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The fast and the furious; DAN KAY heads to Spain to see what promises to be the most thrilling theme park ride in Europe.

IKE Jeremy Corbyn, cricket and Marmite, rollercoasters are one of those things people tend to either love or hate.

LAs a confirmed nervous wreck when it comes to heights, I'd always avoided them like the plague, but when the chance came to get a first look at Europe's newest, tallest and fastest one being built at the forthcoming Ferrari Land, within the highly-rated PortAventura theme park near Barcelona, the prospect of a few days in the late summer Catalan sunshine was just too good to turn down.

After all, with the spectacular new ride and its frankly terrifying-sounding Vertical Accelerator feature still months away from its scheduled April 2017 grand opening, what were the odds on me having to once and for all gather up my courage and brave rides children of nearly all ages enjoy without a second thought? Actually, pretty short when it became clear on arrival just how much fun was already on offer and the last scraps of my self-respect were pretty much dependent on me biting the bullet and getting involved. Didn't quite think that one through, did I? We arrived after a two-hour Ryanair flight from the UK to Barcelona's El Prat airport and a 40-minute road transfer to PortAventura World just outside Salou to discover our palatial base for the trip, one of the resort's on-site four-star hotels, the Callaghan within the Gold River complex. There is also a five-star if you feel like pushing the boat out.

Themed on the Victorian splendour of America's Wild West in its late 19th century gold rush heyday, the stylishly-furnished surroundings with river-shaped swimming pools, restaurants, bars, spa and gym, were the perfect setting to relax in advance of the excitement ahead.

We were there during the last knockings of the summer season but the fast-track passes provided still came in very handy for avoiding the lengthy lines of people at most rides and are definitely worth investing in if you don't have the patience to queue, with the park staying pretty busy even in winter, not surprising when you see the Christmas festivities on offer.

The park itself is arranged in timehonoured tradition in a variety of themes with rides, stalls and attractions, and adjoining hotels and bars, paying tribute to cultures including Mexico, China, Polynesia and, of course, the Mediterranean, which, as I was soon to discover, was very close by - if you were high up enough to see it.

And what a view it will be from the top of what is undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of the new PS100m Ferrari Land development, the Vertical Accelerator ride.

At 112 metres high and capable of 0-180km/h in five seconds, it will smash PortAventura's own Shambhala's current record of being the tallest and fastest in Europe, with thrill-seekers experiencing up to 4.5 Gs of force by the end.

Designed and constructed in close conjunction with the iconic car brand itself, Ferrari Land will also pay tribute to the advanced technologies developed by Ferrari.

It also includes the buildings of Maranello, the home of Ferrari, along with architectural references to its historical roots in Italy such as the Colosseum and La Scala opera house as well as an authentic trattoria for when your stomach's settled down enough to eat.

There's plenty more on offer as well for those brave enough. Alongside the Vertical Accelerator is a race track covering more than 500 metres, two bounce-back towers more than 55 metres high, F1 simulators for adults and children as well as the chance to experience a super speedy wheel change at the pit stop.

With the appetite whetted and everything on track for the big Ferrari Land opening on April 7, 2017 - PortAventura is already one of the largest family leisure and holiday destination resorts in Europe offering three theme parks on the same site (Caribe Aquatic Park boasts 14 attractions itself, including the continent's biggest water slide, King Khajuna) - it was time to steel myself and check out the attractions which have already brought 65 million visitors to this sun-kissed corner of Spain in two decades.

I'd already dipped my toe in the water with Furious Baco, an incredible horizontal catapult that flings you at 135 km/h in just three seconds, and Dragon Khan - one of PortAventura's original rollercoasters when it opened in 1995 - and, having just about survived the latter's stomach-churning eight (count'em) loop-the-loops without revisiting the wonderful hotel breakfast I'd enjoyed not long before, it was time to man-up and take on the big fella whose presence looms over the park and no doubt still will even after Ferrari Land opens: Shambhala.

Currently the tallest (256 feet) and fastest (83mph) hypercoaster in Europe, with the longest drop of any on the continent, it's designed on a mythical lost world high in the Himalayas supposedly impossible to access but considered a cradle of eternal youth, happiness, peace and wisdom.

Peace and wisdom seemed but a distant memory as we began the slow ride to the summit ahead of the first 78 metre, 77deg drop but anxiety and trepidation at my first ever rollercoaster ride was swiftly overtaken by unadulterated adrenaline as we soared and plunged through the clear blue skies.

Without a doubt, two and half of the most exhilarating minutes of my life, leaving me with only one regret: why didn't I summon up the courage to go on one of these things sooner? NEED TO KNOW | DAN KAY stayed at PortAventura's Callaghan Hotel, inspired by the Victorian splendour of the late 19th century.

The resort incorporates four 4-star and one 5-star themed hotels with a total of 2100 rooms - there's something to suit everyone.

Prices at the Hotel Gold River start from [euro]79 per person, per night. Visit portaventuraworld.com for more information. | DAN flew with Ryanair from Liverpool to Barcelona, flights from PS73 per person. Ryanair also fly from a number of regional airports. Visit ryanair.com for details.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUSP
Date:Nov 20, 2016
Words:993
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