It isn’t every day you find yourself watching a woman get tied to a pole and surrounded by lions. And it’s probably a teeny bit unusual to find yourself watching a Viking longboat rise out of a lake, complete with Vikings on board, while watching a man being chased by wild pigs, followed by a herd of perfectly-in-formation geese.
But then it’s not every day you find yourself at Puy du Fou.
It’s one of France’s biggest visitor attractions, with more than 25,000 visitors passing through its gates EVERY day in summer. But the chances are you’ve never heard of Puy du Fou. A short drive from the Atlantic beaches of the Vendee, this is perhaps France’s best kept secret.
Puy du Fou is actually France’s second largest theme park and has won awards all around the world for its brilliance. But the park isn’t marketed outside France, meaning the scores of British tourists who head to the Vendee each summer remain largely ignorant of its existence.
Honestly? They’re missing out BIG time. Puy do Fou is the single most brilliantly bonkers place I think we’ve ever visited. I can’t think of a single place anywhere else in the world where you could watch a Viking longboat catch fire, see a cloud of 120 birds of prey inches above your head, and cheer along in a Roman amphitheatre while watching a chariot race. And that was just our first morning…
What is it?
Puy du Fou (pronounced p-wee du foo) is a historical theme park. Rather than rides, this 50-acre woodland site hosts a series of historical shows designed to showcase a different period in French history. Each show lasts around 40 minutes, and repeats several times during the day.
The shows are literally spectacular. The sets are huge – with castles and villages and scaffolding and lakes – and many of those elements move, catch fire or otherwise take you by surprise. The cast is huge, and there’s an incredible amount of stunt work in every show, along with rousing music and special effects.
Obviously, the shows are in French – if you’re not a native speaker, you can hire translation headsets by the day, which will provide you with an English version of the action. You simply put your headset on, adjust the channel until you find the soundtrack of the show you’re watching, and that’s you set. They are very handy but for many of the shows they’re really an optional extra as the action does most of the talking.
There are six main shows at Puy du Fou, and we kicked off our two-day visit at The Phantom Birds Dance, which involves a dizzying number of birds of prey flying over your heads – and occasionally landing on the head of an unsuspecting audience member.
It’s a great show although not for the bird-phobic – there’s plenty of songs, the storyline is quite bonkers (I’m not sure why, but some wolves appeared half way through, and I’m sure I spotted a goose at one point). And after this, any of those shows with one or two kestrels are going to look a bit lame, frankly. The finale of this show features a veritable carpet of birds in the sky, along with a hot air balloon and a woman floating next to a tree.
Next up, we headed off to see The Signs of Triumph. This show takes place in a replica Roman amphitheatre which seats 6,000 people. It’s HUGE. The show starts with a parade, which is mind-boggling – there are boar, and camels and ostriches, and a herd of geese. At some point watching this sort of thing, you sort of stop wondering why, and adopt a view of “why not?”
There are chariot races and some truly exciting sword fights between the “Romans” and the “gauls” who are prisoners, and a gladiator who’s in love with a prisoner and, well, we sort of lost track of the story at this point. But it’s all AWESOME – Flea especially loved the spinning torture device that actors ran into and their guts exploded, sending fake blood splattering all over the stage. At one stage there are lions and tigers, and it’s all very exciting.
After a quick pit stop for the world’s biggest chocolate waffle, we took in the Secret of the Lance show, which is all about knights – there’s lots of exciting horse-related stunts in this show and some jousting. We sneezed our way through this one, being allergic to horses, but it was still a lot of fun.
Next up, it was The Vikings, possibly my favourite show of the weekend. A lovely village is celebrating a wedding (they’re big fans of true love at Puy du Fou) when – oh no! – they’re invaded by Vikings with not one but two longships and fires and horses and a herd of buffalo. No, really. Buffalo. This show is absolutely packed with stunts and fighting and special effects and it’s genuinely really exciting to watch. Loved it.
