Puy du Fou – the best theme park in the world?

Well, I’ve been promising to write this blog on our visit to Puy Du Fou France in September of 2021 for absolutely forever. I thought that now might be a good time, as people are starting to think about being brave enough to book little adventures again, and why not go somewhere I bet you’ve never heard of, especially if you don’t live in France. Am I right?

Yep, Puy du Fou has been voted best theme park in the world twice now, and its shows regularly win awards for theming, innovation and entertainment. Within Europe its visitor numbers are only bested by Disneyland Paris, and yet, when I told people where we were going, everyone said – where!?

Partly, it could be due to location, with a 2-3 hour drive from the closest major cities in France, and it’s closest airport is Nantes, which is still an hour away from the Vendee, where the park is situated. It’s not your average tourist trap, that’s for sure.

Puy du Fou itself is a historical theme park, centred around various impeccably themed areas, and with a selection of spectacular live action shows spanning millennia, some factual, some fictional, some with a whisper of the two. Another string to its bow are the themed on site hotel options, allowing you to be completed immersed in the action.

I’ll start with what are in my opinion, the absolutely best bits.

La Bal de Oiseaux Fantômes – roughly translated as the Ghost Bird Ballet.

Oh my goodness me. This is now tied for first place in the the best thing I have ever seen, ever, alongside the Cirque du Soleil’s “O” at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. I should give you some background though, I am a crier, I cry when I see the Disney Castle, I cried when I saw Diagon Alley at Universal Studios, I used to cry at the heel work to music at the end of Crufts. Yep, music and animals are particularly emotive for me, and this one hits every note. In a large and impressively themed medieval amphitheatre, you will have huge birds flying so close to you that they ruffle your hair. We’re not talking pigeons either, vultures, eagles, spoonbills, cranes, owls, and the amazing Secretary Bird river-dancing on his little rubber snake, that looks like it belongs in the cast of Incredible Beasts and where to find them. The finale is utterly spellbinding, as launched from an airship that hovers above, come hundreds and hundreds of birds, until the sky is so full you don’t know where to look. Its breathtaking, and emotional (the music is completely gorgeous) and the story of the enchanted princess that has awoken from her sleep and is calling back her birds into the ruins of her childhood home, it’s quite gorgeous. We saw this show on each of our 3 days, it’s that good, but not all seats are created equal – see my top tips a little later on.

One of the expert bird handlers.
Just generally strutting about being fabulous.

Mousquetaire du Richelieu

We saw this one twice, and again, not all seats are created equal, but this is a show unlike anything you will have ever seen before. In an indoor theatre, like a miniature Opera Garnier itself, is a show featuring epic sword fights, galloping horses, flamenco, and in the finale, the stage is flooded and filled with fog for a spectacular end to an incredibly unique piece of theatre. Do not miss this one, under any circumstances.

Romans? I hear you ask! – Check!

Now under these 2 amazing spectacles, comes pretty much everything else. I’d give both of the above shows a 10/10, with the birds getting the edge. I’d watch them everyday if I could. There are many other spectacular things to see, experience gladiatorial combat at a coliseum worthy amphitheatre complete with lions, see the knights of the round table rise up from under the water, watch a Joan of Arc style battle with Knights on horseback in full regalia, while fire comes out of seemingly everything, experience a Viking invasion, it seemingly never ends. All of these things are great entertainment, but is it possible to be spoiled by having so much of a good thing?

You want Vikings? We’ve got you.

The park itself is vast, so expect lots of walking, is beautifully landscaped and has little surprises everywhere, from musical fountains, to talking trees, to a Jurassic park like tropical garden, where fog creeps atmospherically along the ground. There is a giant mechanical clock, beautifully situated outside an old wine bar so you can enjoy a platter of cheese and charcuterie while watching the show, as it’s cogs whirl and people traverse it on a system of ropes and pulleys. There are also artisan shops, where genuine craftspeople sell their wares, and you can watch bread being baked, stonemasonry, glass blowing etc. There is a belle époque French village at the main park entrance, with a bakers (yes you can buy a loaf to take home – this is France after all), grocery, a craft beer bar, and various impeccably themed gift shops, centred around a traditional carousel. It really is a visual feast just to wander around.

