Menhir Express (Parc Asterix)
Standing stones, or menhirs, are an archaeological
phenomenon. Each stone weighs around five tons, yet historical sites such as
Stone Henge prove that despite not having low-back lorries and JCBs, the
ancients managed to create many wonders of the world.
So how did these
people move such objects? The Gaelic park just north of Paris, Parc Asterix,
likes to think that a courier company in the dark ages specialised in moving
such stones through channels of water. Menhir Express shuns away from the
old-school log flume (brought about by a similar concept of moving logs along
rivers) and was one of the first flume rides to actually have an original theme.
And so the park
managed to continue the quality of theming into one of the best themed rides in
the park, Menhir Express.
As a ride,
Hopkins, a French manufacturer who is probably the market leader in getting you
wet whilst you’re still fully clothed, crafted Menhir Express. During the
manufacture of it, though, a fire at a neighbouring factory damaged parts of
Menhir Express causing a moderate delay in the delivery of the ride.
On the side of a
rich-blue lake, a wooden framed thatched building house what has to be the most
impressive flume stations this side of Islands of Adventure. Towards the back of
the lake, one lift disappears into the distance, whilst supported by a rather
rickety wooden latticework of supports the final steep drop hits the lake with
perfectly engineered precision.
The queue starts
up a staircase outside this golden-brown building, before crossing a long
covered balcony walkway along the front.
To your left,
through some windows you look down on a themed gift shop selling little more
than the usual collection of branded merchandise. Hanging from the ceiling,
gift-wrapped menhir stones await delivery to various locations.
The queue soon
goes inside and passes through a storeroom with wooden crates and boxes labelled
up with addresses, before going downstairs and around the edge of the lake
into which the final drop splashes down. The station is large and well designed.
After queuing its length, you then approach the line of ‘rocks’ in which you
will soon be riding.
The boats are well
themed, all appearing to be standing stones with wood tied around the bottom to
help float this most atypical conveyance. Each is a slightly different shade of
brown, beige or grey.
The boats are what
you would expect on a normal log flume, comfortably seating four or five adults
on a bench, separated halfway with a seat back. Once seated, the boat
approaches the end of the conveyor before dipping down into the dark blue
slightly to the left, you begin the first lift that runs in the opposite
direction parallel to the final drop. This lift is about 35-foot tall, and once
you are at the top, you hit the first run of water.
at tree height, you slalom violently through the woodland that resides behind
the main portion of the ride. As you weave throughout the oak trees, you do so a
fair rate, and with a leftwards bend, the water will rebound off the side and
slosh into your boat, something you rarely expect on a log flume.
You approach a
wooden building, which you soon enter. You slow slightly, and before your eyes
can reacquaint to the darkness, you are hastily thrown into a smooth and prompt
downward drop, and just as you expect a splash of water, you’re smoothly
pulled back up into a roller coaster-style camel back before dropping once again
into the water.
Breath taken, you
go outside, this time at ground level, before going into another building. As
you do so, a revolving tunnel envelops the boat, and as it turns you really
start to wonder whether it is the boat listing to the side. As you leave this
stunning feature, you turn to the right under a long tunnel of water created by
fountains before going outside once again.
No sooner are you
outside you begin an ascent up to the final drop. You can see boats to your
right on the initial stretch before the roller coaster drop and as you get to
the top, you turn to the right before you are thrown into a sharp, single
You lean forwards
as the drop steepens before you pull out, skim the water for what seems an
eternity before the boat slows and pushes a wave of water out the sides and
sloshing back into the boat.
With legs soaked,
the boat turns the final 180-degree turn back into the station. You leave to the
left hand side, have a chance to be humiliated by the binding on-ride photos
before you exit via the shop you saw from the queue line.
From the queue,
the ride may look no more spectacular than a well themed log flume. The roller
coaster-style drop soon dismisses this initial thought, and the revolving tunnel
and fountain tunnel just go to strengthen the fact that this goes way beyond the
drop is nice and smooth, and because the enclosure is darkened, you have no idea
that you will soon be encountering an impressive bunny-hop before even reaching
tunnel is somewhat unreliable, but when it works it seems to work very well, as
instinct leads you to lean in the opposite direction of rotation, which does
actually tilt the boat.
The fountains just
add to the experience, and the final drop is nice and steep, inducing a nice
stomach-in-the-mouth feeling, skimming the water before getting you reasonably
The theming around
the rides’ circuit itself is unsurprisingly lacking, but then there is little
that can be themed. The station area, the pool that it is built behind, and the
queue really set the plot to a tee and it is rather pleasing to the eye, too.
Parc Asterix have
not only brought an exciting, no-dead-spots ride to the park, but a well themed
experience that further enforces the parks’ continually impressive arsenal of
rides and attractions.
4/5 Marcus Sheen