To mark the anniversary of the death of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a large amusement park has been opened dedicated entirely to the French author. Both a writer and a pilot, Saint-Exupéry disappeared while flying a military reconnaissance plane off the coast of Marseilles on July 31 1944. Now, 70 years later, his most famous character, Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince), has taken flight and landed near to Ungersheim in Alsace, eastern France. This beautiful area between the Vosges mountains and the Black Forest is where the new ‘Little Prince Park’ sits on 23 hectares totally devoted to Saint-Exupéry.
Fans of The Little Prince have been dreaming of this for a long time and if there’s one character from French literature who deserved such an honour it’s him. Children and adults the world over know the story. It has been translated into 285 languages and dialects and more than 150 million copies of the novel have been sold, making it one of the top three most known-about books in the world.
This is not just any theme park. Aérophile, the French company managing the site, wanted to make the first aerial park in the world. It certainly has plenty of experience. The company has manufactured tethered balloons for 20 years and recently provided Disney World Florida and Disneyland Paris with its expertise.
Enjoyment at altitude
But be aware, a tethered balloon is not the same as a hot air balloon. As its name suggests, it is fastened to the ground and pumped with helium. At Ungersheim, two such balloons allow guests to discover the world of The Little Prince from at least 150 metres in the air. By walking across a six-metre wide circular platform, you can take a tour of the King’s planet, then hop over to the Lamplighter’s street, both originally the creations of Saint-Exupéry.
Take in the stunning Vosges mountains and the forests on the border with Germany when you float in another balloon, guaranteeing aerial views for 30 people. Aérophile also caters for those of you who dream of having a drink in the air. The AEROBAR gives customers the opportunity to sip a drink some 35 metres above the ground; a nod to the fable of the Drinker in The Little Prince, who “drinks to forget he drinks”.
The park is certainly not lacking in attractions. Thrill seekers can try Aérosel, a swing-based carousel, where you almost feel as though you’re flying. Or, take a ‘Night Flight’ on a ride simulating real piloting conditions. For those hoping for a calmer day out, why not watch Jean-Jacques Annaud’s film ‘Wings of Courage’in 3D?
“And what about the children?”, we hear you ask. Little Prince Park has a special area reserved just for them. They can follow in the footsteps of Saint-Exupéry’s young characters by rubbing shoulders with all kinds of creatures: sheep; foxes; butterflies… They can also “dance” with Hobo the Border Collie, the park’s mascot and a faithful friend of British shepherds for more than two hundred years.
A fox is more difficult – but not impossible – to train. Much to the delight of spectators, a specialist performs a routine with four cubs. Or why not take a look at the butterfly farm? Take in the wonder of several different species from very close range.