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The year is 50 B.C and Gaul is entirely occupied by Romans. Well not entirely! One small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the invaders…
These famous opening lines belong, as any Francophile knows, to the French comic books series Astérix (or The Adventures of Astérix). Written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo, the stories tell the tales of the small, wily Gaul who defends his ancient village from Roman occupation thanks to his man-mountain friend Obelix and a secret magic potion that gives users superhuman strength. First published in 1959, the stories have been phenomenally successful, selling over 380 million copies and translated into 111 languages.
The comic capers of Astérix are so entrenched in French culture that when René Goscinny died in 1977, it was, in the words of one French obituary, “as if the Eiffel Tower had fallen down.”
Given the popularity of the books, it’s not surprising that there have been numerous spinoffs to the comic book series, including a theme park located on the outskirts of Paris. Astérix Park is located in Plailly, 40 minutes from central Paris. It first opened in 1989 and is today ranked as the 10th most visited theme park in Europe and the second most visited in France, after Disneyland Paris.
Astérix Park is a charming, authentically French theme park. There are some thrilling rides and some excellent shows, but at its heart, this homegrown park is a celebration of one of the country’s most famous literary characters.
The park is home to 47 attractions spread out across six different worlds all based on the Roman Empire and all of which feature at some point in Astérix’s adventures. There’s Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Gaul and the Vikings, for example. Each world has its own collection of rides with something for all visitors to enjoy, from stomach-churning roller coasters and water flumes to gentle rides that younger children will love.
Some of the stars of the park – in addition to the comic book characters themselves, who can be seen posing for photos along Via Antiqua near the main entrance – are the Tonnerre Tonnerre de Zeus (the thunder of Zeus) and the Pegasus Express. The Thunder of Zeus is a 1km-long wooden roller coaster that hurtles guests along on a rickety ride at nearly 50mph. In the world of Ancient Greece, the Pegasus Express twists and turns at full speed with a scream-inducing surprise half-way through.
Another rollercoaster where you can expect to wait in line is Oziris, an Egyptian-themed inverted ride that spins, dives, loops and drops at breakneck speed. Queues for the most popular rides can take up to an hour when the park is busy but, just like Getafix’s magic potion, there’s a quick fix. Asterix Park offers a range of “fast track” options that allow visitors to skip the queue. You can pay a one-off fee (€6-€8) to jump to the front of the line or buy a day-long Filomatix pass that allows you to skip the queue for 10 major attractions.
In addition to the thrills and spills of the rollercoasters, Astérix Park hosts a number of shows daily. Held in a large amphitheater in the world of the Roman Empire, the “Gauls vs Romans” show sees the villagers compete against – and inevitably annihilate – the legionnaires in a number of “sports.” You can often spot the inept Romans practicing drills outside the amphitheater as well. One of the more recent park offerings is a 4D cinema experience, Attention Menhir! The entertaining 15-minute film opened in 2019 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the park and uses dynamic motion seats that move in time with the animation.
You can get around the park in a day but if you want more time then there are three hotels on site: Les Trois Hiboux, La Cité Suspendue and Les Quais de Lutèce. The latter is the most recent hotel to open and is arguably the best. The award-winning hotel has been modeled on Paris in Roman times, when the city was known as Lutetia. The reception area resembles an old warehouse and opens onto quays that have been designed to mimic those that once connected the banks of the River Seine. A canal runs through the middle, flanked by wooden buildings that appear to have jumped straight from the pages of one of Asterix’s adventures.
The main dining room is another comic book-inspired design, only visitors to the park are given far more choice than the Gallic villagers. The dinner buffet includes a generous seafood selection, a salad bar and a hot buffet offering, among other things, roasted boar (Obelix’s favorite), roasted pork, richly sauced meatballs and a range of fish options.
As with the other hotels in Parc Astérix, staying at Les Quais de Lutèce gives you a 30-minute head start into the park, meaning you can get on the most popular rides before anyone else is even allowed in.
Need to know:
Park Astérix is open daily from 10am to 7pm during peak season; 10am-6pm during off-peak season. The opening times vary according to season and it is best to check the website for details before visiting. Entry rates are around 45 euros; promotional tickets are often available with special rates for a hotel-park combination. Seasonal passes are also available.
Parc Astérix is not open year-round. It is open daily from June to August and at other times of the year it is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Check the website carefully as opening days and times vary during the off-season.
The park hosts special themed events around holidays like Halloween.
Lead photo credit : Characters at Asterix Park © S.CAMBON 2019