Puy Du Fou – Historical Theme Park A French Gem…

We wake up in our castle, eating our breakfast in a banquet hall below racks of herbs, and head out to explore a town that changes eras as your stroll.

At our first stop, hundreds of birds of prey fly a few feet over our heads, as we listen to the story of a pampered local princess. As we leave, we cross the narrow watery channels that wind down the village streets, past bakers, painters, arty metal forgers, and little castle back alleys. We arrive at the Knights of the Round Table, where a mermaid swims in the lake, a table emerges from the water and then a horse from the table. Arthur is crowned King before our eyes.

This isn’t fantasy. It’s a new kind of theme park, centered on historical re-enactments. Here’s what you need to know about Puy Du Fou

What is it?

Puy Du Fou is a theme park in west-central France, about three and a half hours drive from Paris, (or an hour or so from Nantes, and an hour and a half from La Rochelle). It’s not a theme park in the sense of most that you might have visited. Its chief focus is historical reenactments, which span from Roman times to roughly World War I. The centre-pieces are a series of shows, each anything from 5 minutes to 40 minutes or so long. There are about 18 of them, and you won’t be able to see them all in a day. The entire park, though, is built to reflect the theme, and does so incredibly effectively. Think medieval villages with every character in dress, themed restaurants, entire pre-war villages recreated in impressive detail, and lots of colourful little asides, from play parks to mazes full of creepy talking objects.

It is, in my view, the main rival to Disneyland Paris in terms of French theme parks, though far less well-known than the Disney offering anywhere outside of France. Having been to both, I would argue that Puy Du Fou is similarly appealing to children, but has more to offer adults in terms of wow-factor. Given the choice, it is Puy Du Fou I would return to, and Puy Du Fou I would prefer to spend a longer trip in.

Who’s It Suitable For?

I’m struggling to think of anyone who wouldn’t enjoy the park. Our five year old was slightly intimidated by some parts of the reenactments (mostly a talking tree, actually, bizarrely, but also some of the more aggressive sword fighting), and the late night shows are probably a little too late for some youngsters. Any kid from 4-5 up and any adult who appreciates high-quality historical reproductions would enjoy it, however.

The Shows…

The performances are definitely the highlight of Puy Du Fou. While we were only able to see a handful of them in our stay, we didn’t see a bad one. There’s plenty of depth there, and nothing’s half-hearted – the swords really hammer against each other in the sword fights. The dancers really do splash around in inch-deep water for entire performances.

The volume of birds in the ‘Le Bal Des Oiseaux Fantomes‘ is astonishing; they seem to flood the skies from an old-world balloon, swooping just inches over your head.

In the Roman arena (Le Signe De Triumph), endless animals are paraded in front of you, with humans seemingly mixed in closely with lions and hyenas, and chariots racing around in muddy tracks. La Dernier Panache featured lots of dance, including a surreal horse trot and water flying everywhere.

La Mystere De La Perouse was probably the most technically impressive thing we saw, based in a huge rotating auditorium that sees the actors and stages almost spin around you as they tell a tale of revolution, which features a full cutaway ship, a beach scene and lots of clever lighting. 

We were quite taken with the medieval town and the 1900s French village, too.

We did find the indoor attractions started to fill up quickly when the rain hit, but other than that the park was well spaced out and never too busy to be enjoyable. We spent a day and a half inside, and I could easily have managed double that.

The Hotel

Puy Du Fou is surrounded by a range of different themed hotels operating on the tag line “in which era will you sleep.” These take in Roman Baths, a 15th Century manor house, and even knightly tents. 

We found ourselves in a hyper-realistic castle, which got an added atmosphere out of the surrounding fog. The rooms are quite basic – think a decent bathroom and bed plus a TV tucked away to keep up the re-enactment. Perfect for the little ones.

Our little guy slept on the top of a castle-style bunk bed, and having been put to bed straight from sleeping in the car the night we arrived, woke up incredibly excited. He loved the courtyard view of the castle, the long-drop style toilet (faked, thankfully!) and the little castle features.

Breakfast and dinner were in a big hall complete with a pig roasting over an open fire, herbs and drying meat hanging from the rafters, and servers dressed up in costumes. It was buffet, but in a strange way any kind of full-on service would probably have broken the spell. The bar had local beer and the food was a little more varied than the medieval theme, if not overly spectacular.

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
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Exploring #puydufou a few days ago…

 

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Any downsides?

