Travel: A summer guide to Europe's theme parks - No 6: Parc Asterix

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The Independent Travel
Parc Asterix, France's riposte to Disneyland - which is based on the adventures of their very own national cartoon hero - is 35 kilometres north of Paris. It attracts 2 million visitors a year and is France's third most popular theme park. An excellent alternative to families who have already visited Disney, and more fun.

After experiencing the leg wobbling big dippers you'll need to find your feet. Make your way to the Croisiere d'Epidermais, the longest ride in the park where you can hop on the boat that winds its way through several cartoon themed sets. It is also worth visiting some of the shows, where you won't need to speak the lingo to understand what's going on. There's the Roman Arena where acrobats flip-flop around and the Mona Lisa Caper where the hunt is on to find the stolen world-famous masterpiece. Our favourites were the Theatre De Possidon (the Dolphin Show) and D'Artagnan and his Musketeers who perform a mock duel.

There's also an excellent outdoor play area, the Druid Forest, which is a good place to visit at the end of the day when you're trying to tire out the children. It has log slides, toad stalls, climbing walls with notches and a bell at the top to ring when you reach the summit, stone swings and mushroom stalls.

If you visit on a hot day and need cooling off, take advantage of one of the park's 10 water rides. Our favourite was the new L'Oxygenarium, where you can board buoys that resemble large tyres, then get transported to the tree-tops via a large conveyor belt. You descend on a 400-metre water toboggan that twists and turns in all directions.

Best for: Families with children of mixed ages. The selection of rides is suitable for all age groups - including miniature dippers for toddlers - so there is a good chance temper tantrums will be kept to a minimum.

Worst for: Those who prefer Tintin.

Admission price: You can buy tickets in advance through Bridge Travel (tel: 01992 456670). A one-day adult ticket is pounds 18, and for children aged 3-11 years, the price is pounds 13; under three-year-olds go free.

Opening times: 9.30am to 8pm, peak season; all other times 10am to 7pm.

Food and drink: The park has six restaurants, with a choice of places to eat cafeteria style or a la carte. The Big Top Lunch in the circus tent, where children can spend time in the Lions' Pen (a soft play area), has reasonable prices. Alternatively, try the Pizzeria where child menus are available.

Good for adults: Overgrown roller coaster fanatics won't be disappointed: the Tonnerre de Zeus (the thunder of Zeus) is a wooden roller-coaster classed as one of the top-two big dippers in the world and guaranteed to reduce parents to the status of screaming teenagers. When you're waiting for the ride you'll stand under a huge statue of Zeus - look up and see his flowery pants.

The other grown-up attraction near Parc Asterix is the city of Paris.

Getting There: From Dover to Calais with P&O Stena Line (tel: 0870 6000600) or go via Folkestone to Calais with Eurotunnel (tel: 0990 353535).

Best time to go: July and August are the busiest months, but the good news is that the park closes its gates once 25,000 people are inside. The maximum time you might wait for rides during busy periods is about one hour; the waiting times are displayed on all rides.

Sample package: A one-night break at the Hotel Mercure Saint Witz costs from pounds 91 per person sharing a room. This price includes bed and breakfast accommodation and return travel. For further information contact Bridge Travel Service which has a brochure on theme parks, (Theme Parks and Holiday Villages), tel: 01992 456670. The park has just opened its own hotel - Hotel de Trois Hiboux - and Bridge Travel is offering packages to this hotel from September.

Further Information: The French tourist board, at 178 Piccadilly, London, W1V 0AL. Tel: 0906 8244123; calls are charged at 60p a minute.

Rating: 8/10