Beautiful landscaping? We’ve got that too.

The on-site hotels also offer a great deal of choice, from Medieval, Roman, Versailles, Henry VIII’s Camp Drap D’or in elaborate royal tents (where we chose to stay), or thatched rooftops on stilted lodges overlooking the water, there really is something for everyone. Each hotel also contains an impeccably themed restaurant, available for lunch and dinner as part of your package, and some also have some great little bars to enjoy an apero after the miles you’ve walked during a busy day. The park itself also has numerous quick service options, but sadly this is one of the negatives for me, I’ll cover that in more detail later.

Camp like a King at the Camp Drap D’or
Our favourite hotel, great Aperol Spritz and everything smelt like Orange Blossom.
The theming is really on point, everything felt authentic and atmospheric.

There are also several indoor immersive experiences, which are on the whole really well done and quite fascinating.

I really loved La Mystere de la Peruse, where you walk through the bowels of a recreation of one of the explorer ships led by Comte de La Pérouse, that mysteriously vanished without trace. The ship, with its hold filled full of botanical samples from its last expedition, is a walk through attraction and it’s so fascinating. You experience a storm on board, and when you sight the ice-flows through the port holes you can feel the temperature drop. There is a theory that the ships may have been sunk on the Great Barrier Reef, all that remains is one broken china plate, recovered centuries later. It is said that Louis XVI asked if there was any news of La Perouse on his way to Madame Guillotine.

Finally of note, there are 2 night time shows. One that runs throughout the season (and changes yearly), and La Cinescenie, which is only on selected dates and features a cast of thousands. Yes, thousands. We saw Les Noces des Feu, which was a romance between a pianist and a violinist, and featured a vast lake, with illuminated stagecoaches and swan appearing out of the water as if by magic. A huge pipe organ is played with fire coming out of the top, and classical music wafts into the night sky. It’s a bit mad, very French, and I kinda liked it. Puy du Fou certainly are absolute masters at making the impossible appear from the water.

Now, La Cinescenie. This is a tough one. This is an extra ticket event, so you will have to book this separately, and it will absolutely sell out. After a walk in the dark, down a hill for what feels like forever, but it’s probably only minutes, you arrive at what is like the foyer area of a large concert arena. Merch stands, you can buy drinks, food etc if you so wish. Your entrance number/letter is on your ticket so you locate your entrance easily, just like a concert, and then through the doors you go, not knowing exactly what to expect.

The closest thing I can liken this to, is an Olympic Games opening ceremony. The outdoor auditorium is vast. Theres a huge lake, windmills turning in the middle distance, a castle, a full rural village, a country estate, it’s just huge. In terms of a spectacle it’s dazzling, a cast of literally thousands, with every animal from ducks to pigs to a herd of longhorn cattle. There are fetes and celebrations, dancing, and the sight of 20 knights on horseback in full regalia thundering in to view is something else.

But….despite a plane flying over at at one point, and some incredible fireworks at the end, this really didn’t rock our world, despite everyone being on their feet and cheering wildly at the end. Firstly, it’s too bloody long. You have to be there an hour before it starts, and it’s 2.1/2 hours long. The audio translation via the app did work well, despite a lot of reviews to the contrary, but I had to turn it off in the end, as I had to turn it up so loud to be able to hear it that it was audible to those sitting around me, and I didn’t want to spoil anyone’s enjoyment. The language used was so flowery anyway though, and so heavily peppered with metaphors, that even in English trying to follow things was a little difficult. It’s also one of the most depressing things I’ve ever seen, so much so that it became almost amusing towards the end, which is terrible to say. Poor little Petit Jaques, the peasant boy, losing his family, I lost count of times people were “mort”. Then there’s the cheery tale of the little girl refugee, who sees her parents killed at the side of the road. Petite Jaques sings with her an uplifting (not!) song, that roughly translated as “keep your chin up”. There was more than a little bit of eye-rolling between the two of us…..

There’s a formula, happy rural life, dance about with a giant brioche, then shoot some women and children, and repeat. I’m just not sure we were the target audience for this to be honest.

Lastly, god saves the day quite a bit. As a non religious person, it’s a bit much to take. My argument as ever would be that God shouldn’t have allowed the bad things to happen in the first place, but there we are.