I generally found Puy Du Fou to be excellent, but in the interest of balance, there were a couple of things that could have been improved (aside from the weather!). French food is normally outstanding, but I found most of the places we ate in and around the park to be pretty mediocre. Even towards the end of the season, some spots had substantial queues (see below on this), and, as is the case with virtually anywhere like this, the souvenirs – and things like soft drinks – were noticeably overpriced on site.

We also had some minor issues with connectivity on the App, which offers translation from French to English (and other languages) for the shows, but it ran fine 90% of the time, and really added to the experience on balance for us linguistic dunces. All of these are manageable issues, and didn’t detract from our overall enjoyment of the place.

Tips…

We were lucky enough to be provided with a pass that enabled us to queue jump at every attraction, and it significantly improved our experience, as we were able to see substantially more of the events in a short period (The Emotion Pass). Recommended if you don’t have too much time.

The park is far enough from other major French attractions for it to make sense to stay on site if possible, which allows you to talk in and get the full experience of the historical reenactments.

You’ll want to bring waterproofs even if the weather’s good (quite a few rides splash significantly), and plan a long day, as some of the events only work after dark, and so start very late (though you can make a good day without seeing these – see them as add-ons).

It’s worth planning your core shows early on, as you’ll find quite a few clashes to deal with. A couple are ‘walk around’ things, and are good gap-fillers. Book ahead if you plan on going to the restaurants, they get busy.

If you can go off-peak, do. there are price differences available even by going midweek instead of at the weekend.

What’s the damage?

Entry to the park starts at €36 for adults and €26 for children (it is cheaper to book online, though you can just turn up). Hotels vary quite substantially depending on your choice, see the Puy Du Fou website for lots of local options. The Pass Emotion is an extra €15, but probably will increase what you can see by a couple of activities. There are discounts available for large groups.

Full disclosure: our family trip to Puy Du Fou was gifted in part by the regional tourist office, for the purpose of a feature article in an Irish regional newspaper (separately from this blog entry). We did pay some of the costs ourselves, and this trip came with no provisos, other than that a story would be published on the park. The gifting is not a factor in the above comments.

Say Sue Me: “It was like being naked, to express my thoughts in the language I know best”

Hailing from the bustling but relatively musically quiet South Korean port-town of Busan (where I once ate some of the weirdest seafood I’ve ever come across), Say Sue Me might sing in English, but when they drop in on Dublin in May, they’ll be a long, long way from home.

It’s rare that a South Korean act make it to our shores, and rarer still that one is backed by niche indie label Damnably, and featured on Pitchfork. They might be playing the modest Grand Social venue, then, but Say Sue Me are well worth a night out. I talked to vocalist Choi SuMi ahead of their show… 

Note: there’s a little ‘Konglish’ in the replies to this interview, which I decided to leave in, as it’s all fairly easy to understand, and adds colour to the interview, I think. 

I look forward to seeing you in Ireland – what is it like to come and play shows so far from home? 

We look forward to seeing you, too! Every time we tour overseas, it is always wonderful to know that there are people who listen to our music in such a far away place. It is difficult to go so far, but it always feels better after the performance.

Do you have any special expectations for this tour?

We go to Ireland for the first time. Trying for the first time is always exciting. 

I remember my life in Korea (I lived in Seoul for two years) as being a lot about drinking. You write a lot about drinking. Do you enjoy the feeling of fun this gives your songs? 

There was a time when I drank lots of alcohol. I can not help but the lyrics contain things that have dominated me at the time of creation. It is good to remember myself at that time.

Most of the world sees Korean music as K-Pop. You are certainly not K-Pop. How do you see that kind of music?

There is a reason for the world to pay attention. It is a great ability to grasp the taste of the public in a rapidly changing world.

Obviously most of your shows take place in Korea. What made you decide to sing mostly in English? 

At first I tried to write lyrics in Korean but it was too difficult. It was like being naked to express my thoughts in the language I know best. I chose the easy way to complete the song.

Gilbert O’Sullivan: Still Firmly Rooted, Naturally.

IN THE 1970s, flat-capped crooner Gilbert O’Sullivan had quite a reputation. Seen as something of a thinking man’s Elton John, or a modernised lyric-writer aping Randy Newman, O’Sullivan delivered snappy pieces of melancholy pop with poetic twists, cleverly touching off issues like poverty and heartbreak all at the same time.

19 albums later, and O’Sullivan’s back in the limelight: his new self-titled release has been BBC 2 Album of the Week, won broad critical acclaim, and seen the Waterford-born singer – raised in the English industrial town of Swindon – enjoy something of an Indian summer.

Beneath the pop melodies and affecting love songs, O’Sullivan’s always had a bit of a political bent, as it happens. It’s unchanged in years, and like his songwriting, the best of it is quite indirect, obliquely leaning on politicians, or directing eyes to injustice.

