Puy du Fou is like being on a film set. History lessons were never this much fun.
The second most-popular theme park in France – after Disneyland Paris – has no rides. Its central theme is history. Oh, and everything is in French.
But wait, come back! There’s a good reason that Puy du Fou (pronounced pwee dew foo) attracts more than two million visitors a year.
The park offers a series of spectacular shows, with a cast of thousands acting out dramatic and often explosive historic set pieces, including the tale of King Arthur, medieval jousting and horse stunts, and musketeer sword fighting.
My family – including my wife and three kids under eight – recently spent a day and half there on the way back from a holiday near La Rochelle on the west coast, and we loved it.
Since returning home, we haven’t stopped banging on about it to friends with kids. Here’s why…
The Viking show is a riot
Set in a village on a serene lake, Les Vikings begins with a tranquil wedding but, soon enough, Viking ships appear out of ‘nowhere’ (we wouldn’t want to spoil it) and all hell breaks loose.
There’s a massive raid with lots of hand-to-hand combat, explosions, collapsing buildings and more until… well, let’s just say there’s divine intervention.
The staging is ingenuous
The award-winning Le Dernier Panache (The Last Feather) tells the story of a French naval officer who returns from fighting in the American Revolutionary War to battle for freedom in his homeland.
It’s set indoors, in a round theatre. Unbelievably, the entire audience (of up to 2,400 people) rotates, so we face the numerous, complex stages which are revealed around us.
The first is a four-storey cut-away of a naval ship. The last is a beach scene, which combines real water and video effects to create a realistic ocean.
Birds swoop inches above your head
Set in the 16th Century, Le Bal des Oiseaux Fantômes (Ghostbird Ball) sees characters named Aliénor and Eloïse raise dozens of birds from a castle’s ruins – and, bizarrely, a hot air balloon.
The dialogue is cringe-worthy at times, but no matter. Eagles, falcons, vultures, owls and more put on an awesome display, often flying just inches above the crowd’s head.
It culminates in a dizzying aerial dance with 200 or more birds in the sky. Just extraordinary.
It’s like an Olympic opening ceremony
Held on Fridays and Saturdays through high season, Cinéscénie tells the story of a local character named Jacques and his ancestors, and takes us on a journey from the Middles Ages to World World II.
The late-night production is a like an Olympic opening ceremony, with more than 3,800 volunteer actors, plus fire and water effects, projections, holograms, lasers and drones all thrown into the mix.
It’s a truly spectacular show – played out on a huge set in front of 13,200 spectators – but the 10 or 10.30pm start time is very late for young kids. And at 100-minutes long, even us travel-weary adults struggled a bit too!
The show costs extra (13 euro more when booked with park tickets) and needs to be booked well in advance.
You can stay in a castle
Puy du Fou offers five themed accommodation options, including a Roman villa, lodges on stilts and Renaissance-period glamping.
We were lucky enough to stay in La Citadelle, which dates all the way back to, er, May 2017.
Our kids loved staying in the beautiful castle, and enjoyed the banquet feast, which was fit for a King (or Queen).
There are a couple of days worth of shows to see
There are 15 timetabled shows running through the day, each ranging from seven to 39 minutes (average 22 minutes) plus numerous other attractions, including a circus act, craft demonstration, playground and much more.
It’s physically impossible to see everything in one day, so you need to plan well – or, even better, stay for at least two days.
But remember you’re in France
Yes, the dialogue in all of the shows is, unsurprisingly, in French – but headsets are available to offer English translation.
Our kids were able to use them OK, but you might want to take along their favourite headphones if they have some.
Be warned, though: the dialogue is a little flat and all rather serious. Horrible Histories, it ain’t!
How to get there
Puy du Fou, in Les Epesses, Vendée, is an hour from the nearest airport (Nantes) or a 90-minute shuttle bus from the nearest TGV station (Angers).
Realistically, you’ll want to go by car. But if you’re holidaying in the Loire Valley or the west coast of France this summer, Puy du Fou is WELL worth a detour.
An adult day ticket for the Grand Parc costs £29 (33 euro) in advance and £20 (23 euro) for children aged 5-13, with discounts for two and three-day tickets. We recommend paying £10.50 (12 euro) extra for the Pass Emotion, which gives you fast track entry and the best seats in selected shows.
For more information, visit puydufou.com/en/