Last weekend I travelled to Nantes, France with Britmums on a press trip to a little known theme park called Puy Du Fou in Les Epesses.
Puy du Fou is France’s best kept secret despite being their second largest theme park, attracting over 2.26m visitors a year.
Calling Puy du Fou (pronounced “pwee de foo”) a theme park is actually doing the park a disservice as it is so much more. There are no rides and no tacky merchandise, just pure entertainment in the form of spectacular daytime and evening shows and four period villages.
When walking through these villages, you feel like you have stepped back in time, with the staff in full traditional costume, working as they would have done in their time.
In the Viking village we saw an old forge and the blacksmiths at work, the medieval village had some amazing shops with stone mason’s, wood whittlers and silver smiths, the 18th century French village had the most stunning bell towers and Le Bourg was the busiest of the four and is based on a market town from the 1900’s.
‘Living History’ is probably the best way to describe the park although away from the
shows, nature is at its best with lakes, with stunning fountain displays, flower-filled gardens and woodland that is home to over 1500 animals to explore.
I could rave about the environment in the park for a whole blog post, as everything is so well looked after and in keeping with the themes, but Puy du Fou is most popular for its shows.
The Daytime Shows
There are seven main daytime shows, themed on different periods of French history and our first experience of a show left me in stunned silence.
Le Bal des Oiseaux Fantômes
I can only describe this show as magical. In fact, I thought it was going to be the highlight of our stay at Puy Du Fou but I ended up loving each show for different reasons.
Le Bal des Oiseaux Fantômes (The Ghost Birds Ball) sees Aliénor awake in the ruins of an old château.
Although they spoke French, we did have portable translators telling us the story in English, but I actually just found watching the magic unfold was enough for me.
In a nutshell, her memories make the birds emerge, and there are soon falcons, owls, eagles and vultures skimming past your heads with their enormous wings.
It truly was a spectacular sight, especially the finale but if you are scared of birds then I would avoid this one as they do fly in very close proximity to the audience.
For bird lovers, for a small extra charge you can book an evening visit to get up close to some of your favourite birds and learn all the about their training processes and how they are working on conservation with their birds too.
Our second show of the day was no less spectacular than the birds. In fact it was action packed from start to finish.
We started off by celebrating a wedding in the peaceful village of Fort de l’An Mil.
It is not long before the peace is shattered and the fearsome Vikings arrive in their longboats, to create havoc.
With animals joining in the action, Les Vikings is a true spectacle that makes you question “how did they do that” on numerous occasions.
If you like your shows action packed, then this one is definitely for you as the battle rages at the foot of the watch tower, in a deluge of special effects.
Le Dernier Panache
Next up was Le Dernier Panache, the story of a French naval officer who returned home a hero from the American War of Independence to see his life change dramatically.
It is a brilliantly clever show that sees a 360° rotation of the seating, rather than the stage, and has been recognised internationally by winning the Thea Award for the world’s best show in Los Angeles in 2017!
Les Amoureux de Verdun
Another award winning show, this is one which you walk through and listen to the story as you go.
I found this one really tugged at the heart-strings as the story of a heroic soldiers from WW1 are told through love letters between the soldier and his fiancée set in the snowy trenches in the middle of winter 1916.
You actually walk through the trenches, with the sights, smells and sounds that the soldiers would have had to deal with on a daily basis. The ground even shakes when shells explode nearby!!
Mousquetaire de Richelieu
Another indoor show, this one follows the romantic adventures of Cardinal Richelieu’s Musketeer’s.
Don’t let being in a more traditional theatre fool you though, this is a magical show with capes, sword fights, horses, flamenco dancing and incredible special effects!
Le Grand Carillon
Set in the 18th Century Village, this is a bell tower like no other.
The bell-ringers, climb up to 16 metres above the ground, to perform breathtaking manoeuvres and strike the 70 giant bells in a stunning show that combines melody and choreography.
Le Secret de la Lance
The show starts with an introduction to Marguerite, a young shepherdess and the Knights of the castle who display some quite spectacular horsemanship.
Like all the shows at Puy du Fou, this is a spectacular medieval adventure that sees Marguerite left alone to defend a castle with the help of a mysterious lance with magical powers.
