We stared at them for a few seconds...two good friends who had just suggested that we should drive 650 kilometers to a small village an hour south of Nantes to visit a theme park: two friends who seem unlikely proponents of Disneyland, and the like.
But Puy du Fou is different... unique even. There's not a ride to be found.
But it does have the avian clean-up crew: Boubou, Bamboo, Bill, Black, Bricole and Baco, crows who pick up cigarette butts then deposit them in specially designed boxes which reward them with seeds.
Oh, and truly amazing spectacles based on the history and mythology of the Vendée region.
Puy du Fou
On June 13th 1977 twenty-eight year old student Phillippe de Villiers found a nettle-covered Renaissance chateau and dreamed of creating an amateur dramatic society to use this ruin as a backdrop and re-enact, twice weekly during the summer, the blood-soaked history of the Vendée in a night-time spectacle he called Cinéscénie.
Somehow, he persuaded 600 people, the original 'Puyfolais'. to rally round his vision and become cast members.
On June 16th 1978 his dream became a reality, and a small but wildly enthusiastic audience witnessed the birth of Puy du Fou. It caught on quickly though: 81,000 total by the end the end of the first summer.
So this September, forty-five years later, we sat enchanted in an audience of over 13,000 as the Puyfolais cast, still local volunteers but now more than 2,500 strong, plus hundreds of trained animals, performed on the world's largest stage: thirty-five hectares of lake, over which people walk and horses gallop, a village and the original castle-- which 'burns' twice weekly.
But Cinéscénie is nowhere near all Puy du Fou has to offer. 1989, saw the beginnings of a 55 hectare 'grand parc'. Which currently has eighteen indoor and outdoor spectacles.
Outdoors, there's The Vikings, where...
...in a peaceful
But in true Puy du Fou fashion, they emerge
from beneath the lake.
Statues, it seems, until they burst into life...
... and do what Vikings do... you know, pillage the village...
...and mistreat the villagers...
...three times daily.
Meanwhile, a four-minute stroll away through lovely gardens and an authentically constructed Cité Médiévale, at Le Bal des Oiseaux Phantome...
...The Ghost Birds are Ready to Dance
About three feet above your head.
Or right beside you
And occasionally, due to pilot error no doubt, right in your lap.
Until, at the thrilling end, there are over 200 birds of prey overhead
And you leave gobsmacked, with a silly grin on your face.
Perhaps you head inside for Le Dernier Panache, where...
...an audience of 2,400 murmurs appreciatively as the curtain opens and the thirty-two cast members begin the story of an epic journey.
But this is a 360° stage and barely has the crowd settled in before the audience itself rotates to the next scene.
And so the spectators move continuously and smoothly through twenty-two sequences on seven different stages in a superb and impressive display of video, light & sound design and staging,... truly amazing.
It's tempting to try and capture all that Puy du Fou has to offer, but impossible.
Book almost a year in advance, then head to the village of Les Espesses to see the above, plus a chariot race in a full-size Roman arena, musketeers, flamenco dancers and horses cavorting in a hundred-meter wide/fifty-meter deep stage flooded an inch deep, Merlin and King Arthur, plus another fifteen or so marvellous spectacles.
Grab a pair of translation headsets if you don't speak French.
These days France's 'best kept secret' attracts about two million visitors a year, and an international jury has chosen Puy du Fou as the Number 1 theme park in the world two of the last five seasons.
Not bad for a student-initiated amateur theatre project.