Fireworks, explosions and ships rising from lakes are all in day’s work at Puy Du Fou, France’s second most visited theme park. Located in Les Epesses, about an hour south-east of Nantes, Puy Du Fou (pronounced Pwee du Foo) is a household name in France but still relatively unknown elsewhere. It calls itself a theme park but there’s not a single rollercoaster or ride to be seen. Instead, the park stages lavish shows based on moments in European history. If this all sounds a little odd, it’s because it is. But it is also absolutely brilliant.
Puy du Fou, France’s best kept secret
Set over 55 hectares of forest Puy Du Fou started in 1978 with an amateur reenactment of the history of the Vendée, the region where the park is located in Western France. This show went on to become what is today La Cinéscénie, the biggest nighttime show in the world that performs to an audience of 14,000 people in high season. It’s unbelievably popular and tickets sell out almost as soon as they go on sale.
I recently spent a long weekend exploring Puy Du Fou on a BritMums press trip and I loved it. I don’t tend to visit a lot of theme parks but Puy Du Fou was so quirky, so innovative and so wonderfully unique that I am already planning a return trip with the kids.
The Shows at Puy Du Fou
It took me a while to work out what exactly Puy Du Fou is. It’s not a theme park in the traditional sense, rather it’s a combination of Cirque du Soleil acrobatics, Vegas’ theatrics and West End plays. The park stages 19 spectacular shows, including seven blockbusters, each lasting between 26 and 40 minutes (the perfect length of time to ensure kids’ attentions don’t wander!). The performances are staged up to seven times a day, welcoming some 2,400 to 6,000 visitors per performance! Most of the shows take place in outdoor theatres (and go ahead rain or shine), some are indoors and there are four immersive experiences. La Cinéscénie lasts 1hr30 and is only performed on Friday and Saturday nights during peak season.
The shows are, quite simply, incredible. They’re innovative, exciting and full of moments where you’ll wonder aloud “how the hell did they do that?!”. Not surprisingly, Puy Du Fou has won numerous awards for its shows. I mean, if you can make an illuminated grand piano rise from a lake, at nighttime, with a pianist playing, you deserve some kind of recognition!
We saw 13 of the 19 shows during our weekend at Puy Du Fou and some of my favourites included Les Vikings, (a dramatic and humorous retelling of an ancient legend), Les Amoureux De Verdun (a love story from WWI) and the spectacular Le Bal des Oiseaux Fantomes (a one-of-a-kind bird show that saw some 330 birds take to the sky for the finale). We also saw the Le Mystere de la Perouse (an incredible immersive journey on a sailing ship), the brilliant Three Musketeers, an adorable musical by the kids from the Puy Du Fou academy and Le Secret de la Lance, an epic medieval adventure with fire, explosions and jaw-dropping stunts on horseback. If you want to know which shows were my favourite, take a look at this post.
The other great thing about the shows are that many of them encourage audience participation. When you enter the stadium for Le Signe du Triomphe, you would be forgiven for thinking that you were in the colosseum in ancient Rome – and many of the people in the audience believed this too, cheering and booing on command! For non-French speakers there are translation headsets, or you can plug into the Puy Du Fou app and listen to the story in the language of your choice (Tip! the sound quality is better on the app). Truth is, however, that the storylines are a little tenuous in places so even if you don’t understand everything that’s going on, it won’t detract from the experience at all.
The Villages at Puy Du Fou
In addition to the shows there are four villages within the park that have been designed and created by craftsmen using traditional techniques so that they are as close to the original as possible. La Cité Médiévale is an authentic reproduction of a Medieval village, complete with craftsmen at work and a vegetable garden used by the park’s restaurants. In Le Fort d l’An Mil (the Viking village), you can watch a blacksmith and his apprentice at work.
Le Bourg 1900 was my favourite, a replica of a French town at the turn of the century complete with a carousel, Art Nouveau architecture and my favourite restaurant in the park, Le Bistrot. There’s also Le Village XVIII, a French village from the 18th century. The villages are also where the park’s souvenir shops are located. Instead of finding plastic tat, however, you can buy local artisan work from bracelets and earrings to pocket knifes and brightly coloured pixie boots. Puy Du Fou deliberately keep all the shops within the park’s four villages, and not outside the shows themselves, so there’s no pressure to buy something.
Where to eat at Puy Du Fou
There are 27 places to eat in Puy Du Fou ranging from fast food kiosks to a la carte restaurants. We tried a number of the restaurants during our stay and two things really stood out; the first is that the food is really very good. We didn’t try the fast food outlets but the meals in the restaurants were excellent. There were no hamburgers or pizza or hotdogs, rather we ate freshly made, flavoursome dishes created using local produce.
