Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Our Visit To Puy Du Fou

*AD Disclosure - Our accommodation, park entrance tickets, meals and flights were paid for in return for an honest review. All words and opinions are my own.

Do you ever feel as though the places you visit start to look pretty similar?

As the parent of a theme-park enthusiast child, I have to say - I have often felt this way. We've been to almost every UK theme park you can think of and as enjoyable as many of them are - I do often feel as though the location changes but the day out remains pretty much the same.

There rarely seems to be anything truly different on offer that really stands out from the crowd - so I guess that when we visited Puy Du Fou, France's 2nd biggest Visitor Attraction, last week - I expected to feel the same way.

I couldn't have been more wrong!

In case you're unfamiliar with Puy Du Fou (As I was myself), let me tell you a little bit about it.

Created in 1978, Puy Du Fou is a theme park unlike any other as rather than being home to an array of rides, it brings thrills and excitement by way of grand scale shows and immersive experiences inspired by great moments of history.

Voted the Number 1 Theme Park in France on Trip Advisor, and No 3 in the World - Puy Du Fou is a huge hit with it's visitors. It also won the ‘World's Best Park’ in March 2012 in Los Angeles (Thea Classic Award) and once again in November 2014 in Orlando (Applause Award.)

With so much praise and so many under accolades under its belt, I was intrigued to see if Puy Du Fou could live up to the hype.

I visited with my partner and our 6 year old son - a history buff in the making who I knew would be in his element here! We decided to leave our younger two children at home with family for this trip as weren't too sure that they'd be up for sitting through lots of shows (I do think this was the right decision, and I'll talk more about recommended ages later).

The journey to Puy Du Fou was pretty straight forward. We flew to Nantes Airport, and it was then an easy 1 hour drive from the airport to Puy Du Fou.

The 'Cite Nocturne' area of Puy Du Fou is located a short stroll away from the Grand Parc itself, and is home to five different hotels themed on different periods of history including Ancient Rome, The Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

We stayed in 'La Citadelle' - a medieval fortress which is home to 74 'Classic' 5 bed rooms and 26 'Comfort' rooms with 3 beds.

Every detail of our hotel from the courtyard view of our bedroom window, to the decor of the restaurant - even down to the way the staff were dressed - was fully immersive. It truly felt as though we'd stepped back in time (with the added benefit of modern luxury, of course!)

Our room was spacious and relaxing, beautifully decorated whilst still remaining minimal and in keeping with the theme - it was the perfect setting to unwind and enjoy a peaceful slumber at the end of a busy day exploring the Grand Parc and I could have happily spent more time there.

The Grand Parc was around an 8 minute stroll from La Citadelle - an easy route of flat pathways, well sign-posted - and the first thing we noticed upon entering was how unlike any other theme park we've ever encountered the atmosphere here was.

It felt much more like a beautiful country park than a theme park, with its stunning plants and woodland areas - it was so serene and calming, and there were so many places to go for a wander to take in the beauty of nature in peace and quiet if you felt like getting away from the crowds. (Although  I have to say that, at least during our visit, the crowds here never felt overwhelming as they often can in other theme parks we've visited. ) There's a 100 year old woodland here with 150 species of tree, and Puy Du Fou employ 45 gardeners to keep it's beautiful grounds in tact. 

The entertainment at Puy Du Fou comes in the form of 4 immersive period villages, 7 main day time shows, walk through experiences and a handful of smaller shows and areas to explore too including a maze and an enchanted garden of sorts complete with talking trees and statues that come to life to sing.

The Shows

The first show we saw was Les Vikings. The story began with the marriage of a couple in a small village, but it all goes wrong when a longboat of Vikings arrive and launch their attack.

I honestly didn't know where to look at certain points during the show as there was so much going on all around me! The special effects were quite honestly amazing - at one point an enormous Viking ship rose out of the lake in front of us, which was an impressive sight on it's own - but when we realised that there were real people standing on it who then sprung into action, our minds were blown!

I've thought about this for many a night since, wondering just how they managed to do it. And that wasn't the only time they managed to leave me completely in awe either - at another point in the show, a man seemed to disappear in a puff of smoke right in front of us. It was incredible!

Although the Puy Du Fou app allows English visitors to listen to translations of the show as it's taking place, we didn't use it for this show as I'd forgotten to unpack the earphones - but we didn't even need it. The spectacle of the show and the incredible special effects were more than enough to keep us enthralled, and we were able to follow the story without the translation well enough to know what was going on.

Les Vikings is certainly a show not to miss on a visit to Puy Du Fou - it may well have been my favourite show of all!

The next show we saw was Le Signe Du Triomphe - This incredible show takes place in a huge Gallo-Roman stadium, and features everything from incredibly realistic gladiator battles (and by realistic, I mean complete with spurting blood and dead bodies! I did wonder whether my 6 year old might find it a bit too realistic but nope - he loved it!) to high-speed chariot races.

The audience participation here was fantastic, and the atmosphere was electric. We never wanted it to end! Every single detail had been thoroughly thought through - the costumes were fantastic, the acting was incredible, every single part of the show felt as though we had truly gone back in time.

Jon & Tyne both declared this to be their favourite show of all.

As for the other shows, one of my favourites was Le Secret De La Lance - a medieval knight show centred around a young shepherdess who must protect her castle from attacking knights. The special effects included a quick change, a disappearing wall revealing a huge castle, and the finale with explosions and knights walking up the castle walls was really magical! 

Even without all of the special effects though, the horse riding tricks performed during the show were phenomenal in their own right and well worth seeing - this is a show not to miss!

