Natalie Gruzlewski drove three hours west from Paris to Les Epesses to have a look at Puy du Fou, a theme park like no other. It has reproduced eras and events from history many of them violent and created a series of shows. It relives 2000 years of French history.
Puy du Fou classifies itself as a "show park", rather than a leisure park. Its shows, day and night, take visitors through the centuries in 40 hectares of wooded French countryside.
There are 130 species of trees and 250 types of wild plants, 5000 varieties of rose bushes and 20 species of aromatic and medicinal plants in the forest, all tended year-round by 30 gardeners.
A thousand farm and wild animals, including horses, birds of prey, lions, tigers, wolves, deer, ostriches, sheep, hens, geese and donkeys live there. The Park employs falconers, horseriders, wildcat tamers and other animal handlers to train and look after the animals.
The park is split into five attractions, each running for about 40 minutes. They are shown several times throughout the day, scheduled around visitor numbers to keep queuing to a minimum.
The Secret of the Lance is set in front of the battlements of a Middle Ages castle. Its story is of a young shepherdess defending alone her donjon, the fortified main castle tower, from English knights. She is helped by a lance with supernatural powers.
The Vikings is in a reconstructed 1000-year-old feudal castle under attack by a Viking longship. It begins in a hamlet of thatched roofed houses and a wedding when suddenly Viking warriors arrive in their drakkar boats to plunder the village. Amazing special effects include the emergence of a longboat from underwater and a saint walking on water.
The Gladiators show takes place in a 115m-long amphitheatre, a replica of the Colosseum in Rome called the Gallo-Roman. Gladiator battles are re-enacted using stunt actors, horse chariots and lions and tigers performing in the atmosphere of Gaul during Roman times. Eighty actors, 45 horses, eight big cats and 60 other animals take you back to the third century BC.
The Ball of the Phantom Birds is held in the ruins of a castle. Dozens of birds of prey surge out of a ghostly dovecote and swoop around the dungeon. It's incredibly dramatic and perfectly choreographed. No wonder it is described as a ballet in the sky. No mean feat it took around 20 years to succeed in getting 150 birds to fly around at the same time. Around 400 of them, including owls, falcons, eagles, vultures, pelicans and storks, are trained at Puy du Fou's Falconry Academy.
Richelieu's Musketeer is for the romantics. Set in a giant 17th-century theatre, this show is filled with lots of swordplay, flamenco ballets, daring horseback riding and amazing special effects. It's run to the sound of baroque music on the Great Lake. An enormous fountain has 120 moving water jets which reach 30m, taking off to fit with the music. Visitors are entranced by thirty acrobatic stuntmen, 10 dancers and 20 horses. The 80m by 13m curtain could be the world's largest.
No expense has been spared with the shows, and just when you think it's over, there are more surprises. Headsets are invaluable. Everything is in French and through the headsets you can hear everything in English or whatever language you choose.
Between shows, visitors wander around the villages scattered throughout the park. There's no pretend scenery everything is authentic.
The park has three hotels. Clovis Island has 50 thatched-roof and half-timbered huts built on stilts and forming a village. Interiors ensure historical authenticity, but with more comfort. Granite wash basins, oak beds and wooden furniture can have you thinking you are in the Middle Ages. Merovee's Banquet restaurant, also on stilts, serves good food and has a bar.
Gallo-Roman Villa is a three-star hotel at the edge of the forest. Inspired by Roman forums, it has ochre facades, Corinthian columns and bas-reliefs. Its 100 rooms have frescoes, pilum and marble furniture. Staff dresses in period costume to make it all a little more real.
Lescure's Home is a large house with four luxury four-star themed suites. Mirrors, Planetarium Suite, Cabinet of Curiosities and Music Salon are something to ponder. Each suite has a private patio and food is always available in the lounge.
With the French predilection for food, there are around 25 places to eat in Puy du Fou. Quick snacks on the run through to food served to match a particular period of history.
Related: bonjour, Paris!
Les Epesses, three hours from Paris.
Puy du Fou entry cost for a day is around $40 for adults and $25 for children. It gives access to all shows. It is open from 10am to 7pm every day.
Clovis Island Hotel rooms start at around $75 a night. Rooms can accommodate up to four adults and cost includes tickets for one day in the park and breakfast.
Emirates has flights to Paris.
- Perth $1836
- Melbourne and Adelaide $1889
- Sydney $1908
- Brisbane $1911
These fares are available only online to the first 100 people to book. Sales and validity dates and other conditions apply.
Prices correct at August 19, 2010.
For further information
Ph: 1300 303 777
Puy du Fou
Les Herbiers 85 590
Ph: +33 2 5164 1111
Fax: +33 2 5157 3547
Visas: No visas are required for stays up to three months.
Electricity: 220V at 50Hz. European two-pin plugs are standard.
Time zone: GMT +2.
Currency: The euro.
International dialling code: +33.