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From Vikings to Roman gladiators: Puy du Fou theme park in France is the real deal for all avid travelers

Stefan Andrews
Photo Credit Padpo   CC BY-SA 3.0
Photo Credit Padpo   CC BY-SA 3.0

Everybody knows Disneyland in Paris. Probably nobody would object taking the Star Tour there, based on George Lucas’s flick Star Wars, or the thematic Pirates of the Caribbean ride set in a dark dungeon full of pirates. However, if you are more into ancient and medieval stories,  the historic theme park of Puy du Fou is the right place for you.

Puy du Fou is located in Les Epesses, a village in the Vendée region of Western France and looks like one of the best-kept secrets of the French. Over the years it has become the second most popular theme park in France, right after Disneyland.

The indescribable story of the Vendée region occurred during the French Revolution. During those days, the region was firmly Catholic and opposed to the revolution. Allegedly, in 1794, the government sent soldiers from Paris to suppress the mutiny of local farmers who had assembled to protect church ministers who disobeyed taking an oath to the new constitution. The clash had eventually resulted in a massacre of the locals.

Fast forward to 1977, the story of Puy do Fou starts with Philippe de Villiers, then a twenty-seven-year-old student, and as of more recent times, a politician, who in 2007 also run for the French presidential elections, winning 2% of the votes.

A medieval town at the theme park of Puy du Fou in France. The park’s slogan reads “L’Histoire n’attend que vous” (History is waiting for you)

De Villiers had decided to create an original show named “Cinéscénie,” as soon as he discovered the ruins of an old Renaissance castle in the village of Les Epesses, near Cholet.He worked on a scenario about a local family named Maupillier, which refers to a soldier of Vendée from the period when the region clashed with government soldiers. His scenario, though, spanned from the 14th century until WWII.

Scene from one of the spectacles at the historic park

“Cinéscénie” was first set in June 1978, when De Villiers assembled 600 members named “l’Association du Puy du Fou,” which helped the show to become a reality. The show struggled during the first season, but at the end, it suddenly emerged to a huge spectacle. Since then, Philippe’s initiative only grew in success. The show was individually performed until 1989 when Puy du Fou was officially opened. Since then, aside “Cinéscénie,” other shows are being offered as part of the historic theme park program.

The Guardian described this historical theme park as” a bizarre phenomenon: a rural theme park without any rides.”

A scene from “The Secret of the Lance” show

The park keeps some small memorials that highlight the horrific local events of the past; de Villiers also argues that the massacre conducted by the French soldiers equals a genocide and that it has been deliberately deleted from official textbooks. As the story of the region lurks in the background of the theme park, Puy do Fou is still dominated by other more extravagant shows that depict events and stories of more familiar history.

“The Secret of the Lance” is one of the 26 major shows, set in front the battlements of a Middle Age Castle. The show tells the story of a young shepherdess who is required to protect her property from the English knights. At one point, she is helped by a lance with supernatural powers.

During the “Richelieu’s Musketeers,” a unit of musketeers performs special sword fighting, and Gypsy girls dance to Flamenco. The show gets intensified as horses demonstrate special trotting and jumping techniques.

A photo of The Viking longboat

“The Vikings” is another spectacle where the happenings take place around a reconstructed 1000-year-old fortress that is attacked by a Viking Longship. The story starts off with a marriage taking place in the village, just shortly before the arrival of the longboat. When the Vikings arrive, tension builds as the longboat emerges from underwater, making it count for a superb special effect.

Read another story from us: Haw Par Villa theme park: journey into Chinese folklore and mythology through grotesque statues and sculptures

For those who wish to experience the Gaul atmosphere during the Roman times, some gladiatorial combat and chariot racing, the “Triumph’s Sign” seems like the right fit. The show sets on a historic journey during the reign of Diocletian when the empire has been under serious turmoil. Well, no need for further explanations! We have reserved our tickets to Puy du Fou. Hope to see you there!

Stefan Andrews

Stefan is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to The Vintage News. He is a graduate in Literature. He also runs a blog – This City Knows.