Puy du Fou has been voted the world’s best theme park several times and is the second most popular theme park in France (after Disneyland Paris) yet until this Summer we had never even heard of it! It seems we are not alone however, as The Guardian newspaper have termed it “France’s best-kept theme park secret” and everyone we have spoken to since going hasn’t heard of it either! However, if you are looking for things to do with kids in the Vendée region then you really need look no further, as Puy du Fou is perfect for a family day out in France!
What is Puy du Fou?
When I hear the term “theme park” I immediately think of rollercoasters, screams and plastic tat! Puy du Fou however, has none of these and is a totally unique experience. It is a theme park without rides and is basically a huge immersive theatrical living-history event from beginning to end! The park’s 50 hectares is split into areas based on different historical time periods. Some of these are villages, with fabulous attention to detail, that you can walk through and experience what life would have been like at that time…for example, La Cité Médiévale, the Medieval village where you can witness Medieval craftsmen at work, or Le Bourg, 1900 with its Victorian and Edwardian style shop frontages, cafe and entertainment.
Other areas of the park host walkthroughs and amazing live-action shows, also based on different historical time periods and events, which are so awesome that they really have to be seen to be believed.
Our 5 Top Family-Friendly Shows at Puy du Fou
The shows at Puy du Fou range from Ancient Rome to the Great War and pretty much everything in between. Some aren’t necessarily suitable for young children (Les Amoureux de Verdun, Le Dernier Panache and Le Premier Royaume were three that we were specifically advised to avoid) but there are so many that are suitable for kids and family-friendly. Here are the ones that we enjoyed the most:
Les Vikings was the first show that we saw at Puy du Fou and it certainly set the bar with its amazing dramatic scenes and special effects! A peaceful village in the year 1,000 is attacked by Viking warriors who arrive on two 20m long Viking boats, one of which emerges from the water complete with Vikings, leaving the audience wondering how on earth they breathed whilst they were submerged. There are explosions a-plenty, a 22 metre high tower topples, a saint disappears in a puff of smoke and stunt-men are pulled along the ground by horses. It really is awe-inspiring stuff!
Le Bal des Oiseaux Fantômes
The Dance of The Ghost Birds is a bird show like no other and truly is a breathtaking spectacle! You sit in a large amphitheatre and watch the story of Aliénor, the medieval princess, who awakes in the ruins of a castle. Aliénor’s dreams and memories summon over 300 birds (owls, eagles, falcons, vultures and more) who fly around the amphitheatre; above, around and through around the audience; in a stunningly orchestrated performance. The finale of the show has birds being summoned by their handlers from a hot air balloon flying overhead and culminates in all 330 (or thereabouts) of the birds performing together which is the result of a 25 year long project and truly is an unbelievable sight. Definitely a once in a lifetime experience!
The birds used in the show come from the Puy du Fou Falconry Academy which has 40 falconers and around 530 birds of 73 different species (kites, eagles, pelicans, buzzards, condors, etc.) The aviaries at the Falconry Academy are completely integrated into the natural environment and are suitable for the largest birds of prey so that they can live, fly and reproduce happily. The Falconry Academy also regularly donates money to foundations for the protection and reintroduction of endangered species and takes part in many livestock and nature conservation programmes, which help to reintroduce birds to their natural habitat.
Les Chevaliers de la Table Rond
The Knights of the Round Table is another show at Puy du Fou that was a definite favourite for us. Based on the legend of King Arthur it has fabulous special effects and illusions which are sure to impress – the highlight of which is a horse emerging from an underwater tunnel…fabulous! My daughter was also delighted to see a “real-life” mermaid swimming across the lake…every little girls’ dream!
Le Signe du Triomphe
Now this show is a tough one to write about, because I have strongly conflicting views about it which will soon become clear as you read on. This truly is a fully immersive, dramatic and spectacular experience. As you walk up to the impressive Gallo-Roman stadium, which can seat up 6000, you know you are about to experience something special! You are ushered into the stadium by Roman Soldiers and even before the show has properly started the crowd are encouraged to shout, jeer and sing which creates an electric and sensational atmosphere! The show itself includes dramatic chariot races, gladiator battles and Roman circus games, during which the Gaulish prisoners have to fight for their lives in front of the Roman Governor. As in Ancient Rome, audience participation is a big part of the show and, depending on which side of the stadium you are seated, you are encouraged to boo, jeer and cheer along with the actors which is great fun!