The second thing I noticed is that eating out at Puy Du Fou is really reasonable. The restaurants start from €12.50 per person and the most expensive restaurant, which offers a three course sit down meal, is €41 per person. Even better, if you reserve your restaurant in advance (which is highly recommended for peak season) then you get a €3 discount per person. My favourite restaurant was Le Bistrot, in Le Bourg village where we had lunch and Le Café de la Madelon, a Belle-Époque restaurant where you dine while watching – and sometimes taking part in – a brilliant cabaret performance.
Where to stay at Puy Du Fou
Puy Du Fou offers five themed hotels within La Cité Nocturne, its on site hotel complex, and each hotel is dedicated to a period of history, from Ancient Rome to the 18th century. Just as I’m not traditionally a fan of theme parks, I’m not usually big on themed accommodation either. However, the hotels at Puy Du Fou are really well done. I was transported back to the Middle Ages with my stay at Les Îles de Clovis, a village of 50 thatched huts built on stilts over water. My room was very comfortable with a big double bed, a good-sized bathroom with a great shower and fantastic bunk beds with curtains that I know my kids will love. I also had my own little terrace overlooking the carp-filled lake.
Others in our group also had a couple of nights at Le Camp du Drap d’Or, royal tents that came with four-poster beds, embroidered tapestries a throne for the toilet! Much like everywhere in the park, Puy Du Fou strives for authenticity and they really do get it right. There are hotels in the surrounding area but I would definitely recommend staying on site when you visit Puy Du Fou, it’s just so much more convenient and the accommodation if very family-friendly.
How to plan your visit to Puy Du Fou
The ideal length of time to visit Puy Du Fou is three days and two nights. We spent two full days in the park and they were long days but we managed to see a lot. I would highly recommend downloading the Puy Du Fou App; it’s very easy to use and really helpful for planning what you want to see. It can also be used as an audio guide (bring your own headphones). It is really worth spending the extra €14 per person to get the ‘Pass Emotion’. Acting like a fast pass, this ticket allows you to enter the shows through a separate line and sit in the best seats.
Puy du Fou is open from 7 April to 4 November 2018. La Cinescenie takes place on the 2nd and 9th of June and then every Friday and Saturday evening from 15 June to 8 September 2018.
Note that from June to September you can’t book a Friday and Saturday night in an on-site hotel (this is to allow for the popularity of both the park and La Cinescenie). If coming for a weekend, I would recommend arriving on the Saturday morning and leaving on the Monday afternoon.
Puy Du Fou is very accessible for people with disabilities or mobility issues and there are special seating areas in every show for those visitors who need assistance.
Puy Du Fou – How much does it cost?
Unlike many theme parks, Puy Du Fou’s pricing is very reasonable. The following will give you an idea of how much it costs.
Park entrance only
- Park entrance only – €35/adult for 1 day (all the shows and activities, included the night show “Les Orgues de Feu”) and €25/child for 1 day. There is a discounted rate for under 4s.
- Or €56/adult for 2 days and 40€/child for 2 days.
- Tickets to La La Cinéscénie from €27pp (book your tickets well in advance).
- Book your tickets online and save up to 20%
Staying in one of the parks’ hotels
- From €382 per family (2 adults, 2 children), including 2 days at the park, one night in an on-site hotel, private parking, breakfast, night show “Les Orgues de Feu”.
- Or from €538 for 2 nights/3 days.
- Staying in a hotel off-site is slightly cheaper. A one-night family stay at the Premiere Classe Hotel at Cholet (20 min from Puy du Fou), including 2 days at the park, starts at €254 per family, booked through www.puydufou.com.
- All rooms in the on-site hotels sleep up to 5 (1 x double, 1 x bunk bed, 1 x single bed). As prices are based on a per person structure, a 2 night/3 day stay for a family of 5, on site (Le Camp du Drap d’Or) in June starts at €561, including breakfast, and tickets to the Park.
Getting to Puy Du Fou
Puy Du Fou is located in Les Epesses, in the Vendée region of Western France. The closest airport is at Nantes, roughly one hour away. Your easiest option is to fly into Nantes and then hire a car. There is parking available at Puy Du Fou. If you want to have a longer holiday then you can combine a trip to Puy Du Fou with some time in nearby Brittany. Take a look at this post from Mini Travellers for some ideas on where to go.
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Disclosure: I was a guest of Puy Du Fou for the purpose of this review. All opinions are, as always, entirely my own.