If you love history, fairy tales, pomp and splendour, ballet dancing horses, birds of prey that love to perform, and shows on a grand scale – you’ll love Puy du Fou theme park. Located in Les Epesses, in the heart of the Pays de la Loire, Puy du Fou is a marvellous melting pot of history, a feast of fantasy, a smorgasbord of sensational special effects.
West World meets Game of Thrones
It ain’t Disney that’s for sure.
You know that bit when the palaeontologists see the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park for the first time? Well I now know how they felt after my visit to Puy du Fou. It’s a sort of West World meets Game of Thrones with a dash of magic: Interactive, extravagant, lavish, extraordinary. If you love history – the Romans, the Vikings, the days of Louis XIV, the Belle Epoque, you’ll fall head over heels for this incredible multi-award winning theme park. Puy du Fou brings history to life…
It’s definitely not just for kids though kids love it – it’s just as much for adults, in fact possibly even more so. Don’t expect rides, apart from a carousel for kids, there are none. These are shows, and they are on an epic scale. Some shows are interactive, some are audience based. All are incredible – a word that’s probably over used, but in this case, totally justified. More than 2,500 actors and more than 1,500 animals are involved.
There is nowhere quite like it anywhere in the world.
Romans, Vikings and musketeers
There are several full scale shows at Puy du Fou covering different eras of French history from the Romans to the early 20th century. I started my first day with musketeers at the Mousquetaire de Richelieu show which takes place inside a monumental theatre – where you’ll see the world’s largest theatre stage curtain. From the very start the audience are drawn in with a warm up act that has everyone cheering, there are sword fights and flamenco dancing in this swashbuckling show but the real stars for me are the pure white dancing horses, so beautiful they bought tears to my eyes. And when the entire stage, a whopping 2,500m₂, fills with water and sprinkling fountains – you won’t believe your eyes.
Then it was on to meet the Romans. I walked down a dusty track to enter a full-sized Gallo-Roman coliseum which has an air of authenticity I really didn’t expect. A Roman guard appeared, the crowd boo’d. When the gladiators appeared there were wild cheers. The show involves a guard who falls in love with a slave girl and becomes a gladiator. It involves herds of ostriches, geese, camels and even big cats. In one scene, a wagon full of slaves is covered with tarpaulin and a tiger, yes a real one, enters the top of it followed by the sound of screaming. Don’t worry no humans are harmed!
When the gladiators fight and stab each other, there’s plenty of fake blood flowing. There are chariot races complete with crashes. As I said, this isn’t Disney. It doesn’t pretend to be the real thing, it’s not pretentious, but it is marvellously realistic where it can be! The crowd loved it. Kids were jumping up and down giving the thumbs up and thumbs down. Brilliant.
It has to be seen to be believed
The Viking show involved a burning boat and fabulous horse riding skills. There were trained wolves, and an astonishing 20m long boat rising from the water. The Secret of the Lance had a superb horsemanship display and some cute trained sheep! It also had some terrific illusions, I couldn’t work out how one minute someone was standing there, there was a puff of smoke and all that was left was a pile of clothes – right in front of us, very clever. And an enormous castle that rises from the ground. I’m not going to tell you everything because you really have to see it for yourself to believe it.
Interactive shows and period villages
In addition to the big shows, Puy du Fou has a number of interactive shows and period villages. I assure you it’s impossible to be bored here!
I loved the Medieval city with its cobbled street, half-timbered houses, artisans workshops and astonishing attention to detail.
There are gardens, fountain displays, fields of animals and flower valleys that are perfect to take a break and chill. Nature is always at the heart of Puy du Fou and there are 45 gardeners tending the park producing around 500kg of vegetables for the onsite restaurants.
And there are interactive shows. The Lovers of Verdun takes you through trenches, canons boom, the sound of men talking, the ground shakes and sirens scream. But it’s Christmas so there’s a surprise ending… Actors draw you into the story and make it that much more real.
My favourite interactive event was the Mystery of La Pelouse which takes you on board an 18th century ship from Cape Horn to Alaska in a storm. Water flows through the ceiling, the floor wobbles beneath you, you can hear the sailors shouting as they try to bail out, watch them working, see icebergs passing the window. It’s an awesome piece of theatre, innovative and spectacular.
As you take your seat in a huge arena, you’ll hear squawks and squeaks. But nothing prepares you for the sight of trained pelicans, rooks, owls and eagles flying just inches above your head, so close you can feel your hair lift as they sweep by. Landing on a ledge to my right, a white owl fixed its beady eyes ahead then turned very slowly to look into my eyes. I felt goose bumps on my arms as we connected, it really was quite emotional. At the end a ballet of birds fills the sky, 330 of them, swirling, swooping, winging their way round and round the arena. I looked at the audience around me, open-mouthed in surprise, eyes wide – entranced.
Puy du Fou – pure magic
The staff are really friendly and welcoming throughout the park. And no matter your age, Puy du Fou brings out your inner child. Totally magical.
Don’t miss: Noces de Feu – the Marriage of Fire night-time show
Must see: Cinéscénie – a world class record breaking show with more than 4000 participants next door to Puy du Fou!
Where to stay
Definitely – on site! I stayed at Le Grand Siecle Hotel – it’s faux Versailles but beautifully done (and the shower was superb). The staff dress in costume from reception to restaurant! The hotel backs on to fields where early in the morning the birds of prey are trained and exercised – a wonderful sight. There are 6 themed hotels so pick your favourite historic period and dream of the days of Rome, the middle ages, the 16th or the 18th century.
Where to eat
There are 22 restaurants and snack bars on site. I tried several! The restaurants of Table des Ambassadeurs (Grand Siecle) and at the Camp du Drap d’Or (in the style of the Field of the cloth of gold, Henry VIII, or rather his competitor French King Francis 1) both offered buffet style lunch and dinner. I thought they were great value for the generous portions and well cooked food. 90% of the cold meats, salads and vegetables – including Noirmoutier potatoes and mogettes (white beans) – are sourced locally.
Tip: book your table when you book your tickets on the website. There are set meal times and all restaurants are really popular.
There are plenty of places to stop and eat, have a snack, drink, ice cream as well as picnic areas.
How to get to there
You can take a train from Paris to Angers then a shuttle bus direct to the park. Tip: The Puy du Fou shuttle bus leaves from just in front of Quai A (bus stop A) at the bus station (gare routiere to the left as you exit the station). If you have time, take a wander in Angers. It’s a short walk from the station to the castle and the old town. If you go to Puy du Fou by car, there’s plenty of parking on site.
Find more details, book hotels and get tickets online at: www.puydufou.com/france/en