Thursday 18 October 2018

Vikings, lasers and dancing with robots: A fantastic family holiday in France

Warren Chrismas and his family take a theme park driving tour to Charente-Maritime.

Emma and Alex on a ride at Futuroscope. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
Emma and Alex on a ride at Futuroscope. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
Puy Du Fou's dramatic lakeside Viking show. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
Alex at La Palmyre Zoo. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
La Citadelle, the historic-looking hotel at Puy Du Fou, which actually opened last year.PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
Plage de Gatseau on Ile d'Oleron. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
Alex playing at Futuroscope. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
Siblu's Bonne Anse Plage holiday park. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.

Warren Chrismas

It's early on a summer's morning and I'm in bedwear and flip-flops, making a short walk back to our mobile home from the campsite convenience store.

Having made the very best use of my school French, I'm carrying a big paper bag full of warm croissants and pain au chocolat and, with the morning sun on my face, I'm full of - how you say? - joie de vivre.

Spoiling the serenity somewhat are my three excitable boys - 7-year-old Oscar, Dylan, 3, and Alex, 2 - who blatantly have energy to burn.

As they run off up a path shouting, I offer a passer-by a cheery "Bonjour!". "Alright mate,?" he replies, chuckling. "Havin' fun?"

Yes, we are. We're having lots of fun.

We're on day five of a stay at a Siblu holiday village at Bonne Anse Plage, a small resort on the edge of a pine forest just north of Royan in Charente-Maritime.

Alex at La Palmyre Zoo. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
Alex at La Palmyre Zoo. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
Emma and Alex on a ride at Futuroscope. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
Puy Du Fou's dramatic lakeside Viking show. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
La Citadelle, the historic-looking hotel at Puy Du Fou, which actually opened last year.PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
Plage de Gatseau on Ile d'Oleron. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
Alex playing at Futuroscope. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
Siblu's Bonne Anse Plage holiday park. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.

The boys have clocked hours and hours swimming and whizzing down water slides in the sun. And, given the choice, I suspect they'd happily do it all day, every day.

But we decide to head out for some activities, including a trip to the excellent La Palmyre Zoo, just down the road, and Ile d'Oleron, France's second largest island (after Corsica). Here we discover Plage de Gatseau, a beautiful stretch of beach with shallow water, which is almost deserted. It's perfect.

Glorious weather is helping. We've based ourselves half-way down France's west coast to increase our chances of sunshine. Whenever we've driven down France, clouds seem to instantly disperse south of the Loire Valley.

Of course, it's a long way to travel with a car full of kids for a bit of sun - about 5.5 hours from Roscoff or Cherbourg, and at least five from the Caen/Ouistreham ferry port, in fact. So we'd arranged a couple of detours to break-up the journeys - and hopefully create some unforgettable memories for the kids.

Futuristic fun for all the family

On the way out, our chosen stop-off is Futuroscope in Poitiers. Set in glorious parkland and featuring some quirky architecture, it's a relatively uncommercial theme park with an emphasis on 3D and 4D immersive attractions rather than roller-coasters or traditional rides.

Plage de Gatseau on Ile d'Oleron. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
Plage de Gatseau on Ile d'Oleron. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
Siblu's Bonne Anse Plage holiday park. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
Alex playing at Futuroscope. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
La Citadelle, the historic-looking hotel at Puy Du Fou, which actually opened last year.PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
Alex at La Palmyre Zoo. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
Puy Du Fou's dramatic lakeside Viking show. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
Emma and Alex on a ride at Futuroscope. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.

While my wife takes our youngest two children to an infant-friendly Raving Rabbids ride and a screening of Ice Age: No Time For Nuts, Oscar and I head for Extraordinary Journey.

Strapped in with our legs dangling, we're taken on a virtual ride around exotic locations flying amongst birds and hot air balloons. It's a good introduction, but far more thrilling is Arthur, The 4D Adventure, based on the Luc Besson movies, which sees us tearing through a fairy-tale world on the back of a ladybird.