“I’ve always done it,” O’Sullivan says, “but I’m not there to preach, so I prefer to be a little subtle. I have songs about 9/11, songs about terrorism, and poverty in Africa, and on this album, Donald Trump. I’m not there to tell people what to think, though. I’d never get up on a podium at a political event or anything like that. I don’t think it actually helps anyone.”

After nearly 50 years in the business, the 71 year old certainly knows the impact of his songs, however. ‘We Will’ is one of the great takes on personal darkness. He also has the subtle cultural attack and gentle poetry of ‘Nothing Rhymed,’ and the brilliantly gentle ode to loss ‘Alone Again, Naturally’. O’Sullivan has affected much, but, in terms of songwriting, he’s little changed.

“I follow the same process I always did,” he tells us. “I write the melody at my piano. In the past, that was a dirty old stand up and it’s a bit better now, but I still do it the same way, recording the music onto a boombox as I go.”

“I don’t add the lyrics until I come to record a song. For this album, I had all the music, but spent two months writing the lyrics before I went into the studio. I had played through the music for the record company, BMG, just singing whole-hearted gibberish over the top, to check they wanted to be involved.”

“The lyrics come last because they’re always changing according to the time. Once they’re recorded, they stay the same, but before that they keep evolving. I often have two or three different versions of a line going into the studio. Otherwise, lyrics can be out of date.” He now has his own personal studio in Jersey, the only high-end one on the island, where the most recent record was recorded.

Corner Boy: Taking Folk’s Unconventional Path

WEXFORD four-piece Corner Boy have given up on music’s well-trodden trails. That’s not a bad thing: with the long-awaited release of their third EP around the corner, the imaginative folk act have settled on slow-dripping their music, and making the most out of the opportunities that it throws up. Instead of recording records or seeking deals, they’ve traveled the world in the back of a transit van.

That’s involved shows in North America, South Korea and the Middle East, a show at half time in the All Ireland final, and a trad sit-ins in Paris. “It’s been about getting out there and getting involved for us,” frontman Mick D’Arcy explains. “We’ve been incredibly fortunate with opportunities.”

“Even in the first year after we formed, we played the Late Late Show and half time at Croke Park to 80,000 people. All these things you’d expect more established bands to do after a few years. People just took to us straight away.”

“If you look back at our early music, though, it’s very obvious where our influences were. We decided we’d take some time off about three years ago, and we went out into the world, took whatever opportunities that came our way. It was about travel, meeting people, new cultures, and using that to inform our music.”

“All of that travel is the experience that has influenced our sound now. We’re incredibly happy. We have, I’d estimate, a 30-40 song backlog. We have a lot of material to release.”

There’s also a cyclical nature to the new EP ‘Goodbye Old Holy’, in that it returns to the scene of one of Corner Boy’s early successes. The band won the Red Bull Bedroom Jam in 2013, just as they started out. The contest that had a prize of recording in the famous Grouse Lodge Studios in Westmeath. They loved the place, and returned again for this record, with Dropkick Murphy’s producer Ted Hutt on the sound decks.

Peter Broderick: “it’s difficult to find a place of solace and quiet, and I appreciate music that facilitates this”

Peter Broderick (by Declan Kelly)

American-born but Galway based composer Peter Broderick is a bit of an international enigma. Despite relocating to Barna, the contemporary composer has found his career has taken on a highly international flavour.

Broderick was key to the way fantastically inventive Danish act Efterklang converted their more orchestral edge into a live setting, and has also worked with the likes of Yann Tiersen, Phillip Glass and Dustin O’Halloran.

His most recent project is the construction of a score around the short film ‘Two Balloons. The collaboration with director Mark Smith has a nice sense of symmetry to it, in particular as the movie is part-inspired by an earlier piece ‘More Of A Composition’.

The soundtrack was released as an EP in November 2018, and is entitled, memorably, ‘Techno for Lemurs’. Two Balloons i showing as part of the Dublin Film Festival’s ‘Fantastic Fix’ this year, on February 23. I asked him about the composition, life and his earlier work…

Congratulations on the score. I understand you worked closely with the producer to break this down almost frame by frame. How complicated does that get, musically?

When it came time to fit the music to the picture, it really was just a matter of watching the film over and over again while playing the piano along with it, getting a feel for the rhythm of the story. The timing of different chapters and certain particular shots in relation to the music felt very important . . . but it was just a matter of repetition and practice until it felt just right.

I believe Mark Smith searched you out to write the music for this movie. What did you think of the film when he did so?