There's also Le Dernier Panache - a show performed in a magnificent revolving theatre which left me in tears, Mousquetaire De Richelieu - a breathtaking show which sees the stage fill with water, and Les Chevaliers De La Table Ronde - or The Knights Of The Round Table, which although a much shorter show than the others was still filled with incredible special effects including the appearance of a mermaid, and a round table which emerged from the lake complete with knight on horseback!

Every show we saw seemed to go to the next level of awe and wonder. Just when we thought there was nothing further that Puy Du Fou could do to surprise us...they did something else!

I could easily have watched each of the shows multiple times, such was my enjoyment of them.

There was also an evening spectacular - Les Orgues De Fou - which is a love story between two musicians, performed on a lake in the middle of the Grand Parc.

Set to a stunning soundtrack of classical music, the appearance of illuminated dancers seemingly gliding along the lake was quite beyond anything I could have imagined. The dancing fountains and fire producing organ in this show are really a sight to behold...another one to be sure not to miss.

As well as the shows, there are a number of walk-through experiences to enjoy too.

These include Les Amoureux De Verdun - a first world war trench where the floor shook with the impact of bombs, and soldiers walked around interacting with us. A sobering but incredibly realistic and interesting experience, as well as La Mystere De La Perouse - where you board a naval ship destined for tragedy in stormy seas. At points the ship seems to rock from side to side as you look out of the porthole to see the stormy seas outside, before taking a watery exit.

Both of these walk through experiences were fascinating, but we all agreed that our favourite was Puy Du Fou's newest addition - Le Premier Royaume, which was filled with impressive grand-scale sets and special effects. 

 In between seeing the shows and enjoying the walk through experiences, we took the time to explore the beautiful grounds of the Grand Parc. It was such a peaceful place to roam around, with plenty of spots to sit down and enjoy a drink (or a delicious treat from one of the takeaway spots, the little apple tarts were our favourites!)

Tyne really enjoyed the play area, and we also thoroughly enjoyed wandering through Le Monde Imaginaire De La Fontaine - a lovely trail through an enchanted garden, with talking trees and singing statues to name just a few. I didn't expect Tyne to enjoy this part as much as he did, but he adored it.

We also loved roaming through the period villages, browsing the souvenir shops and seeing the crafts people at work. 

We usually try to treat Tyne to something from the gift shop when we visit somewhere new but this can often be a bit of a pain as the prices are usually quite high - but I was pleasantly surprised with the prices at Puy Du Fou. The soldiers hat he chose was around 6 euro (we also got a Viking one from the Les Vikings show which was 6 euro too!), and the price of the gun escapes me but I do remember thinking it was very reasonable too.

As for the food,  I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking that most theme park food leaves a lot to be desired but Puy Du Fou have made a real effort to ensure that the dining experiences here are something a bit more special.

There are takeout stalls dotted about the Parc selling everything from rotisserie chicken to crepes, as well as the usual burgers and sandwiches - and there are also a selection of rather lovely restaurants too.

Our personal favourite was Le Bistrot - a charming little cafe where we enjoyed Croque Monsieur, Opera cake and crispy chicken goujons for Tyne. The food was delicious here, and very reasonably priced too.

We also ate one evening at Cafe De La Madelon - a very unique restaurant where you are treated as guests at a wedding with a twist. The dinner show was entirely in French and in all honesty this was the only point of our trip where we felt that our limited understanding of French really hindered our enjoyment, but it was still a really interesting dining experience and there were many elements of the performance that we really enjoyed. (Our waitress, and everybody elses waiting staff, were part of the show which was pretty entertaining in itself!)

We all had an absolutely incredible time at Puy Du Fou - it is truly unlike anywhere else we've ever come across, and I wouldn't hesitate to return with the other children in a few years time.

The shows here are beyond anything we've seen anywhere else, and truly have to be seen to be believed.

If you're a history lover - or you're keen to help your children gain an understanding of years gone by - you really can't afford to miss a visit to Puy Du Fou! 

Since sharing highlights of our trips on Instagram, I've had a few people ask me about recommended ages for visiting and whether it's the sort of place that adults could enjoy a trip without children - the answer to this is absolutely! In fact most of the people here seemed to be groups of adults, children - although present and welcome - were definitely in the minority.

Our 6 year old son adored it and the shows were the perfect length to hold his interest and attention, I'd also say that anybody from his age and upward would get a lot out of a visit here too. Teenagers in particular would love the special effects!

I would say that children under the age of 5 or 6 might struggle a little as some of the shows are upwards of 30 minutes long, with some loud explosions and some violence which might be a bit frightening to some. 

We stayed for 2 nights and 2 days at Puy Du Fou and managed to fit in almost everything, but this was done with a fair bit of dashing from one show to the next to ensure we got to see everything we wanted to. If you want to ensure you have chance to see and do everything at a comfortable pace, I'd recommend 2 nights and 3 full days ideally.

As for visiting Puy Du Fou as an English speaking guest, please don't let the language barrier put you off! The staff we encountered all spoke perfect English, and the Puy Du Fou app allows you to listen to English translations of the main shows which was really handy. We never felt that the language barrier got in the way of our enjoyment of the shows at all!

If you're interested in visiting Puy Du Fou (and I highly recommend that you do!) then now is the perfect time, as bookings have just opened for the 2020 season.

With overnight stays starting from 62 Euro per person including Park entry tickets, it's fantastic value for money too. 

You can find out more at http://www.puydufou.com/en

If you'd like to take a look at our trip to Puy Du Fou in video form, please check out our YouTube video below or visit my Instagram Page and check out our Puy Du Fou highlights.

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