FUN, adventure and moments of magic make a father and son trip to Poitiers one never to be forgotten
Excusez-moi, avez-vous le ketchup? I don’t recall learning this particular phrase at school, but it proved vital to the well-being of my seven-year-old on our father and son adventure to Poitou-Charentes in south-west France. My vocabulary virtually exhausted, we muddle our way from plane to TGV to hire car. Our base is Poitiers, a pretty cathedral city a couple of hours south of Paris and home to France’s second biggest theme park, Futuroscope.
“That was awesome,” Harvie declared as we left the theatre and it is hard to disagree. We had just been entranced by French illusionist Bertran Lotth, whose iMagic show – one of the big attractions of the park’s 25th anniversary celebrations – had left us in open-mouthed wonder as he didn’t so much pull a rabbit out of a hat, as a helicopter from behind a screen.
It kicks off a day of sensory overload as we escape the sun to take our seats in the planetarium-style cinema for Cosmic Collisions, a Robert Redford-narrated space documentary, or ride on the back of a ladybird for Arthur, the 4D Adventure, where we join Luc Besson’s animated character on a perilous journey where rats and spiders – in all their 3D glory – threaten at every turn. With seats that move and the risk of a light soaking or blast of air, it is as exciting as a rollercoaster.
Created in 1987 as part of an ambitious regional development, Futuroscope has an ethos unlike other theme parks, one based on education and fun. The cinemas and attractions are housed in eye-catching buildings with spheres, cubes, and crystal mountains all around. For the Everest Imax film, for example, the cinema screen is seven storeys high and measures a colossal 6,500sq ft. We learn about prehistoric sea creatures in the 3D Monsters of the Deep and something of the attractions of the region during the seat-shaking Dynamic Vienne. Nature films aren’t normally Harvie’s thing, but when we have a screen beneath our feet as well as in front of us, he is delighted to fly with a flock of geese and learn about their habitat in Travellers By Air and Sea.
There are too many highlights to mention, but what is refreshing is that when we emerge from a ride or film, we are not funnelled into a merchandise area, or, apart from Dances With Robots, which sees you flung around in the arms of a giant robot in time to a song, invited to purchase a photograph. There are souvenir shops, but they are tucked away and it seems that the ticket price isn’t simply a down payment for the day’s fun.
In summer the park is open until 11pm or so, concluding with the open-air light show, The Blue Note Mystery – all jet fountains, lasers and projected animation on water screens. It is spectacular, even if we have no idea what is being said. For the films, headsets provide English soundtracks.
Our hotel, the Plaza, is just a ten-minute walk away meaning we are able to easily get to and from the attraction. We had seen The Blue Note Mystery the night before so by 5pm the next day we are beginning to wilt. Heading towards the exit, we come across a children’s playground and mini waterpark. In an instant, shoes, socks and T-shirt are removed – Harvie’s, not mine – and I watch him charge around screaming in delight as he gets soaked under buckets and jets of water. Helpfully there are giant driers to get your charge ready to go home or venture out to the park again.
For a complete change of pace, we also visit La Vallée des Singes, a primate park 40 minutes south of Poitiers. Here we see countless different types of monkey. It is relaxed, friendly and in its own way as thrilling as anything in 4D. There are no cages, only moats separating certain species of primate from their human onlookers. Elsewhere you walk through woods and see monkeys relaxing on trees just by you. The gorilla family, the mother carrying a baby on her leg, the alpha male statuesque and magnificent are awe inspiring but our personal highlight are the gibbons. We find a shady seat and watch as two fling themselves around the woods, amusing themselves and entrancing us. “That was awesome,” says Harvie again. He is right. It was.
For more on Futuroscope, visit www.futuroscope.com; La Vallée des Singes, www.la-vallee-des-singes.fr; Hotel Plaza, www.hotel-plaza-site-du-futuroscope.com; for more on the Poitou-Charentes region, visit www.holidays-france-atlantic.com
Ryanair’s summer service from Edinburgh to Poitiers runs from 3 July-28 August 2012, www.ryanair.com, otherwise fly to Paris and connect via TGV train, www.raileurope.co.uk
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Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 10 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east