When Mark first reached out to me, he hadn’t even started shooting the film yet. He just had the story in his head and he seemed to know from the beginning that he wanted this particular melody from a song of mine to be used in the film. At that point, I didn’t really know much about the project, but I loved Mark’s enthusiasm and sincerity from the beginning, so I agreed to work with him from the start purely based on those things alone.

Valeras: “If it wasnt for The Rock Academy then we wouldn’t have met”

Reading youngsters Valeras are setting off on their first ever headline tour, having met at a weekend rock school in their distinctly guitar-loving hometown, and supported The Wombats, The Amazons and Demob Happy. 

Their hooky sound and deeply-personal lyrics have the band labelled as one to watch by BBC Introducing and Radio One, as well as being regulars on the lesser stages at Reading Festival. I caught up with them before their double date with Dublin later this month…

I understand this is your first headline tour. How does it compare, psychologically, to the various support slots you’ve been playing before now?

There’s slightly more pressure to getting everything the way we want it to be, but also there’s a lot more excitement because its our first headline tour. 

You quite literally went to rock school. Put aside our movie images for a minute… how well does that work for prespective musicians?

We went to more of a summer camp, it was only for a weekend and it was just like one group per day. It wasn’t quite a rock school but it was a good organisation for young people to meet other likeminded musicians. If it wasnt for The Rock Academy then we wouldn’t have met. 

Are you thinking about an album at this stage? Do you have any idea what it would be like?

We’re always writing and looking to release new music as it comes, so we’ll see where this year takes us!

The Once: High on Harmonies

WITH DUBLIN TRADFEST heading into town in the coming week, the chance to explore folk scenes from outside our own borders is one that looms large. Newfoundland is an unlikely hotbed, and one of their hottest properties, The Once, are one of the acts from outside our own shores that will be dropping into Dublin.

Those Newfoundland origins are at the forefront of the band’s very existence, too. “Most of the people that came before us are immigrants that came from France or Ireland to Newfoundland,” Geraldine Hollett, one of the band’s vocal trio, explains.

“They brought the music with them. In the 90s there was a ‘Celtic Revival’ and that music is definitely influenced by the Irish. We even sound like you in certain communities. When we hit Wexford, we can find people that look like us.”

Their connections, especially on most recent album ‘Time Enough’, come not just from the music, but from a haunting, minimalist approach to lyrics.

“It’s a conscious choice, especially for this album,” Hollett says of the toned-down approach. “We wanted to make an intimate album. We wanted the meaning of the words to get into your head to haunt and then to comfort.”

“Mostly they were written for anyone who has experienced love, loss, anxiety, low self worth and apathy. So, everyone. It was difficult, yes. Stripping things bare leaves us so exposed. We aren’t that comfortable running around naked these days. But we know how important it is to be real. You do really question if it’s good enough. You have to trust that if it comes from a real and honest place, it will reach those it was intended for and not be hurt by the ones it wasn’t.”

Zaska: The Making Of A Village

Guitarist Max Zaska is a hard man to put in a nice, easy-to-grasp box. A brilliant guitarist and adventurous songwriter, he eschews genre convention, preferring to flit between funk and R&B, pop and soul. The result if often bright, bubbly and bouncy.

His approach to performing is similarly atypical. Zaska’s forthcoming debut album hosts something of a who’s who of Ireland’s more interesting musical fringes: BARQ, Come On Live Long, Little Green Cars, Super Silly, Loah and Wyvern Lingo all have members who have chipped in on vocals or instruments, taking roles that Max himself jokingly says he’s utterly unable to fill himself.

It’s hard to peg precisely what Zaska is, then, apart from a project led by a man who’s clearly not short on vision, or on friends (Hozier has also been a regular feature in his career). The inventive musician finds his finest moments is big, bold, diverse collaboration.

“The album title, ‘It Takes A Village’, comes from the way this album was put together, both with all the collaborations and with the FundIt [crowdfunding] campaign that’s supported it,” Zaska told the Gazette of his debut.

“I’ve been working on it since 2015, and the €14.5k people contributed to my FundIt has kept it going right up until now. I’ll just be pushing into my own finances for the first time with some of the promo stuff, so I’m so blessed. It’s been a lot of work. I almost died from exhaustion, but the support has kept me afloat.”

The result is brave and bold. Zaska’s new single is a swipe at Dublin’s increasingly prominent housing crisis. In the imagery around ‘It’s Ridiculous’, you can see the songwriter perched outside the Central Bank in a cardboard box labeled ‘two-bedroom apartment’, grimacing and clutching another piece of cardboard with the song title penned on it in marker.