For me story related events are just as important for encouraging children to read and write as a book itself. Well……. I think I may have found the ultimate land of stories, a place that wholly draws you into its world of fantasy.
That place is a theme park situated in the Vendee region of France known as Puy du Fou. Like all good theme parks you have the option of staying in one of their four themed hotels where your surroundings are a stage in themselves. However toss aside any images you may have of fast rides, plastic characters and cinematography and replace them with theatrical productions of myths and legends on a scale which will continue to amaze you long after you’ve left. If you ever get the chance to visit, prepare to be wowed again and again.
All the hotel themes are packed with elaborate detail. We stayed in the Gallo Roman Villa. I’ve included a picture of our neighbour whom we got chatting to through our hotel room window.
The park is set in 50 hectares of immaculately kept gardens and forest. Even the gardeners were in costume! It hosts five main signature shows varying from approx 20-40 minutes in length and several other shows. All shows are based on historical stories of the region. As we were only staying over two days and one night we made sure we scheduled in the main shows (see later below), plus one shorter show, The Knights of the Round Table…..
…..and a night show, The Organs of Fire a stunning light show of musicians and dancers choreographed to emotive and powerful music.
On entering each show you walk into a totally different and incredible set and when the show starts the atmospheric surround sound makes you feel like you too are a part of it. By the second or third show you learn to expect the unexpected. However it is not only the shows which will astound you but the sheer size and level of hydraulics and engineering both over and underground it must have taken to construct the sets. Walking into a full sized reconstruction of an amphitheatre with the capacity to hold six thousand people is an experience you don’t come across every day.
The amphitheatre came alive the minute we sat down as the Gauls Vs Romans got us cheering and jeering and Mexican waving. We were entertained with chariot racing, wild animals parading the arena and gladiators fighting for their lives – and the damsel in distress.
This was the first show we saw so after walking into the impressive set of a reconstructed 1000 year old fortress we didn’t really know what to expect next. We were soon met with flashes of hot fire, dramatic fighting and unexpected feats – and of course the saving of a damsel in distress!
The Phantom Birds’ Dance
Magnificent hunting birds skimmed the top of my head and landed on perches only a few feet away. The falconer’s skill is clearly demonstrated with a vast array of species including the The Secretary Bird and The American Bald Eagle pictured below. The birds also play an integral part in saving the (yes you guessed it) damsel in distress!
The Secret of the Lance
From stunt riders travelling at break neck (luckily they didn’t) speed in front of a reconstructed Middle Aged Castle, to entire buildings moving. A fast paced drama to save the damsel in distress!
I was too mesmerised to be taking pictures of this one. This is an indoor theatre with a circular stage which adds to the illusion that the show is happening around you. The stage floods with water and a flamboyant display of drums, dressage, sword fighting and flamenco dancing splashes before your eyes.
All the shows are obviously in French so audio translations are available but in my opinion not necessary as the shows are too loud for you to hear the audio properly anyway and as you may have noticed, the majority of the story lines tend to centre around the familiar theme of true love and a damsel in distress. However, you are not there for a complex story line, you are there for the show and there is enough to keep you amazed for this to fade into insignificance so understanding French is definitely not essential.
It was refreshing for a theme park that we experienced very little queuing and the majority of the tourists were from the hosting country. In between shows there are several reconstructed historical towns and villages to visit too with working artisans and themed shops so you are immersed in their make believe world at all times. At no point are souvenirs thrust in your face and much of what is on offer is true craftsmanship.
The Medieval City
The Market Town in 1900
I wanted to try and show you from the photos exactly why I am in such awe of this place without spoiling any of the anticipation and surprises so have deliberately omitted some of my pictures. Having said that, this is undoubtedly a moment when a photo can only spark your interest and by no means lives up to the wonder of the park. It is a place you have to experience to fully appreciate its brilliance. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to stay for their ultimate night show, the “Cinescenie” and by no means saw all the other shows or areas on offer but this is one place I was happy to leave open a good excuse to return some day!
Truly captivating and an inspiration for all story tellers.