

Who goes there? The park had 2.7 million visitors in 1998, around 87 per cent of them French.

Is it for children, too? Most fun for over-10s, though there are facilities on the site for all ages. Small children may not like the dynamic cinemas and could have problems with the Polaroid glasses in the 3-D cinemas. There are headphones with translation into English where necessary.

Admission price: Children aged five to 12), low season: 100FFr (about pounds 10; one day), 180FFr (two days), 260FFr (three days). Adults: 145/280/325FFr. Child, mid season: 120/220/290FFr. Adult, mid season: 175/330/390FFr. Child, high season: 140/255/290FFr. Adult, high season: 195/365/390FFr.

Opening Times: From 9am to 6pm, low season; 9am to 7pm, mid season; 9am to 11pm, high season (including night shows).

Food and Drink: The Cristal Restaurant has a two-course menu for 95FFr and offers a number of regional dishes (including the local fish, sandre, and goat's milk cheeses). There are eight other restaurants on the site, including one burger bar. All have children's menus (with a choice at the Cristal between "traditional" and "taste educating"!).

Best shows: the first 3-D Imax feature film is Jean-Jacques Annaud's Guillaumet: Les Ailes du Courage, adapted from a novel by Antoine de Saint- Exupery. The technology still leaves the story and acting far behind, alas. The "dynamic" film about the departement de la Vienne was the most popular of those with moving seats, but the Magic Carpet, giving the eye- view of a butterfly, was also very much appreciated.

Most boring show: There is an understandable desire to promote the Poitou- Charente region, but the film in the High Resolution Cinema turned out to be no better than most travelogues, however clear the images.

Getting there: You can travel to Poitiers by high-speed train (TGV) from Paris or Lille. There is also an airport in Poitiers with a connection to London City Airport. There is a regular bus service from Poitiers to Futuroscope. From next Spring, the TGV will stop at a new Futuroscope station.

Nearest City: Poitiers, a university town with a correspondingly youthful population, has a fine romanesque church and other medieval buildings, including the Baptistere Saint-Jean, one of the oldest examples of Christian architecture in France.

Sample package price: Brittany Ferries (tel: 0990 360360) can arrange a package to suit your needs. A break for a family of four, with two nights in the Novotel, a short walk from the entrance of Futuroscope, will cost from pounds 230 to pounds 332 depending on season. This price includes ferry crossings from Portsmouth to St Malo with a four-berth cabin.

Further information: Futuroscope UK, Scott Reeve, 70 Upper Richmond Road, London SW15 2RP (tel: 0181-871 1918).

Rating: 9/10

The author travelled with his wife and step-daughter, Irina (aged 11).