Combining the quirky charm of Legoland with the type of terrifying ride that teenagers love, Parc Astérix in the northern French département of Picardy is a refreshing and very French alternative to Disneyland Paris, with more than 30 rides and a restaurant constructed out of enormous pieces of fruit. Little ones have a designated area full of trains, druidic mushrooms and tree toboggans from which to spy on the pesky Romans, while children of my son’s age (7) can alternate between rides such as Obelix’s Menhir Express, which spins you through whirlpools and waterfalls before crashing you 13m down and soaking your mother, and the very exciting Thunder of Zeus wooden rollercoaster. Exhausted and soaked, you can then watch an Astérix themed show – rather lost in translation but judging by the screams of laughter from French visitors very funny.
The Parc is open daily from April to August, then weekends only from September to November, save October half-term, when ghosts and witches take over for the Fear Over Astérix and Fear Over Astérix Nights, when you can jump aboard the Transdemonium, explore a witches’ road in an old jalopy, and shudder your way through the Haunted House constructed for the occasion. Some evenings the Parc stays open late for more spooky thrills and chills and a fireworks display.
Parc Astérix has its own Hôtel des Trois Hiboux, surrounded by woods, but it books up quickly. The local Novotel is an excellent alternative, with a good restaurant and pool, or PV Holidays has family-friendly residences and holiday villages on the Picardy coast – at Le Crotoy (Résidence de la Plage) and Fort Mahon Plage (Belle Dune) – and in the neighbouring Pas de Calais, at Le Touquet (Les Jardins de la Côte d’Opale and Résidence Le Phare).
You could also stay in the port of Dunkirk, which has lots of B&Bs and a campsite on the beach. It’s the landing point for DFDS’s swish new (and award-winning) cross-Channel ferries, with children’s play areas and games rooms and stylish canteens with huge windows through which you can watch porpoise. If you pay £12 for VIP travel, you get priority boarding, a private salon, and free drinks and newspapers.
Dunkirk, which is much less congested than nearby Calais, makes for a good day-trip destination in its own right, with quirky old houses and a wonderful sandy beach stretching for miles. The small esplanade at the top has a good mixture of restaurants and shops, in one of which, serving a mixture of Flemish and French food, we ate mussels and watched children splash about in the sea, kite-surfers rise thrillingly, and sand yachts race one another, leading me to conclude that this would be a great place to return to when my son hits his teens.