After hearing all of our French friends' incredible reviews about Puy du Fou theme park, we spent two days there late last week, and we were completely awed by the shows, the animals, and the competence that made the experience exceptional. Here are our top five favorite shows of those that we saw:
1. Le Signe du Triomphe: A Roman Amphitheater Experience
Imagine yourself seated among thousands of spectator in a Roman Coliseum, watching gladiator battles play out before you. This may be the most popular show at Puy du Fou and it is intense! The show begins with a circus of animals (including a flock of ostriches), grows heated with a romantic plot twist, and takes your breath away with a chariot race. Along the way you'll get to see tigers, a lion, and a hyena loose in the ring with the actors. This show was fairly violent for young children to watch but I hope it was mostly unforgettable in a good way--it was our three-year-old's favorite show thanks to the tigers, though he spent much of the show looking very concerned.
2. Le Bal des Oiseaux Fantômes: Hundreds of Birds Take Flight Over the Audience
Le Puy du Fou takes pride in their falconry training and in this show in particular, in which more than 500 different falcons, owls, and vultures fly over the heads of the audience as their trainers look on. Some birds plunge thousands of feet from a hot air balloon while others skim the heads of amazed onlookers to present a stunning aviary experience like no other. It is incredible to look these birds directly in the eyes as they fly straight towards you. This was my nine-year-old daughter's favorite show and one that we all found thrilling.
3. Le Secret de la Lance: Medieval Horsemanship Followed by a Shepherdess Defending the Castle
This was the fifth and final show we watched on the first day of our two-day stay, and yet this show managed to stand out as my favorite. The pre-show entertainment (full of slapstick comedy) was great fun, and the show itself incorporates incredible horsemanship, womanly courage, intense fire effects, and a massive bulwark that disappears to reveal an stunning castle keep. If you've ever wanted to "have fun storming the castle," as advised by Miracle Max in The Princess Bride, this is your show.
4. Le Mousquetaire de Richelieu: Gascony Fencing, Equestrian Prowess, and Unforgettable Theater Effects
By mid-afternoon on our second day, our energy was waning and our expectations were only moderate for this indoor 17th century swashbuckler show. Nonetheless, this became a stunning favorite for our whole family as the tale incorporated Cardinal Richelieu, Cyrano de Bergerac, Corneille, the Three Musketeers, and talented flamenco dancers into a Gascon tale with dramatic horsemanship. Our emotions turned to awe as the world's largest stage curtain lifted to reveal a massive Spanish plaza soon immersed by fountains and jets of water. The dreamlike scenes and intimate lighting from this story will stay with me forever.
5. Le Dernier Panache: The Uprising of the Vendée People Told in a Fully Rotating Theater
This relatively new show set in a 360-degree rotating theater, tells the tragic and inspirational tale of how François Charette de la Contrie led the Vendée people to defend their beliefs during the French Revolution. The story is deeply engaging as the audience takes in wide views of the cross-section of a ship, a forest ambush, a beautifully lighted ballroom dance, and a shattered cathedral. This story tells of the pride and strength of the Vendéen people in such a compelling way that this show won a prestigious Thea Award in 2017.
Special Mention: La Cinéscenie: The World's Largest and Best Night Show
Picture yourself in the magical twilight of dusk, seated with 11,000 other spectators prepared to watch thousands of volunteer actors present the story of a Vendée family from the Middle Ages to the Second World War. The backdrop of 57-acres features an enormous lake and the original Puy du Fou chateau which inspired Philippe de Villiers to undertake this an ambitious theater project in 1978. The Cinéscenie is such an immersive experience for onlookers that it feels intimate and magical despite the number of spectators.
The Cinéscenie show continues to gain new effects including synchronized drones disguised as ethereal lights, 850 glorious fireworks, and 3D mapped projections. My favorite aspect of this show besides the emotionally engaging look at history is the evident commitment of the actors. From young children to grandparents, generations of family members have volunteered to carry out this production for decades now, and it is truly touching to see actors of all ages committed to such an incredibly successful dramatic feat.
Other tips for planning your visit to Puy du Fou:
- In our opinion, the best shows tended to be the longest shows. Start each day with the longest show you haven't yet seen.
- Allow two days at the park--realistically you can only view about 5 performances per day at the park due to scheduling and the distance between venues, but really, you should not end your experience at Puy du Fou without seeing the top seven shows and the Cinéscenie night show! Book tickets and lodging incredibly early--even a year in advance. We only learned about Puy du Fou several months before our trip to France, so the Cinéscenie tickets and all of the on-site hotels were sold out when I planned our trip. I was only able to obtain Cinéscenie tickets thanks to a friend employed there.
- For housing, we booked an Airbnb apartment in Cholet, the largest town nearby (30 minutes away). This was great in many ways, but staying in the on-site themed hotels would have make it easier to see more shows and is something we'd like to consider next time.
- Absolutely get the Pass Emotion as an add-on to your tickets if financially possible. These passes allow you a reserved entry to the 7 top shows, bypassing the waiting crowds and providing seating in reserved areas with the best views. The Puy du Fou management provided us with these passes and we were so grateful--they made my family feel like rock stars, avoiding thirty minute waits in sweaty crowds and giving us front-and-center seats.
- Wear a hat and athletic shoes. The heat can be intense in summer and the seating for most shows is in full sun. In addition, you'll walk miles between show venues on dusty paths, so nearly all visitors wear their most comfortable athletic shoes to handle the intensity of the day's trekking and to avoid dusty feet.
- Bring baguettes, sandwich fillings, and lots of water. You can bring your own food into the park (but no metal knives) so we made a quick stop at the region's best bakery each morning for hot baguettes so we could make hearty French sandwiches at lunchtime. Water is sold in tiny individual bottles that quickly add up in cost, so you'd do best to bring a large supply with you.
- The Cinéscenie is only performed on Friday and Saturday nights. While it requires separate tickets (around 30 Euros per person), it is an integral part of the Puy du Fou experience, and absolutely should not be missed!
What do you think your favorite show would be at Puy du Fou?
Puy du Fou provided my family with park tickets for this review. We purchased our own Cinéscenie tickets. We did not have time to see Les Amoureux de Verdun or Le Mystère de La Pérouse; we can't wait to see these shows another time. All opinions are my own.