It might seem a little strange that I’m doing a blog post on an tourist attraction that is in a completely different region to where I live, but the Puy du Fou in the Vendée is such a staggeringly impressive place that it is worth it. The theme park was created by Phillippe de Villiers (a proud Vendéen and now a politician) who wanted to tell the story of the Vendée during the French revolution through producing a “Cinéscénie”, which translates as a “moving stage”. He found the ruins of a castle near the village of Les Epesses and in 1978 the first cinéscénie was produced, with the help of 600 bénévoles (volunteers) who acted in the production. At first, the show wasn’t a big success, but then the national media expressed an interest and it became a big annual event each evening in the summer with the play performed over the lake with a massive firework display as a finale. I remember going to see it when I was a student working on a Vendéen campsite during the summer, and it was a spectacular experience even then. Philippe De Villiers then expanded the idea and created the Grand Parc, producing other shows telling the history of France, not just the Vendée. The Puy de Fou is now the most popular theme park in France and in 2012 won the accolade of best theme park in the world. It is open from April to October and professional actors are used – although for the evening show it is still the volunteers who perform. All profits from the parc are re-invested and every year a new show is added. You can now marvel at the spectacular chariot racing in the Roman arena, gasp at the Vikings dragonboat emerging from the lake and be transfixed but the impressive horseriding acrobacy in the Secret of the Lance and many other shows.
My favourite show is the Phantom Bird’s dance – you are seated in an outdoor arena of the original castle ruins, and a play is performed which culminates in hundreds of birds of prey swooping around in a co-ordinated ‘dance’ display which is breathtaking. It is the largest falconry display in Europe and you really feel part of it. Although not advised for anyone suffering ornithophobia!
Every day the programme of shows change, and you need to plan your visit carefully to see all the shows that you want. Although there are thousands of visitors every day, the arenas have a very large capacity, so there is usually plenty of room without the infernal queuing which you have to do in most theme parks for the popular rides, but you should really arrive 30 mins in advance of the show time. There is always a warm up act to keep you amused before the show actually starts and you won’t bored! Another advantage of the park is that you can take your own picnic and have your lunch anywhere in the picturesque park as there are lots of picnic tables around. There is food available too, with lots of restaurants/sandwich bars – the food is around 30% more expensive than you would pay in shops, so not extortionate. There are lots of hotels, tents etc. if you want to stay overnight and have two days in the park instead of just one.Nearly all the shows are outside – so what if it rains? The shows go on of course – waterproofs are provided for guests. We did a day trip in May – we left home at 7.30am to get there for the opening time of 10am, we saw 5 shows, had time for a picnic lunch and left the park at around 6pm. I’d really recommend a trip for everyone staying here, even if the drive is slightly over 2 hours. In the summer you can attend the medieval banquet in the evening before watching the evening show with fireworks if you are ready for a really long day. One final point, if you don’t speak French (the shows are, of course, in French), don’t worry, you will understand the action just by watching. And the children will love them – mine did, the Vikings were a particular favourite.