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Puy Du Fou Aire

Aire/Stellplatz: LE PUY DU FOU (Pays de la Loire)

GPS Decimal: 46.8947 N -0.92549 W

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Per night: 5 Euros (2010) - collect ticket on entry, pay on exit at machine

It may surprise you to know this, but after Disneyland Paris, Puy du Fou is France's most popular theme park, bringing in around 1.5 million visitors per year. This goes some way to explaining why their Aire is probably the most vastly hugely massively big Aire you will ever stay on, should you go there. On my first trip to Puy du Fou some years ago I made the mistake of thinking that this was the French trying to replicate Disneyland in their own image, and I couldn't have been more wrong. The original concept of staging spectaculars based upon episodes from regional history dates back to 1978, and the Grand Parc opened here in 1989, some 3 years before Uncle Walt's favourite rodent and chums infested Marne-la-Vallée. The Friday and Saturday evening Cinéscénie spectacular takes place on the world's biggest stage, and literally involves a cast of thousands. But more of Le Parc later - what of the Aire?

It's big, as a quick zoom into the page top photo will reveal. A network of gravel tracks runs between a mixture of grassy and sandy unmarked bays, most of which are sloping, so be prepared to get your chocks out, even in Row 4 which appears to be the most horizontal of them all. As with Futuroscope, you're not obliged to visit the theme park if you stop here, so it could provide a convenient overnight low cost stop on your way to or from the Vendee. There are two entrances from the main D27, of which the easiest is to head for the Grand Parc entrance and follow the Camping-Car signs. On arrival at the Aire you collect a barcoded ticket at the barrier. On exit you park near the automated pay booth, walk over and scan the barcode at the machine then pay for your stay with either cash or card. You then need the same barcode to scan at the exit barrier before it lifts up to let you out. By the entrance there is a public loo portakabin, and a bread kiosk that opens from 7-9am in the morning. The Aire is about 10-12 minutes' brisk walk from the park entrance, or you can catch a free shuttle train from the Aire between 9.15am and 9.45am (returning 8.15pm - 8.45pm).

Expect some serious pyrotechnic noise around midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, when the nearby Cinéscénie climaxes in cannon fire and a large firework display.

For such a huge Aire, the service point is a bit limited, with only two pull-in bays and only one chemical waste gulley. Water costs you 2 Euros for up to 100 litres, and there is no electricity on site. If you don't depart early you could end up queueing for quite a while here in the morning.

The Grand Parc Puy du Fou has an unusual format, but is nonetheless fascinating and highly entertaining. There are no rollercoasters here, no water rides, and no simulators. Instead, there is a core of five staged historical 'spectacles', each running 3-5 times a day on a staggered schedule, so careful organisation and planning are the key to a good time here. Each spectacle lasts up to 40 minutes and is viewed from an auditorium. You can watch gladiatorial combat and chariot races in the 6000 seater Gallo-Roman Amphitheatre, a Viking longship raid on the Fortress from the year 1000, discover the Secret of the Lance at the siege of a medieval castle, and see Richelieu's Musketeers swishing their swords and swashing their buckles on a massive indoor stage. Last and by no means least, be sure to turn up for the Ghost Birds' Ball - I guarantee you will never have seen the like before, so I won't spoil it by giving away any clues. Just trust me, it's unique. All of these shows will run come rain or shine.

Around the rest of the park are smaller entertainments that run throughout the day, and a series of historically-themed zones to explore and wander around. For lunchtime there are numerous food outlets, and you can pay a bit extra to take part in a themed meal with food laid on, unlimited wine, and various people performing in period costume on a stage while you eat. We chose the Henry VIII vs Francois I tournament meal in the Renaissance Hall and had a wonderful time downing wine, scoffing our banquet, booing the English and cheering the French. One tip here - if you want to get into one of these themed meals you need to arrive as the park opens, move like greased lightning once you get past the ticket barrier, and head straight for the restaurant's booking desk. Lots of people get in on block bookings from park hotels and the like, so day visitor table spaces go very quickly indeed.

If you're brisk, efficient, good at planning and organising, and don't mind setting a steady pace, you can see everything this Park has to offer in the space of a single day then stagger back to your van and collapse. If you prefer to turn up mid-morning and wander around at random visiting things as you find them you'll need at least two days to do it any justice, and it'll cost you more.

As if the park isn't enough, on Summer season Friday and Saturday nights you can also book into the awesome two hour open air Cinéscénie spectacle. The scale and visual impact of this event is truly unbelievable. If you imagine Pieter Breugel the Elder took LSD, then presented the resulting work set to music in widescreen IMAX 3D HD you'd get something of an idea of what Cinéscénie is all about. If you don't believe me, take a look at the official promo trailer here, and even that doesn't cover the full width of its massive stage. If you have any regard at all for the French mastery of son et lumiere, you have to see this. It runs in all weathers - we saw it during a three hour downpour, but we were dressed warm and in waterproofs and it didn't mar the impact one bit. Be aware that your ticket gives you access to a particular row, not to a specific seat, so arrive early and bag yourself a decent spot in the middle if you can. Also, if it looks like rain, don't take an umbrella - for good reason they're not allowed to be left up during the show.

Summary:

On the plus side: Low cost, plenty of spaces, easy access to the park, about a day's drive from the N Coast if using it as a stopover. Theme park is well worth a visit.

But: Sloping pitches on most rows, service point limited for such a big Aire

Alternative Aires: There are small Aires nearby at Chambretaud and Saint Michel Mont Mercure, but given the size of Puy du Fou's Aire it's highly unlikely that you'd need to find an alternative.

 


Around Puy du Fou: click thumbnail for bigger picture:

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