Thursday, 25 August 2011

Europa Park – Europe’s little known theme park

Undoubtedly the general consensus when we ask what is Europe’s most prestigious, or quality theme park, would be Disneyland Paris Resort. Certainly the UK has never got it quite right - with Alton Towers or Chessington perhaps nothing more than glorified funfairs; as such attracting the appropriate calibre of visitors. I look at Germany, and a hidden gem nestled near the Black Forest.

Situated in South-Western Germany, practically on the border of France is Europa Park. Although surprisingly the theme park is relatively unheard of in the UK, and perhaps other parts of Europe, it boasts being the second most popular theme park in Europe; over four million visitors a year to be exact.

Perhaps travelling to this theme park reveals why the park is rather unheard of in Britain – getting to Europa Park was somewhat of a mission. A budget flight to Karlsruhe Baden-Baden airport, from London Stanstead and one could be fooled into thinking this was the hard part over. I over-zealously board a bus that ultimately takes me to Strasbourg, France, then a train to a tiny village in the middle of the German countryside. Following this a local bus service that stopped about a mile from the bed and breakfast I stayed in; incidentally the only B&B in the neighbouring village. Consequently I would strongly urge that unless you are attempting to hire a car, consider paying for one of the parks on-site hotels if your budget allows.

There may have been more sensible ways to travel to my hotel, but my ill-researched journey revealed beautiful unspoilt German countryside, and sunflower fields in the absolutely scorching July sun.

The B&B was quite literally the only place to eat, or do just about anything in the village – with the exception of a miniscule shop nearby that never actually seemed to be open. A home-style German sausage pasta dish it is for a warm al-fresco dinner.

First thing in the morning we opt for a less random mode of transport in order to make an early start at Europa Park. A taxi takes us through the German countryside and typical German houses to the gates of the park.

Those familiar with Epcot at Walt Disney World in Florida may be more inclined to understand the layout or grand design of this park. Here, rather than incorporating global countries each ‘land’ is actually a European Country.

The quality, attention to detail and also the established status of the park is immediately evident as I walk in. There are immaculately up-kept gardens, and rather like the entrance to Disneyland, a main ‘street’ which acts as a portal to the park and serves as ‘Germany’, the first land to discover.

A plethora of bars, restaurants and beautiful gardens before even a glimpse of a rollercoaster immediately communicates that this park is aiming for so much more than a playground for thrill seeking, sugar-hyped adolescents.

Further exploration reveals the other stunningly crafted lands, including France, which features a large fountain courtyard surrounded by bars and eateries; clearly the spot for slouching out in the sun with a chilled German beer. One might also notice further evidence of inspiration from Disney’s Epcot here, with a large and striking geodesic structure – though here housing a thrilling rollercoaster ride.

Europa Park was opened in 1975 to showcase some of the ride designs of the Mack family, and of course as well as sedating guests with stunning gardens, thrilling them on wild rollercoasters is something the park does rather well. Blue Fire is the parks latest, featuring a 100km/h launch and stomach turning rolls.

Also here are many family rides, most notably their own bizarre take on a haunted mansion attraction, and a generous helping of water rides to keep cool in the very intense German summers.

After experiencing overnight what was most certainly the biggest thunderstorm I’ve ever witnessed in my entire life, I enjoy my second day in the park. This time with all the rides done, more time to simply relax and enjoy the surroundings.

As I leave the park I notice a piece of the Berlin wall on display – Europa Park incorporates German history and culture throughout; something that UK theme parks rarely attempt. It also showcases artifacts and exhibitions from around Europe, including a Russian space capsule walkthrough.

Overall, particularly for theme park enthusiasts, Europa Park cannot be overlooked. It may not be as accessible to the UK as other theme parks, but those seeking quality and such a wide range of attractions will not let down by what this park has to offer.