[STANDFIRST] Magical characters and old-fashioned fun make this established amusement park the perfect October half-term family break, says Sherna Noah.

How do you politely ask a fearsome-looking folklore heroine to stop talking? At the theme park Efteling, the actors in costume really do have time for you.

And so we have to stop the conversation between this sword-wielding woman in green and our wide-eyed three-year-old at the breakfast table - her parents really have to get away to see some fairies, elves and trolls.

That's what makes this place in Holland unique: It combines the whizz pop and bang of a modern theme park with an authentic, old-fashioned charm.

The theme park

You know Efteling, in the south of the Netherlands, is going to be different when you spot its slightly spooky, other-worldly entrance, resembling a giant bat wing.

Once through, our first destination is the Fairytale Forest, perfect for the youngest of children.

Here you can catch a glimpse of Hansel and Gretel nibbling at the gingerbread cottage, Sleeping Beauty lying on her bed or Rapunzel locked up in the tower.

Following a meandering path through the trees, it feels - at times - as though we've stepped into the pages of a classic fairy tale.

This place celebrates imagination and creativity and is full of surprises - even Bach is piped out of toadstools along the way.

The Fairytale Forest dates from 1952 and was the creative vision of Anton Pieck, a Dutch artist who also illustrated the famous Brothers Grimm books.

But there are plenty of newer rides across Efteling, including the Baron, which plunges you down at a terrifying 90 km/h and fairy-tale attraction The Six Swans, which will open next autumn.

None of us has the stomach for the Baron, or the Python steel roller coaster with its double loop and corkscrew.

But my husband and our nine-year-old son opt for the wooden as well as the water coaster, which gets them nicely drenched.

For us, two days is just enough time to enjoy the five themed areas of the park, with boat rides, a Thai temple offering panoramic views, playgrounds, monorail, maze, pedal train and rides.

The Dutch snub the idea of 'fast passes', so everyone has the same wait. But the Efteling App allows you to keep an eye on live queue times - we wait an hour for one very popular ride at peak time.

And if your child gets tired walking around, you can hire a gorgeous wooden cart to pull them around in.

One of the lovely things about Efteling is that nature gets a look-in. Theme parks are not usually home to gorgeous flower beds, duck and fish ponds or the odd peacock, but this one has all of that.

Where can you stay?

At Efteling Village Bosrijk, the first thing to hit us is the scent of pine trees. "It smells like Christmas," says my son.

Some of the houses sit on the edge of a lake - where Mr Sandman, one of Efteling's most popular characters, "lives" in a sandcastle. He appears in the evenings to read children a bedtime story, although it is in Dutch.

There are two other accommodation options, and staying in any of them gets you access to the park half an hour early.

Efteling Holiday Village Loonsche Land includes tree houses built on stilts, and a small on-site farm. Efteling Hotel is located a stone's throw away from the park and has a Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty Suite.

I fall in love with Bosrijk though, with its natural play areas and wild rabbits. Our spacious village house is comfortable and stylish, and has bunk beds for the kids and an outside dining area.

Mr Sandman has kindly left us sleeping caps - a lovely touch - but the accommodation is self catering, so remember to bring some soap.

What's the food like?

Breakfast at our village restaurant has its very own kids' buffet - mini doughnuts and hundreds and thousands to sprinkle on toast. In the park itself, there are stalls selling fresh vegetables, as well as the ice creams, mini donuts and Dutch waffles. We really enjoy the food here - from healthy, fresh salads to Turkish pizzas.

What else can you do?

Our village houses an indoor swimming pool, complete with bubble bench and rapids, and a baby and toddler pool.

One afternoon, we hire bikes and cycle to a nature reserve just 10 minutes away, with stunning sand dunes and forest walks. We could have spent the whole day here - if the prospect of spotting Pinocchio in the Fairytale Forest hadn't torn us away.

How to get there

A two-night stay in a six-person village house at Holiday Village Efteling Bosrijk costs from E690 (£613), based on two adults and two children sharing. Unlimited park access, including 30 minutes early access, is included.

EasyJet (easyjet.com) offers return flights from London Gatwick to Amsterdam for around £60. From Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, take the train (E18.90; ns.nl/en) to Tilburg, changing at either Rotterdam Centraal, Breda or s'Hertogenbosch, and then from Tilburg station, catch the 300 bus (E2.80) to Efteling, which stops directly outside the park and hotel.