A theme park with no rides?

EMMA GILL and her fam­ily find much to ad­mire at a park where the theme is the his­tory of France

Rossendale Free Press - - Travel -

WHEN you hear the words French theme park, most peo­ple’s thoughts ini­tially turn to Dis­ney­land Paris.

In fact, de­spite Puy du Fou be­ing the sec­ond largest theme park in France, we’d never even heard of the place.

It’s per­haps be­come a lit­tle more known since our visit - spark­ing head­lines across the world af­ter train­ing its crows to fly around and col­lect lit­ter from the site.

This place cer­tainly isn’t your typ­i­cal theme park. For a start there are no rides and we did won­der just how well that would go down with our nine and seven-year-old.

There had to be a rea­son why it at­tracts 2.26m vis­i­tors a year though right? As it turned out, there were plenty of rea­sons.

We soon dis­cov­ered that en­ter­tain­ment is in the form of 60 spec­tac­u­lar day­time and evening shows, set among four pe­riod vil­lages, in­clud­ing a me­dieval vil­lage and an 18th cen­tury French vil­lage.

Away from the shows, lakes, foun­tain dis­plays, a play area, flower-filled gar­dens and wood­land that is home to more than 1,500 an­i­mals, pro­vide a re­lax­ing en­vi­ron­ment for vis­i­tors of all ages - and it’s clear they come from far and wide to see what this place has to of­fer.

There are seven main day­time shows in all, each one themed on a dif­fer­ent pe­riod of French his­tory.

The di­a­logue is all French and while none of us speak the lan­guage - apart from be­ing able to ask the way to the swim­ming pool (not sure that lit­tle snip­pet from high school would be of much use) - the ‘Grand Spec­ta­cles’ be­fore us were enough to truly blow us away.

From hun­dreds of birds soar­ing above (and brush­ing past) our heads in the birds of prey show, to a 20-me­tre long Viking boat emerg­ing from the wa­ter and set­ting on fire in ‘Les Vik­ings’, it felt like be­ing in the mid­dle of a film set - and an amaz­ing one at that. Of course, this isn’t just any old bird show.

Those lit­ter pick­ing crows are the tip of the ice­berg in terms of what these beau­ties are ca­pa­ble of.

In all there are 330 ea­gles, fal­cons, vul­tures, kites and owls cir­cle in the sky, brush­ing against the au­di­ence and or­ches­trat­ing a spell­bind­ing bal­let.

The spec­ta­cle is the re­sult of a 25-year project at the park and ev­ery bit of it is mag­i­cal.

Af­ter start­ing our epic jour­ney through the shows on such a high, we feared our trip may have peaked too soon, but with each one it got bet­ter and bet­ter.

From watch­ing the glad­i­a­tor bat­tles and char­iot races in the im­pres­sive Gallo-Ro­man sta­dium, to vis­it­ing the depths of the smoke-filled First World War trenches in the im­mer­sive walk­through ex­pe­ri­ence Les Amoureux de Ver­dun, ev­ery bit of the park of­fered some­thing equally mes­meris­ing.

You can get head­phones to trans­late the shows to English, but we felt that would be too much of a dis­trac­tion to the huge spec­ta­cles be­fore us.

And if what we’d seen wasn’t im­pres­sive enough, we had one fi­nal sur­prise with the park’s weekly night time spec­tac­u­lar La Ci­nesce­nie, por­tray­ing the sym­bolic des­tiny of a Vendee fam­ily, from the Mid­dle Ages to the Sec­ond World War.

We couldn’t quite be­lieve it when we were told the num­ber of peo­ple tak­ing part in the out­door show - 2,400 ac­tors across a 23-hectare land­scape, in­deed the world’s big­gest stage.

The sheer scale of it was truly in­cred­i­ble, as were the spec­tac­u­lar light­ing ef­fects, 3D video pro­jec­tion and the flight of 20 Neopters, Puy du Fou’s drones.

It’s a late show and we had wor­ried the kids would strug­gle to stay fo­cused af­ter such a busy day at the park, but with one cap­ti­vat­ing scene flow­ing into an­other and a fas­ci­nat­ing fire­works fi­nale, their en­thu­si­asm didn’t fal­ter.

Of course, when you’re spend­ing three days stomp­ing your way around a theme park - es­pe­cially with lit­tle peo­ple in tow - sleep is more im­por­tant than ever.

Ac­com­mo­da­tion at Puy du Fou is in five themed ho­tels, con­ve­niently lo­cated on site and each one ded­i­cated to a pe­riod of his­tory, from An­cient Rome to the 18th cen­tury.

Ef­fec­tively you can choose which cen­tury you want to sleep in and you can make it as lux­u­ri­ous as you want.

Ours was one of the thatched roofed huts built on stilts and sit­ting above the carp filled wa­ters of the idyl­lic Les Iles de Clo­vis.

With half-tim­bered walls, oak beds and wooden fur­ni­ture, it’s de­signed to ‘im­merse guests in the dawn of the Mid­dle Ages’.

We spent lit­tle time there apart from to sleep and shower, but it of­fered ev­ery­thing we needed in terms of com­fort and the kids in par­tic­u­lar loved their hide­away bunk beds, which gave a lit­tle ex­tra dark­ness to stop them wak­ing with the birds.

There are lots of lo­cal ho­tels and B&Bs you could opt for while vis­it­ing the park, but we were grate­ful to only be a short walk away from all the ac­tion, es­pe­cially af­ter the mam­moth evening show.

An­other rea­son to stay on site is to sam­ple the restau­rants too and be­tween the park and the ho­tels there are 27 dif­fer­ent places to eat, rang­ing from fast food to gourmet cui­sine.

From your typ­i­cal Con­ti­nen­tal buf­fet style break­fast to clas­sic French cui­sine in the park’s stylish eater­ies, there was some­thing for every­one.

We were lucky enough to ex­pe­ri­ence a new ad­di­tion for 2018 too - Le Cafe De La Made­lon - where the 700 guests are ef­fec­tively the ‘wed­ding guests’, eat­ing set cour­ses while watch­ing an ex­pertly chore­ographed show un­fold, with wait­ers and waitresses form­ing part of the cast.

If any­thing it felt a lit­tle rushed to pack it all into one fran­tic hour, but with so much to see who we weren’t about the com­plain about the speedy ser­vice.

Our favourite restau­rant by far was in­side La Ci­tadelle - as much for the set­ting as the food. Walk­ing through the portcullis into the grand cas­tle en­clo­sure, it felt like we were step­ping into the back­drop of Beauty and the Beast.

The dishes were equally im­pres­sive, with chefs on hand to carve out the meat and no short­age of al­ter­na­tives for those who didn’t quite fancy tuck­ing into the suc­cu­lent pig.

In fact there was very lit­tle about Puy du Fou that failed to im­press us.

It might be a place we’d never heard of, but we left there safe in the knowl­edge that it’s one we’ll never for­get - for all the right rea­sons.

Emma Gill and her chil­dren in Puy du Fou

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