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The Grand Parc,  Puy Du Fou by Tate
Les Epesses. Vendee
Puy du fou, Roman arena
Chariot racing at the Puy du Fou
Handicapped well catered for at the Puy du Fou
Puy du Fou gardens
Men in tights, wenches, Vikings and Romans, pyrotechnics, sword fighting, jousting and chariot racing, all this shot through with extraordinary horsemanship in a 110 acre park with gardens, restaurants, water features and a Hotel. You might reasonably think this must be Disneyland, but you’d be wrong. Tucked away in the North East corner of the Vendée is the Grand Parc du Puy du Fou. The Parc is something completely unique, a safe place for adults and children alike, without roller coasters and rides trying to be the highest or the scariest, this is a place of enchantment and spectacle.
We’ve had the house here in the Vendée for 17 years and throughout that time virtually everyone who has visited has spent a day at the Grand Parc du Puy du Fou. It may come as a shock but some people are crazy enough to have visited me more than once and a large number of these fools/visitors go back to the Puy du Fou time and time again. I have never been able to visit the Parc before, although I did manage to go to the Cinescenie, the evening spectacular, once, and I was like everyone else enthralled.
19th centuruy village Puy du Fou
This year with the aid of Thunderbirds 2&8 and with my trusty companion Trevor by my side, I finally made it to the Grand Parc du Puy du Fou, and spent a day being captivated by this place the like of which I’ve never seen anywhere else I’ve been in the world. We took advantage of the reduced prices for April and May and rather than the current 26 euros each we paid 16 euros, I actually only paid 12 euros as there is a reduction for those who are handicapped. We arrived early, about 9.30, and collected our tickets which Trevor had booked and paid for over the telephone and studied the map and timetable. As you would expect Trevor is a Parc veteran, normally visiting at least once a year, and he soon had our itinerary worked out with military precision, which is very important if you want to see everything in one day.
Puy du fou, Medieval Village
Following our plan we went straight to The Musketeers of Cardinal Richelieu. The one thing certain about everything in the Parc is that it is big; each of the arenas that stage the major shows hold thousands of people. This show is staged in the only indoor arena in the Parc, it has a stage that is purported to be over 70 metres wide and the show does not restrict itself to the stage alone. Be prepared for spectacle including sword fighting, flamenco and horses dancing on water, I won’t attempt to further describe the show for you, perhaps if I were a better wordsmith it would be possible to capture what this visual extravaganza in words but alas I’m no Wordsworth. As soon as this show was over we headed for the Vikings. Held in a massive outdoor stadium, this is, as described by my friend Julia, pure theatre. A wedding, was taking place, the bride and groom were given presents including a pack of wolves, lord knows what they would do with them. The joyous scene was then interrupted by the arrival of the Vikings, herds of oxen, long boat and all. They then did what all good Vikings do they threw the sacred remains of Saint Philibert, which the villagers were supposed to be protecting, into the lake and rape and pillage ensued. Actually I was watching intently and didn’t see even the tiniest bit of rape, who knows perhaps they were gay Vikings and I was looking in the wrong direction. There was fire, explosions and fighting which culminated in a further long boat rising from beneath the waters of the lake and with that you think the villagers are done for. Then Saint Philibert himself rose from the lake, walked on water (I thought that only his boss was allowed to do that) and converted the Vikings to Christianity and they all threw down their weapons and peace broke out like hives. The special effects were amazing, the fighting excellent and the animals as ever were impeccable.

Puy du Fou Village scene around 1800
We then took a break and got ourselves over to the Medieval Pizza Parlour, it was actually the Restaurant in the Medieval Village. It was a bit odd to see girls in medieval dresses taking orders for and serving Pizzas but sometimes authenticity must give way to pragmatism. Getting there early was a great move as the restaurant filled up quicker than a rain butt in the UK. Trevor and I both had the Ribs with Vendéen Ham and Mojettes, a bit like baked beans without the tomato sauce and a regional speciality. The restaurant is filled with tables for 6, we shared ours with 2 French couples and had a great time, the company was good and the food was excellent when you consider how many people they were likely to have to serve. At 10.50 euros a head I considered it reasonably good value for money especially when you bear in mind that they do have a captive audience.
Viking show Puy du Fou
Puy du Fou, viking spectacular
After lunch we went to watch the birds, no not women, and no sign of Alfred Hitchcock, but it was a truly remarkable display of falconry which included the extraordinary snake bird, owls and hawks of all shapes and sizes and massive vultures. A tip for those who aren’t of a nervous disposition is to sit yourself close to the top of the stadium as the falconers stand in the crowd and the birds swoop to them skimming the heads of the crowd. The finale is one of the most incredible sights that I’ve ever seen with what seemed like hundreds of birds in the air at once swooping and catching the strips of food thrown to them by the falconers. What was even more incredible was I didn’t see one person with bird droppings on them. After the show we went behind the arena where the falconers were attempting to entice the birds back into their cages with varying degrees of success, it was another chance to see these remarkable raptors up close. The whole experience was a rare and remarkable treat.
Falconry at Puy du Fou
Next stop was The Romans, set in a replica amphitheatre 115 metres long and 75 metres wide and recreating the atmosphere of Gaul during the Diocletian period. There was a parade, gladiatorial combat and chariot racing. There were Christians being fed to the lions, tigers and even a hyena. Fortunately for the Christians none of the animals were hungry; nonetheless they were all pretty formidable looking beasts. The crowd played its part in the spectacle, and there was much cheering for the goodies and booing for the Romans. We may have been fortunate in that respect as we had several coach loads of French schoolchildren in when we were there, but somehow I think the crowd reaction is always likely to be the same unless of course they get coach loads of Italians in.
After the Romans we went to the Battle of the Donjon, I must admit that by this time I was suffering a bit of pageant fatigue and things that would normally have been very exciting such as the jousting and the fantastic trick horse riding went a little over my head. The horses dancing which was based on dressage and sends me to sleep at the best of times, threatened to do so again. The moving fire throwing siege engines, the rotating keep and the hand to hand combat even failed to spark my interest, I’m sure had we seen it all earlier in the day I would have enjoyed it much more. It is also possible that I may have been suffering from a slight feeling of self consciousness. When the alarm was raised that the English were coming there was one solitary cheer from the crowd, thousands of heads turned towards me in disbelief, I looked around to Trevor for support but he was observing the non-existent clouds and whistling in an attempt to totally disown me. Maybe this was a pageant too far and maybe it does endorse the official view that you should take 2 days to cover the parc properly but all in all it was a great day out.
Having finished all of the pageants we then took a leisurely look around the gardens which are beautiful before making our way to the bar in the main square where we thought that as a treat we’d have a farewell beer. There weren’t many people inside and we sat at one of the outside tables and waited to be served, but having waited for what seemed an eternity without it appeared any prospect of service, we decided to call it a day and went home.

There is no doubt that handicapped people and their carers are very well catered for, having their own entrances to all of the arenas with easy access and front row seating. I had few problems with T8, apart perhaps from the drainage channels in the Medieval Village and one part of the gardens which were only accessible via steps. Anyone pushing a wheelchair will need to be fit as parts of the site are extremely hilly.

It had been a fabulous, in fact, an unforgettable day and one that I can highly recommend to everyone

Tate 2009
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