These magical powers literally make the castle appear before your very eyes and even turn itself around as the Knights fight for glory.
Le Signe Du Triomphe
*Whispers* – all the shows leave you in awe but this was my favourite and even walking inside their miniature Colosseum was a treat as we spotted members of the audience being dressed up to look the part.
Having visited the Colosseum a couple of years ago I was fascinated by how they staged their performances, but this show really brought to life, even if it isn’t full size.
The fun starts as soon as you sit down and we were sat on the side of the Gaulish prisoners who were riling up the audience against the Romans in a battle of noise – and a Mexican wave.
To save their lives, the Gaulish prisoners must win the circus games in front of the Roman governor.
The show is action packed and during the first battle there is even fake blood spurting from some of the fallen soldiers.
The next challenge was chariot racing and they really got up some speed, racing four chariots around the arena.
It is well documented that the Romans were especially fascinated with wild animals and that big cats were a particularly prized animal. The safety gates at the front of the audience are raised to provide extra safety and on they come.
We later found out that these big cats are owned and trained by the man who provides animals for Hollywood films, including Gladiator and although they were on stage for just a few short minutes, they really added to the drama.
The show ends in a spectacular finale which looks even more impressive thanks to its setting.
Some of the smaller shows are just as impressive as the big staged ones and although we didn’t get a chance to visit them all, we gave it a good try.
Le Mystère de La Pérouse
La Pérouse was a French Naval officer and explorer whose expedition vanished in Oceania. This was another walk through experience which saw us board one of his ships and leave the port of Brest and set sail to brave the unknown waters.
On board the ship, we got a sense of what life would have been like on board, with lifelike rolling seas, both making the ship move and to see out of the port holes. A mix of live actors, explorers treasure and animatronic figures brought the ship to life before we had to endure a formidable storm and escape the watery shipwreck!
Le Ballet des Sapeurs
The inhabitants of the Bourg 1900 rush to put out a fire in a vehicle whose engine has literally just exploded. Inspired by the world of silent films, this short but fun show is entirely performed by children from the Puy du Fou Academy and is perfect to watch from the cafe with a nice cool drink.
The Night Time Shows
The night-time shows are on quite late, especially if you have young children with you, but are well worth seeing if you can.
Les Orgues de Feu
Every evening on the old Puy du Fou lake, nymphs and sprites dance to the music of romantic musicians dressed in illuminated costumes in a fantastic symphony of fire and water.
If you are expecting something Disney-esque then you will be disappointed. Puy du Fou really know how to put on a show and this does not disappoint. Watch as people literally walk and glide on water, musical instruments appear from nowhere as the fountains dance, lit up with multi-coloured lights.
Just when you think that they cannot do anything better, they blow your mind with La Cinéscénie and it is so spectacular that it deserves a whole other blog post.
What I can tell you is, you feel like you are walking into a huge football stadium when you arrive and the show involves 2,400 actors on a stage, spread over 23 hectares, 28,000 costumes, a fascinating story and light and sound show that has to be seen to be believed.
5 Top Tips for visiting Puy du Fou
1. Invest in an Emotion Pass – for an extra €14 per day per person, the emotion pass gets you fast track entry to the big 7 shows and the best seats in the house.
2. Download the Puy du Fou app, available on iTunes and Google Play. It helps you to plan you day and translates their main shows into English, German, Spanish and Dutch. I found this much easier to hear than the translator we were given.
3. Bring noise cancelling headphones – whether you choose to use your phone, or the translator they provide to listen to the shows, the surrounding noise can drown out the sound of the translator, especially when using their basic in-ear ones provided. My iPhone ones worked well.
4. Bring warm clothes – if you are planning on staying for the evening shows, it can get quite chilly as they are on very late, so bring a warm jumper and a rain mac – just in case.
5. Wear comfortable shoes – some of the pathways are cobbled or gravelled and we covered over 6 miles a day, so trainers are ideal.
I visited Puy du Fou with 6 other bloggers as part of a team of BritMums influencers. You can read posts from the other bloggers below:
Globetotting: Best Shows at Puy du Fou
Extraordinary Chaos: A Guide to visiting Puy Du Fou
Jenography: The best theme park in the world, you have never heard of
Maris World: Puy Du Fou – the world’s best theme park