There are many wonderful things about France – the food, the drink, the architecture, and – évidemment – the national attitude to work. While political leaders are working to change this, the current retirement age in the country is 62 – after which citizens are eligible for a pension ranging between 37.5% and 50% of their career average earnings. Those still in the workforce are forced to deal with an absolutely crippling 35 hour working week – and it’s against the law to eat lunch at your desk.
Parc de la Vallée is a small family park with a relaxed clientele, and perhaps for this reason they have adjusted their operations so that they only need a single shift of employees. During low season the park opens between 11:00am and 6:00pm, and all rides close for an hour-long lunch break between 12:30pm and 1:30pm. Additionally, the attractions at the rear of the park don’t open at all until the afternoon, presumably to ensure that some of the not-quite-so-hard-working staff have enough hours left to clean up at the end of the day.
It’s fair to say that this approach is considerably more friendly to bean counters than coaster counters. We arrived at the park at opening time, only to find that two of our three targets would not operate until after the midday siesta. This discovery elicited an immediate mispronounced rendition of the famous quote from The Merovingian in The Matrix Reloaded, as portrayed by Lambert Wilson. In the interests of not corrupting my younger readers I’ll invite the curious to Google this for themselves (though it’s probably best not to do so on a work computer).
Our morning began with Chenille Vallée, the third Big Apple that I’ve ridden at this park. The ride is a genuine Pinfari MB28 acquired second hand from Nigloland, and an increasingly rare specimen in a world dominated by cheaper knock-offs, not least the machine it replaced; the previous Pomme was a Levent Lunapark model rented from local showman Yohann Rassin. Today the most obvious indicator of original hardware was the robust nature of the fibreglass fruit, which featured both a solid exterior and internal metal struts that looked strong enough to survive a nuclear detonation (or for preference a “special military operation”).
Next up was the Western Luge, a Polyplast Turbobob. Five years ago I described this ride as a hybrid of a roller coaster and a water slide, and that description remains as good as any for a novelty attraction that is a great deal of fun and well worth a few laps; I completed three in the space of fifteen minutes. I’ve since discovered that there are around a dozen examples of the type in operation, mostly in France, and a handful have been in service for more than thirty years. At some point I'd like to track down a few more of them; perhaps on a future trip.
By this point we’d done everything on our list that was open, so we decamped to a small food area at the centre of the park. Readers retracing our steps should think carefully before doing the same thing; partaking of the decidedly mediocre victuals requires payment of a €2 supplemental charge for the privilege of “dining in” – which, for clarity, involves making use of well-worn blue-coloured garden tables and chairs that look like they’ve been at the park for years. This level of nickel-and-diming might be just about tolerable in a facility with free admission, but it is absolutely outrageous when customers have already handed over the guts of twenty euro apiece for the privilege of walking through the gate. I found myself wondering whether there’d be coin slots on the toilet doors, or perhaps credit card machines; maybe they’ll be added for next season.
Shortly before the appointed time we made our way to Bobsleigh, the last remaining example of a Schwarzkopf City Jet and another hand-me-down from Nigloland. The vintage ride is the oldest operating coaster in France by some margin, having made its debut on the German fair circuit in 1973. Despite its years, however, it appears in pristine condition apart from the fact that it only has four of its original six cars, configured in two pairs of two. One pair was in storage on the transfer track today, though this seems to have been an anomaly; videos and photographs online suggest that the park regularly runs the ride at maximum capacity.
An operator with a backpack turned up at 1:23pm. His first move was to clear debris from around the track, a process that took around a quarter of an hour to complete in an unhurried manner. With that done a single test train was dispatched, and after it returned successfully the barrier was lifted allowing us to board. The ride was worth the extended wait; despite being the smallest member of the Jet Star family it remains remarkably thrilling, delivering far more than would be expected from its 1360 feet of track. As ever the ride quality was absolutely flawless, a reminder (as if one were needed) of just how well built Schwarzkopf hardware actually was.
With that done we made our way to the pack of the park and Grand Canyon (#2986), a Togo Kiddy Shuttle that had eluded me on two previous occasions – first at Lunapark Fréjus fourteen years ago when nobody would sell me the required hand stamp, and more recently in its current home when a burst water pipe close to the ride prevented operation. Today was a chance to correct that wrong and finally complete the full set of operational Togo roller coasters. (Eagle-eyed readers might observe that I haven’t managed to experience Hyper Kid Coaster at Fantasy Dome, but that ride has been SBNO for at least seven years and it is not expected to operate again.)
The ride is a simple V-shaped shuttle with a catch car mechanism which tows a sixteen-seat car up the front spike. This car moves slowly downhill when the dispatch button is pressed, where a metal hook connects with the front of the vehicle. The release is completely mechanical; as the catch car approaches the apex a protrusion in the track causes the hook to lift, sending the car rolling backwards. It’s fair to say that the ride is not about to rewrite top five hundred lists; it doesn’t do a whole lot, and the cycle is short with just four momentum-driven descents. Despite that, however, it’s an interesting piece of history; I’m glad to have ridden it at long last.