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Welcome to the Future at Futuroscope

Welcome to the Future at Futuroscope

Futuroscope celebrated its 25th Anniversary in 2012. But what exactly is it? You'll never know until you go as Roger Moss explains...

futuroscope ve10num 036

If you've ever wondered what exactly Futuroscope is then you're in good company. People have been asking themselves that particular question ever since the region's premier tourist attraction burst upon an amazed public back in 1987. More an 'experience attraction' than a mere theme park, this place is something else, and somehow manages to keep people guessing by reinventing itself with each new season.

One thing they do know, however, is that whatever it is, they like it – a lot. Twenty-five years on, what began as the unpromising-sounding 'Parc Européen de l'Image' has evolved to become France's second-biggest visitor attraction (after Disneyland Paris) with a staggering 40 million visitor entries, and counting. So where is it and how did it come to be there?

The perfect location

On paper, at least, the location, 10 kilometres north of Poitiers (on a site which falls within the communes of Chasseneuil-du-Poitou and Jaunay-Clan) might not seem an obvious choice. Look more closely, though, and it turns out to have been an inspired one, not least for ease of access: a 60-hectare site is bounded on one side by the A10 Paris-Bordeaux autoroute (l'Aquitaine), and on the other by both its predecessor the RN10 and Futuroscope's very own Gare TGV.

This suitably futuristic glass-walled structure features a graceful pedestrian footbridge which spans the busy road before descending neatly into the park, which high-speed rail travellers from Paris can now reach in just 80 minutes, door-to-door. All of which begs another obvious question: how did there come to be a Futuroscope in the first place? Well, the nearby university town and administrative centre has a long and proud history, with a higher concentration of listed historic monuments than virtually any other town in France (which is how Poitiers came to be known as la Ville aux Cent Clochers). But while it had always attracted visitors, the Conseil Général de la Vienne was acutely aware that to generate the levels of tourism revenue capable of bringing major benefits to the local economy it would need to come up with something genuinely unique and compelling. The result, after prolonged consultation and reflection was Futuroscope, whose visionary founding concept was communication in all its forms, and with fast-emerging multimedia technology at its heart.

Futuroscope

The foundation stone was laid in 1984 by prominent local Senator and influential national politician Réné Monory, and three years later the park opened with le Kinémax (at 600m2 Europe's largest flat projection screen), the striking prism-and-sphere Pavilion du Futuroscope and a games zone as its main attractions. But the overall concept also went an intriguing stage further, in the shape of the 2,000-hectare Technopôle du Futuroscope, a centre for training and research in high-tech disciplines including aeronautics and aerospace, digital imaging, software development, etc., plus a substantial Conference Centre.

Changing Skyline

Since then the skyline has continued to develop, becoming ever more startling as each new landmark feature took shape, and the effect of coming face-to-face with it all is still simply extraordinary. The largest structures are the radically styled metal and glass pavilions created by French architect Denis Laming (who when not working on major projects in China or the Emirates lovingly tends his historic Loire Valley château) and which appear to float or launch themselves skywards from the neatly-landscaped parkland which surrounds them. Their shapes and even their names give few hints of exactly what lies within, but somehow you know it's going to be something you've never seen before, with a liberal sprinkling of technologically ground-breaking special effects. Ensuring that it remains so, in the face of ever-higher visitor expectations, is an eye-wateringly expensive business, yet every other year around half the attractions are entirely new and conceived by creative heavyweights including Luc Besson (Subway, Nikita, Le Grand Bleu, The Fifth Element, The Transporter, etc.).

Futuroscope Petit Prince

25th Anniversary

For its milestone 25th Anniversary year, the creative bar looks likely to have been raised even further, with five brand new exclusive attractions, including Le Petit Prince, a sensory flight into the pages of Antoine de Saint- Exupery's much-loved children's story and France's best-loved 20thcentury fictional work. A realcoup for Futuroscope, the book has been translated into 250 languages and sold over 200 million copies worldwide, with around a million new sales each year. The new adaptation is also a fitting opening act for Futuroscope's Pavilion de l'Imaginaire devoted to the art of fantasy, with many 4D special effects as the adventure unfolds. Next up is Imagic, an eye-popping, Vegas-style show produced exclusively for Futuroscope by Bertran Lotth and Arthur Jugnot. For this year only it's also show-time with a difference for The People of the Future, featuring surprise guests who have travelled back in time from the year 2112. Biomina, the Water Master, the Magnetics and the Messengers will be putting on a show that will have you laughing and wondering what tomorrow might just be like.

Futuroscope 25 years

The IMAX® Festival features six favourite films; the Everest and China/Panda Adventure, exploring the Space Station and the Blue Planet, Fly Me to The Moon and Cyber World. Or you can take a fun and interactive stroll through seven Energy Gardens, each representing a different energy source. This is in addition to existing attractions like Sea Monsters (3D, in collaboration with National Geographic), Cosmic Collisions (narrated by Robert Redford), The Future is Wild (an augmented-reality adventure looking at where evolution could be leading us millions of years from now), Dynamic Vienne (a 4D race through the area at the wheel of a Formula 3 racing car), the Blue Note Mystery (a musical fairytale evening show featuring lasers and other special effects) and more besides. If the first twenty-five years have been amazing, we've clearly seen nothing yet.

 

FIND OUT MORE

The park including opening hours and ticket prices:

www.futuroscope.com

The Architect: 

www.laming.fr

Luc Besson: 

www.luc-besson.com

Conseil Général de la Vienne, Compagnie des Alpes and Futuroscope:

www.cg86.fr/514-le-futuroscope.htm

 

 

Previously published in Living Poitou-Charentes magazine - April 2012 © All rights reserved

WORDS: ROGER MOSS    

PICTURES: Futuroscope

 

The Family Test

The Dobson family went along to take a look and give their verdict on the park and its new rides...

THE KIDS VIEW

'I loved it!' says Emily, 13, 'the park is really imaginative and interesting. One of my favourites is the Vienne Dynamique and now it's even better with the new screens all around. Le Petit Prince was superb especially with all the special effects. In Arthur, the 4D Adventure, you feel like you're right in the story with the Minimoys but the spiders were a bit yuk! The shops' are great too – I spent all my pocket money!'

Jenny, 15, thought Le Petit Prince was 'awesome!' but her firm favourite remains Dancing with Robots. 'You must try out Level 3, the best music is definitely 'We will rock you'! The magic show was amazing but I'd better not say too much about it, and Arthur in 4D is really fun.'

For Sarah, 10, the combination of the park to run about in, the rides and the shows makes it the ideal day out . 'I love Dancing with Robots and Arthur, the 4D Adventure, I also loved beating my Dad on the Eighth Continent! Outside, there's a huge climbing net and I got right to the top plus some great climbing frames.'

THE PARENTS VIEW

'Living locally, this wasn't our fi rst visit to the park so we knew to get there when the gates opened at 10am, but we still ran out of time!' says Kathryn. 'Le Petit Prince was breath-taking and really creative – something that all the family could enjoy. I couldn't get over how different Vienne Dynamique is now – it felt like a new journey - but we parents did give Dances with Robots a miss this time, it was coffee time after all!'

'The good thing about the park is that you can take the day at your own pace. The girls love all the rides but it's nice to see some of the films too, Sea Monsters is really good' says Jon. 'It can be a long day for the younger ones with the night show too, but you're encouraged to enjoy the outdoor space. It's not all about the rides and technology but about the whole experience.'