Fairytales come to life at Dutch theme park
Magical characters and some old-fashioned fun make this established amusement park the perfect October half-term family break, says Sherna Noah
You know Efteling, in the south of the Netherlands, is going to be different when you spot its slightly spooky, other-worldly entrance, resembling a giant bat wing. Once through, our first destination is the Fairytale Forest, perfect for the youngest of children. Here you can catch a glimpse of Hansel and Gretel nibbling at the gingerbread cottage, Sleeping Beauty lying on her bed or Rapunzel locked up in the tower.
Following a meandering path through the trees, it feels — at times — as though we’ve stepped into the pages of a classic fairy tale. The Fairytale Forest dates from 1952 and was the creative vision of Anton Pieck, a Dutch artist who also illustrated the famous Brothers Grimm books.
But there are plenty of newer rides across Efteling, including the Baron, which plunges you down at a terrifying 90km per hour, and fairytale attraction The Six Swans, which will open next autumn. None of us had the stomach for the Baron, or the Python steel roller coaster with its double loop and corkscrew, but my husband and our nine-year-old son opted for the wooden as well as the water coaster, which got them nicely drenched.
For us, two days is just enough time to enjoy the five themed areas of the park, with boat rides, a Thai temple offering panoramic views, playgrounds, monorail, maze, pedal train and rides.
The Dutch snub the idea of fast passes, so everyone has the same wait, but the Efteling App allows you to keep an eye on live queue times — we wait an hour for one very popular ride at peak time. And if your child gets tired walking around, you can hire a gorgeous wooden cart to pull them around in.
One of the lovely things about Efteling is that nature gets a look-in. Theme parks are not usually home to gorgeous flower beds, duck and fish ponds or the odd peacock, but this one has all of that.
At Efteling Village Bosrijk some of the houses sit on the edge of a lake — where Mr Sandman, one of Efteling’s most popular characters, ‘lives’ in a sandcastle. He appears in the evenings to read children a bedtime story, although it is in Dutch.
There are two other accommodation options, and staying in any of them gets you access to the park half an hour early.
Efteling Holiday Village Loonsche Land includes tree houses built on stilts and a small on-site farm. Efteling Hotel is located a stone’s throw away from the park and has a Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty Suite.
I fall in love with Bosrijk, though, with its natural play areas and wild rabbits. Breakfast at our village restaurant had its very own kids’ buffet — mini doughnuts and hundreds and thousands to sprinkle on toast.
In the park, there are stalls selling fresh vegetables, as well as the ice creams, mini-doughnuts and Dutch waffles. We really enjoyed the food — from healthy, fresh salads to Turkish pizzas.
Our village houses an indoor swimming pool, complete with bubble bench and rapids, and a baby and toddler pool.
One afternoon, we hired bikes and cycled to a nature reserve just 10 minutes away, with stunning sand dunes and forest walks. We could have spent the whole day here — if the prospect of spotting Pinocchio in the Fairytale Forest hadn’t torn us away.
MAGICAL TRIP: Efteling fairytale forest and (inset from top) The Symbolica and Python ride, and (below) the riverside accommodation at Efteling