The piece de resistance here, though, is Dances With Robots, a full-on ride in which you're strapped into the palm of a giant robot hand, and then violently spun around and upside down in every direction, to a banging techno soundtrack.

We spend some considerable time watching it, mesmerised, but none of us is brave enough to try it. I mean, I would have, but... er, I'd just eaten. Shame.

Rides aside, the parklands and playgrounds of Futuroscope are a great place for our young kids to hang out and play (caveat: We went slightly off-season), and well worth the detour.

But historical theme park Puy du Fou in Les Epesses (pronounced 'pwee dew foo') - our chosen stop-off on the way home - would prove to be even better.

Proof history can also be fun

Puy Du Fou's dramatic lakeside Viking show. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
Puy Du Fou's dramatic lakeside Viking show. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
Emma and Alex on a ride at Futuroscope. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
Alex at La Palmyre Zoo. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
La Citadelle, the historic-looking hotel at Puy Du Fou, which actually opened last year.PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
Plage de Gatseau on Ile d'Oleron. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
Alex playing at Futuroscope. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
Siblu's Bonne Anse Plage holiday park. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.

Arriving late afternoon, we check into La Citadelle, a hotel from the Middle Ages which actually dates all the way back to, er, May 2017.

"Wow, they've made it look really old," remarks Oscar, astutely. It's all very serious and grown up - a long, long way from a Legoland Hotel.

Entering the Grand Parc is a bit like setting foot on a giant movie set, with a cast of hundreds acting out set pieces from throughout the ages - in French, of course. Headsets are required for English commentary.

Alex playing at Futuroscope. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
Alex playing at Futuroscope. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
Emma and Alex on a ride at Futuroscope. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
Puy Du Fou's dramatic lakeside Viking show. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
Alex at La Palmyre Zoo. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
La Citadelle, the historic-looking hotel at Puy Du Fou, which actually opened last year.PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
Plage de Gatseau on Ile d'Oleron. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.
Siblu's Bonne Anse Plage holiday park. PA Photo/Warren Chrismas.

We arrive just in time to catch the best attraction of the lot - Les Vikings. Set in a lakeside village, the 26-minute show begins with a sedate wedding but the scene erupts into chaos following a huge Viking raid. With fires, explosions and, well, plenty of surprises, it's all very exciting.

That evening we join a capacity crowd of 14,000 to attend the acclaimed weekend show Cinescenie. This is on a different scale altogether with more than 2,000 actors. It's basically an Olympics opening ceremony.

But pyrotechnics, fire effects, projections and lasers aren't enough to keep our youngest two awake. Its start time (10 or 10.30pm) is late for kids, and it's a whopping 100 minutes long.

With batteries recharged, day two sees us dashing around to squeeze in as many of the timetabled shows as we can. There's the tale of King Arthur, medieval jousting, musketeer sword fights, chariot racing, gladiator battles and more. It is, simply, a history lesson brought to life - and one our children will surely never forget.

After seven nights away, 1,000 miles of driving and two overnight ferries, we arrive back in England on a Monday morning, happy but exhausted. But, before home, there's one final detour, to drop Alex off at nursery.

"Oooh, what did you get up to in France?" asks Kim, the receptionist.

"Nothing!" he replies.

How to do it

Holiday homes at Siblu's Bonne Anse Page holiday village in Charente-Maritime (siblu.com/camping-bonne-anse-plage; 0208 610 0186) start from around €572 based on up to six people staying seven nights from May 26.

Brittany Ferries (brittanyferries.com) operate crossings from Cork to Roscoff and Portsmouth to Caen. Irish Ferries (irishferries.com) and Stena Line (stenaline.ie) sail from Dublin and Rosslare to Cherbourg. See websites for rates.

Day entry to Futuroscope (en.futuroscope.com) in Poitiers starts from €36 per person, based on four people booking single day tickets in advance.

Day tickets for Puy du Fou (puydufou.com/en) in Les Epesses in the Vendee start from €35 for adults and €25 for children.

Read more:

Puy do Fou: A theme park that will blow you away

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