You will see huge crosses and religious statues, all over this region of France. Indeed their Catholicism is what led to them being persecuted by the post revolutionary regime, so you understand why as a people, they are fiercely proud of their uprising and defence of their beliefs and values. If I hailed from this region, I would have be proud of that accomplishment too and whooping along with everyone else.

However there is a major caveat to this, and to this park as a whole. There are elements to this park that are not just focused on French history (as you might expect) but are focused on a very specific regional French history, that of the Vendee. I would therefore hugely recommend reading a little about a period known as “the Terror”, and also reading a little about General Charette, who’s life and death you will will discover in a very unique way in “Le Dernier Panache” or the Last Plume, at Puy du Fou. I’m grateful actually, for learning about this, because it’s an utterly fascinating read.

If you are thinking this park is for young children, I would say when we visited, the vast majority of visitors were middle aged or families with more teenaged children. I think younger kids could be a little unsettled by some of the immersive attractions. Imagine wandering through the trenches of WW1 as mortars go off all around you and exiting into a war cemetery. How about witnessing the very realistic recreation of a firing squad execution, or watching women and children be gunned down at close quarters? Yup, you don’t get this at Flamingo land…..

Another problem for me is the food, and this in my opinion is why Disney nails it and I’d move in to the castle if they’d let me. Firstly, vegetarians exist France! If you’re trying to eat less meat, then be prepared to live on cheese baguettes for 3 days. We paid for some lunches and dinners in advance, spectacular settings and good quality buffet style offerings, but for the money, I shouldn’t be having to just eat the side dishes. Please just add a couple of well thought out vegetarian main meals to each menu, and if you’re vegan, well, the very best of luck!

Next, the repetition of food offerings. Many of the menus are replicated at different locations across the park, so variety isn’t an option. The fish and chips were the best thing I had across the 3 days, but we had a really dreadful burger. A wholemeal, super dry bun, with onions that for some reason you’d taken the time to marinade in what tasted a lot like Pernod. Just why?! Because we were there in September and heading into the park for the evening show, most of the restaurants were closed so you had even less choice than earlier in the day, meaning everyone crammed into the one burger restaurant.

Also, breakfast is included, but it’s impossible to get a decent breakfast time slot, it’s either dawn, or after 9.30 because of coach trips and the seemingly incessant corporate team building groups that were eveywhere. So frequently, no fruit juice and the buffet selection looked like a plague of locusts had been through.

Visting here and staying on site for 3 days including tickets cost us roughly 1000 euros for 2 people, so this is not cheap. I expected just a tiny bit more there.

Top tips to get the best from your visit.

Absolutely get the Pass Emotion tickets for each day. These allow you later entry to shows and designated premium seating and your own special queue, so no waiting around. Although, still arrive in good time to get the best seats in the house. For the bird show, you want to be central and right at the back under the heraldic signs if you want vultures landing just above your head. It’s exhilarating and magical. If this might freak you out a bit, go for a lower seat. For the Musketeers show, go in early and sit right next to the stage front and centre. There will be sword fighting inches from your face!

Make sure you go to your hotel before you go into the park as they have all your tickets, including you pass emotion, you cannot get these at the park gate as you might expect, and it’s a long walk back – as we found out!

Book some meals ahead of time as you’ll save 20% by booking them along with your accommodation.

Free electric car charging was most welcome, but there are a limited number of charging points, we had to keep going backwards and forwards as there was one car hogging the charging point.

The hotels are all amazing. Our “tent” was quite fabulous but goodness me it was easy to get lost when they all look the same….. We also found it quite difficult to find our way back out of the park and to our hotel in the dark after the nighttime show as a lot of the signposted routes to the Cite Nocturne were closed off. Was a bit frustrating.

You can do this park in much cheaper fashion by staying at a nearby campsite, we drove past one that was large and looked to have loads of facilities. France is super good at catering for motor homes so I expect this would be a fantastic option for families.

Am I glad I went – absolutely, it’s a really unique experience. Would I go again? Erm…if you need me, I’ll be at Disney…..

Just wandering the park and the on-site hotels is a day out in itself.

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