Forget roller coasters, character parades and mini-musicals; Puy du Fou offers travellers a very different theme park experience.
There are thrills, spills, acrobatics, sword fights, dancing horses and blazing torches. Despite being one of the world’s top 10 amusement parks and getting rave reviews on Tripadvisor, it’s barely known outside France.
Whether you’re there for just one day or planning to stay on site you will leave the 21st century behind diving instead into a fantasy world of Vikings. musketeers and knights of old.
We’ve been twice now. We loved it and the children were completely blown away.
The displays are given rewrites on a regular basis so it remains high on our “must go again” list. New for 2018 is the mysterious voyage of La Pérouse. As the park’s not open til April we have no idea what’s in store but it promises a voyage through dangerous waters and formidable storms from Cape Horn to Alaska.
The history is romanticised and condensed, with the emphasis on entertainment, but Puy du Fou is an amazing place.
Best live action shows
I’m delighted the Viking battle scene has stood the test of time. It was a firm favourite with our youngsters who loved the loud explosions, rollicking drama (which didn’t need translating) and some extraordinary effects. How the heck do they get a saint to emerge from underwater and a Viking longship to arrive bang on cue? The park keeps its secrets but prepare to be amazed. Get seats near the front if you can and you’ll feel the heat of every blast.
Far gentler and much more to my taste, is the dance of the birds. Dozens of different species fill the arena while a winsome damsel, dressed in what appears to be a white nightie, enacts some strange folk tale.
Some of the birds are launched from a tethered hot air balloon, giving them an extraordinary headlong rush to earth. At the very end of the show birds fly every which way, even a clutch of pelicans making their stately progress across the skyline.
Taking our seats in the Gallo Roman arena we experienced, on a blazing hot summer’s day, the frenzy of a Roman Circus. After an impressive triumphal parade, the Gaulish prisoners competed to save their lives, culminating in an extreme chariot race worthy of Ben Hur. Animals lovers need to be aware this spectacle features a lion and hyenas who are in the huge arena for a few moments.
Everyone will have their own viewpoint but we felt quite comfortable with what we saw and we’ve been assured that the animals at Puy du Fou, whether in performances or on view in the animal pens throughout the park, are well cared for.
The show loosely based on Richelieu’s Musketeers is packed with swashbuckling adventure, Spanish flamenco, pyrotechnics and horses dancing on a flooded stage. Historical accuracy takes a back seat for this is pure fantasy, played out (sometimes in real-life slow motion) right before your eyes by a talented cast.
Puy du Fou for non-french speakers
The park is aimed firmly at French visitors. Audio translations are available on headphones for many of the shows but if you have even just a smattering of French it’s worth letting the action roll over you without worrying too much about the dialogue. The entertainment factor is high without words.
In between the shows there’s plenty to amuse and entertain. We strolled though the reconstructed turn of the century town square and lingered in the beautiful rose gardens. The children loved the animals in the medieval farmyard and the organ sound-and-light show was delightfully cool with its jets of coloured water cascading in time to the music.
Puy du Fou at night
If you go in high season the Cinescenie evening show is amazing, with 2,000 actors, 24,000 costumes, dozens of flaming torches and pyrotechnics on a huge stage.
One note of caution; it lasts nearly two hours. On a warm August evening we sat and watched the rambling story unfold through the centuries. At one point there was a pause in the action and a treble voice was raised, wearily asking his maman “Is it over yet?”
When we finally rose from our seats I noticed the little cherub was fast asleep on his mother’s lap. We were more than ready for our beds too.
Tips for making the best of your time at Puy du Fou
It is possible to see it all in one day but that means rushing and you could miss out on the chance to get ringside seats for the most spectacular shows. This is what we did on our first trip. It was still great but pretty exhausting.
Second time around we opted for a two day pass, which gave us leisure to enjoy the bits in between the shows.
There are plenty of themed restaurants to choose from, but you will need to book ahead as they get very busy. Picnicking’s best for families, after all you can eat while you wait in line for the show of your choice.
More information about Puy du Fou
The park is situated in the Vendée region of Western France, 3 hours from Paris.
It’s open most days from early April to the beginning of November.
Full details can be found on their website.
Additional photographs © Puy du Fou