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My Loire superstar; Travel; Wild family days and crazy knights.

Byline: Nick Sommerlad

I'M going to stick my neck out and predict Puy du Fou is the best theme park in Europe you have never heard of.

For a start, where else can you pile into a lifesize replica of a Roman colosseum to watch a chariot race, gladiatorial battle and Christians being "fed" to a real tiger? It was the highlight of a week-long trip to Loire-Atlantique, the part of western France where the River Loire meets the Atlantic Ocean.

It is far enough south in France to feel the warmth from entering another climate. But not so far that the ferry crossing and onward drive feels too much of a mission.

We spent the week in a very hospitable mobile home site run by French holiday firm Siblu Villages. If you've stayed in one before you know the score. These homes - caravans to some, chalets to others - come fully equipped with all the home comforts you need.

Ours had three bedrooms, most mod cons and a covered outside seating area. The site had a large swimming pool with water slides and lifeguards on duty so parents can relax. Entertainment is provided nightly by enthusiastic young people who will also look after your kids for you in the day.

Yards from the campsite is a large and mostly empty sandy beach, popular with dog walkers and kite surfers. It runs for miles and a cycle path runs alongside it.

If you don't tell the family about the 400ft Serpent D'Ocean sculpture at nearby Saint-Brevin-Les-Pins, they are in for a shock. The eerie skeleton artwork is based on monsters of Chinese mythology and its bones lie, mid-slither, emerging from the mud of the Loire estuary.

Nearby Saint Nazaire is heavily industrial and even Brittany Tourism admits it's "not one of France's most attractive cities".

But another half an hour drive takes you to Guerande, a walled 14th-century medieval town with spectacular ramparts and gate towers. Inside, there is a maze of streets and alleyways to explore, with plenty of touristy food and craft shops to spend your money. Outside, it is surrounded by the region's famous salt marshes producing highly prized fleur de sel and there are lovely beaches to explore.

But I must return to Puy du Fou.

A day our family will never forget.

The idea started in the late 1970s when local amateur dramatic volunteers began reenacting bloody battles from the region's past in the grounds of a dilapidated chateau.

It is now France's second busiest theme park, with two million visitors last year. Only Disneyland Paris had more but I know which I prefer.

Gone are the long queues for short rides. Instead there are short-ish waits for stunning shows.

One features a Viking raid on a French village. A longboat rises out of a lake. On the deck are figures, frozen as statues. After a few fro moments of silence, they spit water, spring to life and join the battle. More than 300 eagles, vultures, kites and owls star in one show, jousting knights in another and there are recreated villages to explore.

The day was topped by an immersive dinner experience at Le Cafe de la Madelon, where we saw a 1914 wedding with a twist. Even the untimely death of our beloved 18-year-old van on the way home could not take the gloss off the day.

The kids would have been happy never leaving Siblu's holiday site. English tourist Grace and husband Jamie were on their third visit to Pierres Couchees with their two young boys. Grace said she loved it because it's "clean and safe".

They book for next year at the end of the holiday because Siblu then offers big discounts. It also offers a home ownership deal, which looks a bit like timeshare. But you are going to need to do your homework on that, I'm afraid.

FACTFILE: A week at Les Pierres Couchees costs from PS798 based on up to six sharing a two-bed holiday home. Visit siblu.com. Brittany Ferries operates routes from Portsmouth, Poole and Plymouth direct to Brittany and Normandy. August fares from PS175 each way for a car. See brittany-ferries.co.uk. Day passes to Puy du Fou, start at about PS30 for adults, PS20 for children.

TRAVEL TIPS

TRY to get on the ferry early so you can bag a table and book cinema tickets.

PICK up the audio translation device at Puy de Fou or you may be left slightly baffled.

BUY a French motorway toll tag online to save time and hassle.

LEAVE plenty of time for your return car journey if travelling to a ferry port. A few relaxed stops along the way keeps the good holiday vibe going.

CAPTION(S):

FEELING POOLY: Les Pierres Couchees

PUY AND GIRLS: Nick and family
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The People (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Apr 28, 2019
Words:801
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