We couldn’t fit all the shows into a single day at Puy du Fou but luckily we had two days on-site, so on our second morning we caught up with the final major show – The Knights of the Round Table. This is a fab re-telling of the story of Merlin and Arthur and Lancelot, and there are some fun water-based stunts and special effects.
One thing that’s important to note is that the timings of each show will change daily depending on the number of visitors expected – so you must pick up a new map and schedule each day that you visit (or the schedule is available online the night before from around 5pm). Maps are available in French and English, although it doesn’t take a genius to work out the more easily-found French version, I promise!
The Night Show
If you think the day shows at Puy du Fou are spectacular, the night show takes it to a whole other level. At 10pm during the summer, this two-hour spectacular races through 700 years of French history using 1,600 actors (all volunteers), 120 horses, a 25-hectare stage and possibly all the fireworks produced in France. It’s a late night for younger guests but Flea was fascinated by the whole affair which is truly unlike anything you’ve ever seen anywhere else.
Unhelpfully for you, it’s ridiculously hard to describe if you’re not there to see it in person – but it’s bonkers and brilliant, is the best description I can think of. Tickets for the night show, which has been seen by over 10m people since it first launched in the late 1970s, have to be booked separately to your park tickets, but they are honestly well worth it.
Alongside the six major shows, there are plenty of other attractions at Puy du Fou – there’s a Medieval City which you can walk around, popping into various shops, which are all run by artisans making everything from wine barrels to jewellery and fresh bread. There’s also a 1900 city, where there is a vintage carousel and a host of shops and restaurants – Flea particularly loved the shop selling kids’ weapons – you’ve got to love a theme park that sells six different sorts of crossbow and more than a dozen varieties of swords.
And the setting of the park itself is gorgeous – the walks between shows can be quite long (it takes a good 20 minutes to walk between some shows) but they’re along wooded paths, with areas of gorgeous gardens, and even a Valley of Flowers with its own waterfall. The paths can get dusty on dry days so I’d recommend sturdy shoes and not wearing white trousers if you can avoid it.
There are plenty of restaurants, ranging from formal sit-down eateries to buffet-style restaurants and “fast food” stands – this being France, even the fast food is fresh and reasonably healthy (if you don’t count the waffles).
Unlike most theme parks we’ve visited in the past, Puy du Fou is very light on opportunities to shop – most of the retail outlets are concentrated in one small area near the castle, and there are plenty of spots to sit and enjoy a picnic or play without needing to spend a small fortune. It’s very relaxing – not to mention unusual.
As mentioned, you’ll struggle to see everything in Puy du Fou in one day – although with careful planning ahead of time, and some speedy walking, it’s probably just about possible. But there are hotels on-site where you can stay to enjoy 2 days at the park. We stayed at Iles de Clovis. Now, I confess – we couldn’t really work out if the hotel was themed as a Roman, Medieval or Viking village, but honestly? It doesn’t matter.
The rooms here are medieval style cottages, each on stilts over a pretty lake packed with fish that bob to the surface in search of bread crumbs. The rooms are spacious with an adults-area with a king-sized bed and twin beds at the other end of the room – with a handy curtain divide. There’s no air-conditioning (the park aims to be environmentally neutral) but we found the accommodation comfortable and convenient – although you might want ear plugs because the frogs outside are incredibly loud!
We were invited to Puy du Fou as guests of the park. Two nights accommodation at Clovis Island including breakfast and admission to the Grand Parc plus Cinescenie tickets for one adult and one child costs €418. If purchased individually admission to the park is €30 for one day or €44 for 2 days, plus an additional €26 for Cinescenie tickets (€18 for children). We also recommend Emotion passes, which give you access to the best seating at shows, plus a 10% discount in shops around the park. These cost €10pp/day. Translation headsets are available to hire at a cost of €9 per day for 2 headsets.
Want to see more? Here’s a quick video highlights reel of our time at Puy du Fou!