Return to Puy du Fou

It’s hard not to keep going back to the Puy du Fou. This year’s new attraction is an atmospheric journey through the trenches of the First World War

The Puy du Fou is France’s second most popular theme park and the fourth biggest attraction in France with over 1.5 million visitors every year.

This year, Tootlafrance went back to visit the park on a sunny day in June when the temperatures were near-perfect (23-24 C) even if the crowds were a little… crowdy.

We reached the park with about 20 minutes to spare before the first of the big shows – the spectacular bird show “Bal des Fantomes”. As we hurried through the grounds to the large outdoor theatre set amongst stone ruins, information signs kept telling us that the arena was full and that entry to the show was now closed.

We kept hurrying – all five of us – not quite believing it until we got there. Sure enough, a man standing at the entrance lane informed us that the tidal wave (my words, not his) of school groups that day had indeed filled the first big show of the day to capacity so we couldn’t go in.

“English please!” demanded one English lady beside me. The Parc official duly obliged and we turned around to see what else we’d look at.

We weren’t going to miss anything, we knew (this show was due to run again in the afternoon), but with 3 teenagers in tow, it’s often best to get the highlights seen as quickly as possible on a day out in a theme park.

Spot the difference: the Puy du Fou mediaeval village is so authentic, you can easily forget you're in a recently-built artifice.

Spot the difference: the Puy du Fou mediaeval village is so authentic, you can easily forget you’re in a recently-built artifice.

It turned out to be a blessing in disguise of sorts because instead of rushing from one big show to the next, we took an amble around the lesser-explored attractions of the park – the ones that are simply there all day and that you can look at.

The mediaeval village, for example, was one such place that I had just run through to get to something else. But when you stop to look at it, you’ll see that it’s actually an incredibly detailed and authentic-looking newly-built French mediaeval town that’s as nice as so many real mediaeval French towns. Plus – they’ve got shops where traditional crafts such as glass-making is practised for real, selling the lovely array of wares to visiting tourists.

We also got to see the Parc’s newest attraction – The Lovers of Verdun (Les Amoureux de Verdun). This involves walking through a reconstructed trench and tunnel of the First World War, all to the background voices of a soldier and his sweetheart reading their letters to one another.

The mock-up is eerily emotional at times. It uses a mixture of animated dummies and real actors to populate an ever-changing scene of accommodation units, makeshift hospitals, front-line ruins and falling shells, complete with shuddering fixtures. To add to the effect, grizzled-looking troops appear suddenly out of the gloom every now and then, walking past you purposefully, saying things like “Time to put on those gas-masks lads… there’s no messing about with mustard gas!” or “Let’s get ready to over the top!”

Ghosts of War: the "Amoureux de Verdun" experience is eerily atmospheric

Ghosts of War: the “Amoureux de Verdun” experience is eerily atmospheric

You also walk through sections of trench which are “leaking”, adding to the misery of life during wartime one hundred years ago and there’s a feeling of relief as you emerge into the daylight again, with several “makeshift graves” on either side of you. You won’t catch some of the subtleties of the piece if you don’t speak French but it hardly matters in the overall experience.

Another change since the last time we visited was the improvement of the Roman arena show The Sign of the Triumph. Now, the arena is covered, completing a highly-realistic setting. As well as that, there is more fun before the fun starts, with the Gauls on one side getting the crowd going with their chants and encouraging everyone to boo the arrival of the Senators on the other side of the arena.

They also make more use of the real lions in the current show. While it does add to the authenticity of proceedings (at one point, a male lion jumps onto the cage where a Christian centurion is being held), it seems a bit superfluous to have such a wild animal confined to this kind of entertainment.

The Secret of the Lance is the new mediaeval-era show. It’s another roller-coaster of a battle scene, with a guest appearance by Joan of Arc and lots of spectacular action involving battling French and English, high-speed horse stunts galore and flames a-plenty.

We duly caught the last Phantom Birds show and rounded off the evening at the train station in the Belle-Epoque era town, munching sweets bought at one of its traditional sweet shoppes.

The verdict all round? Still 100% satisfying…

Get Yourself There

We travelled with Brittany Ferries from Cork to Roscoff, after which Puy du Fou can be reached in 3.5 hours. From the seaside resorts along the Vendée coastline (St Jean de Monts, Les Sables d’Olonne, etc.), the Puy du Fou is 1.5-hour drive.

Staying There

It’s a good idea to base yourself by the seaside, from where the Parc is only 1.5 hours by car, with ample car parking near the entrance. We stayed at the superbly-equipped La Loubine, with Kelair Campotel. One of the very few 100% Irish-owned camping holiday companies, they operate a very personal service, with superb programmes for children from toddlers to teens. For further information, see www.campotel.com

Where Exactly?

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