Parc Asterix

All ages
Destination: Plailly, France

Why would a family who took the trouble to fly all the way to France ever go to Disneyland Paris? You could just as easily go to a real French theme park that's just as much (if not more) fun: Parc Asterix. Granted, English-speaking children may not be familiar with these comic book characters. But you don't have to read Asterix comics to get the gist of the thing; it's enough to know that the characters are goofy Gauls living under the rule of the Roman Empire, which gives the theme park an excuse to haul out images from Roman mythology, Viking lore, even the Druids.

There's definitely a sense of humor at play -- when you stand underneath the giant statue of a thunderbolt-clutching Zeus that presides over the top-rated roller coaster, look up under his toga and you'll see he's been provided with spotted underpants (providing a photo op that few parkgoers pass up). This spick-and-span amusement park, which is open seasonally, offers some 30 rides, for all levels -- everything from a tiny kiddie carousel to the Towers of Zeus (Europe's biggest wooden roller coaster) and the exhilarating Goudurix, a speedy coaster with no fewer than seven loop-de-loops.

Themes are not just tacked on, they really enhance the rides -- such as the swing ship shaped like a Viking long- boat, the scramble ride with a many-headed Hydra dragon sprouting from the center, or the inner tube ride that swoops down the Styx river, the mythological entry to Hell. The kiddie section is designed like a Druid forest (or at least a cozy Smurf-esque Druid forest); the stage shows are in a pseudo- Roman arena, with an aquatic Poseidon's Theater added for dolphin shows. Your vision of touring France with your family may be all about Versailles and the Louvre, but the children may eventually clamor for something more . . . well, fun.

In that case, you can feel good about giving in to the Parc Asterix option: It's about the same distance from Paris as Disneyland: 35km (22 miles) north of Paris, easily within day-trip range (you'll need a connecting bus from the Roissy train station if you don't go by car). Pour- quoi pas?

Information: Off the A1 (tel. 33/3/44-62-31-31;

Nearest Airport: De Gaulle, Orly

Accommodations: Hotel de Fleurie, 32-34 rue Grégoire-de-Tours (tel. 33/1/53-73-70-00; Residence Lord Byron, 5 rue de Chateaubriand (tel. 33/1/43-59-89-98;