Unknown France

Le Puy du Fou: Bringing French History to Life

The 130-acre Puy du Fou park in the Vendée département of Western France offers visitors a chance to relive some of the greatest moments of French history. Exciting shows, the great outdoors – there’s something for everyone.
© Stéphane Audran

The soft hum of 18th-century music reaches our ears from beyond the large trees lining the path and shielding us from the rain. The birds are singing. An ultralight aircraft passes high overhead with a dozen geese trailing behind. As we meander along the park’s 15 miles of walking paths, we stop now and then to observe the rare flora. We eventually stumble upon a blacksmith in old-style dress striking his iron with period tools in the heart of a medieval village reconstructed to look just like the real thing. If it weren’t for the craftsmen’s protective visors, you’d think you were actually back in time! Visitors can see those craftsmen hard at work in an authentic setting featuring thatched roofs and cob walls. In all, 22 different crafts are represented, from illuminators and engravers, to sculptors and coopers.

© Alain Monéger
© Amandine Vanwezemael

The Puy du Fou theme park, which was founded in 1989 between Nantes and Poitiers, takes visitors on a “fantastic journey through time,” from ancient history and the third century to the Belle Epoque. With 19 shows to choose from plus an array of permanent activities, visitors can experience all the great legends of French history: Joan of Arc taking on the English with her “enchanted spear,” Cyrano and the four musketeers fighting together under the watch of Cardinal Richelieu, and Christians being thrown to the lions in the Roman arenas. Each show lasts about 30 minutes and is an impressive display of creativity and technical prowess, with trapdoors, drones, sound and video projections, optical illusions, moving scenery, and blasts of water, fire, and smoke.

© Stéphane Audran

“World’s Best Original Production”

The costumes are more flashy than realistic, and the music – a curious blend of baroque and Hollywood soundtrack – adds to the atmosphere. Choreographed fights, jousts on horseback, and acrobatics are performed in large outdoor arenas before enthralled audiences. But Puy du Fou’s animals are the main attraction: pigs, dogs, ostriches, camels, big cats, horses, and more. The birds are perhaps the biggest hit: Imagine a vulture swooping down at full speed over the ruins of a castle, the tips of its long wings almost grazing the faces of the startled and awestruck spectators! “Le Bal des Oiseaux Fantômes” (The Ball of the Phantom Birds) is an absolutely stunning aerial ballet featuring 330 eagles, falcons, storks, ravens, kites, owls, and other birds of prey.

© Alain Monéger
© Leslie Artamonow

Puy du Fou receives awards on a regular basis, which is a testament to its growing success. In 2014 it received the Applause Award for “best theme park in the world” at a ceremony in Orlando. Last year its show “Le Premier Royaume” (The First Kingdom) was named “world’s best original production.” The Puy du Fou model has been replicated in Spain and the Netherlands, and will soon launch in China near the Great Wall. It’s a wild and spectacular place with impressive decorations and use of technology to create an exciting atmosphere. Whether you’re into nature, history or action-packed shows, you’ll find something for you at Puy du Fou.

Article published in the August 2020 issue of France-AmériqueS’abonner au magazine.