“But why has the tree got a face?” asks my four-year-old son, Ben. We’re in the Fairytale Forest, face-to-face with Sprookjesboom (The Fairytale Tree), at the heart of the enchanted Efteling theme park in the Netherlands. It may’ve taken a little bit of coaxing to get Ben on board with the idea of fairy tales but the park, an institution for the Dutch, is truly magical. A mix of rides and attractions for all ages is on offer, from roller coasters and water flumes for the fearless, down to carousels and carnival rides for the smaller ones, and across it all a consistently top-notch fairy-tale theme.
The Fairytale Forest has a series of walk-through attractions telling all the classic tales, from Rapunzel to Pinocchio, and is just a short walk from Symbolica, the latest ride to grace the Palace of Fantasy. Here you join Pardoes, the happy-go-lucky jester, as he takes you on a tour of the palace, with some cutting-edge wizardry and special effects that put Disneyland to shame. Beyond that, the park divides into four main areas: ride coasters in the Adventure realm; experience Fata Morgana, an indoor boat ride, in the Other realm; travel into the skies in a bizarre floating pagoda in the Travel realm; and meet the Laaf people and ride the Droomvlucht (Dreamflight) in the Fairy realm.
Must-sees are the spectacular Raveleijn horse show, George and the Dragon, a medieval-themed wooden racing roller coaster, and Dreamflight, a fantastic indoor ride that impresses at every turn, culminating in a family-friendly finale that’ll make you want to go back and see it again. The fairy-tale theme doesn’t rest for lunch or dinner either, with a whole host of options, most notably the Polles Keuken pancake restaurant, where pots simmer and kitchen tools swing overhead as you tuck into your lunch. There’s a choice of accommodation surrounding the park, from the Efteling hotel and its fabulous, themed suites, to the cabins of Bosrijk and the new Loonsche Land, where we stayed. Designed to look like a beachside holiday village, the imposing hotel sits overlooking the water, and has a child-friendly bar and restaurant area, and simple but effective rooms with bunk beds that every four-year-old will love.
I can certainly say that after two days at Efteling, we’re all fairy tale converts. As to why the tree had a face, we still don’t know, but it doesn’t matter. It simply sums up the magical mystery of it all.
Why: For theme park fans who want to try something different to UK offerings without going all-out to Disneyland.
Suits: Young families new to the theme park experience.
Did it work: Yes. Travel to Efteling is relatively simple, by car or plane. Allow
a two-day stay to cover everything without rushing.
The details: A two-night stay in the new Loonsche Land Hotel, in a family room sleeping up to five, costs from €388 (£344), including park entry for three days. efteling.com
Published in the 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller – Family