Once upon a time in Efteling

Efteling: World of Wonders in The Netherlands brings to life our earliest childhood friends, read Cindrella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel and a host of fairytale characters in a setting even more authentic than what our imagination would allow us to dream up.

Peden Doma Bhutia


Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived a girl who loved fairy tales, so much so that she would often wish to be transported to that enchanted world of pumpkins that turned into magnificent carriages, spindles that spun hay into yarns of gold, and houses made of gingerbread!

Imagine her surprise when, as an adult, she found herself in the company of Sleeping Beauty, Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel and Rapunzel! And no, it wasn’t all in her imagination.

People returning from a visit to The Netherlands often wax eloquent about the art–thanks to the  Dutch masters Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Vermeer–and the beauty, mesmerized as they are by the windmills and tulips. For me, those boxes were ticked of course, but the trip did something more. I came back reliving my childhood, and wanting to be a child all over again. (I’ve been told the world of fantasy that lies ensconced in Efteling Theme Park does that to many.) Holland has much to showcase to discerning travellers, but if the world of fairies, ghouls and elves enchants you, then Efteling is your mecca.

Your initiation into this magical world starts as soon as you slip through Efteling’s slightly spooky-looking entrance that resembles a witch’s hat. (See? Imagination at work already!) Once inside, you feel pretty much like Alice; only, in this Wonderland, instead of the Mad Hatter and the March Hare, are the much-loved fairy tale characters you grew up with. The Fairytale Forest has been bringing fairy tales to life for almost 65 years now. In 1952, Efteling started with 10 fairy tales, today there are no less than 29. No prizes for guessing why Efteling is often called the ‘Keeper of fairy tales.’

While ambling in the Fairytale Forest, pay special attention to a bespectacled man, who looks a bit like a wizard carrying a huge bag stuffed with branches and twigs. He plucks stories from these branches and twigs and writes these down in his book. If you happen to catch him, don’t leave without hearing a few of his tales. Rumour has it, he knows every single fairy tale ever written.

Ever heard of dreaming with eyes wide open? If you just scrunched up your nose, you surely need a ride down Droomvlucht, which in English means ‘Dreamflight’. Once strapped in, your first introduction to the ride is through a star-spangled entrance. As you travel through the World of Wonders in this 6-minute ride, you encounter fairies on swings, elves swaying from branches and trolls playing harp–it’s a living storybook unfolding before your eyes.

Follow up this pleasant reverie by heading to Ruigrijk. In 1999, the park was divided into four realms:

Ruigrijk, the adventure realm; Reizenrijk, the travel realm; Marerijk, the fairy realm; and Anderijk, the alternative realm. The adventure realm has enough to whet any adrenaline junkie’s appetite and it is here that the Baron 1898 awaits you. This daredevil’s delight of a ride drops you 37.5 m into a mineshaft at a breakneck speed of 90 km per hour. Definitely not recommended for the faint-hearted!

All that excitement is sure to build up an appetite, so why not head to one of the many restaurants at the park! Pancakes on your mind? Try Polles Keuken (Polle’s Kitchen). Polle is the Sous Chef of the Palace kitchen and he’ll rustle up delicious, fluffy pancakes, sweet and savoury crepes and other mouthwatering goodies for you. The décor here is also a constant reminder of the fairy world that you are in. Every 15 minutes, the oven standing in the middle of the restaurant goes a little “crazy”–the kitchen utensils begin to move about and the wheels above the stove turn faster and faster.

Post a hearty and entertaining meal, walk over to Aquanura to witness the largest water show in Europe. Or, if you are in the mood for some action, try Ravelijn, a 20-minute show complete with stunt horse riders, a disappearing Princess and a fire-breathing dragon. Fairy tales and mystical stories are an inherent part of childhood. But we don’t have to leave them behind as adults. No matter what wonders our phone and tablet screens unlock for us, they cannot rival the thrill of seeing our earliest childhood friends in a setting even more authentic than what our imagination would allow us to dream up. So, if you want to believe in magic, you know where to find it.

Here’s to happily ever afters . . .

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