Le Signe de Triomphe is an experience like no other. You really do feel as if you have been transported back in time to Ancient Rome and it truly is an exciting and breathtaking adventure. However, there were parts of the show that made me feel extremely uncomfortable and did ruin parts of the experience for me. The use of animals in theatrical and circus performances is still legal in France and the use of animals at Puy du Fou is a big part of a few of the shows. It is most prominent however in Le Signe du Triomphe where, amongst others, lions, a tiger, a leopard and a hyena were paraded around the stadium and used as part of the story. I was very unhappy to see this and personally think that the show would have been just as fabulous (actually, better!) without them. I have researched this since and have read that the park ensures that its animals are well looked after and happy and spends lots of money supporting animal welfare organisations, which is good to know, and the big cats are looked after and trained by Thierry Le Portier, the animal trainer from Life of Pi and Gladiator. However, I would still argue that the show would be just as spectacular without the use of these exotic wild animals.
Le Ballet des Sapeurs
This show is very different to most of the other shows at Puy du Fou as it doesn’t involve major special effects, explosions or death-defying stunts. However, it is a lovely show to watch, especially for children, as it is performed by children from the Puy du Fou Academy. The show is only 9 minutes long and is inspired by musical comedy and the big bands of the ‘‘années folles,’’ – the post-war “crazy years” of the 1920s. As a Drama teacher, I love the idea of the Puy du Fou Academy: Puy du Fou‘s own primary school which combines an academic education with the performing arts training (dance, drama, costume, lighting, photography etc.). Wow!
Our Top Tips for Visiting Puy Du Fou With Kids
- Don’t try to do it all in one day – You need at least two days to get a real Puy du Fou experience and if you’re only there for one day you’ll find that you’re rushing around too much! We didn’t manage to see everything in 2 days (for example, we missed the night shows) but we still feel that we saw and experienced enough, and maybe one day we’ll go back to catch up on everything we missed!
- Be prepared for any weather – Most of the shows take place outside and are designed to be performed whatever the weather. The first day we visited the temperatures reached 31 degrees, with no cloud, so we were plastering ourselves with suncream and ensuring to keep ourselves hydrated. The next day was overcast and much cooler so we were glad to have brought our jumpers, waterproof coats and umbrellas.
- Wear appropriate footwear – You’ll certainly get fit on a visit to Puy du Fou as there is lots of walking to be done between all of the different shows and experiences. Trainers or walking shoes are advisable rather than sandals, as the terrain is quite dusty. There are two small trains, however, called “Colporteuse” which run every 20 to 30 minutes around the park. Priority is given to disabled visitors but you can’t take pushchairs or electric wheelchairs on board. If you are taking smaller children, we would recommend that you take a child carrier or pushchair but do be prepared that there are some steep slopes around the park.
- Download the app – thank goodness, our lovely friend Katy from “Otis and Us” recommended the free Puy du Fou mobile phone app which was invaluable. It lets you know up to date performance schedules so you can plan your visit, has information about the shows, restaurants and eateries and helps you find other facilities and services around the park too. Also, (obviously!) all of the shows are in French so if you want to you can plug in your headphones and listen to a free translation of the main Grand Park shows. We didn’t feel the need for this, but it’s personal preference.
- Consider the Pass Émotion – For an extra 15 euros per person, per day, you can invest in a Pass Émotion which gives you reserved seating in the 7 major shows in the Grand Parc up to ten minutes before the show begins. We didn’t get these and did end up queuing a lot (you are advised to turn up to each show 30 minutes before the start time) but that didn’t bother us too much. However, if you or your children won’t be able to cope with lots of queuing it’s definitely something to think about.
How to Get to Puy du Fou
We visited Puy du Fou as part of our French road-trip. When we were heading from La Rochelle up to Bayeux we stopped off for a night in Cholet which is a 30 minute drive from Puy du Fou. You then have to join the A87 autoroute, get off at junction 28 and follow signs (or the SatNav!) to Puy du Fou. You can also get to Puy du Fou by train: the closest station is Angers TGV, which can be reached from any of France’s major TGV routes, and there is a shuttle bus from Angers TGV station to Puy du Fou. The nearest airport to Puy du Fou is Nantes Atlantique airport.
Hotels near Puy du Fou
As already mentioned, we stayed in Cholet which is a 30 minute drive from Puy du Fou but there are also plenty of hotels in Les Epesses and the surrounding area. However, if you book early enough, you could stay in one of the 5 theme hotels in Puy du Fou‘s own hotel complex, La Cité Nocturne, which look amazing! You can choose from: La Villa Gallo-Romain, where you are immersed in the atmosphere of Ancient Rome; Les Îles de Clovis, a village from the Middle-Ages; La Citadelle, a Medieval fortress; Le Camp du Drap d’Or which invites guests to enjoy a stay in the time of Francis I of France and Henry VIII of England; or Le Logis de Lescure which has 4 duplex suites in an authentic Vendée-style 18th-century building.
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