Time Traveling in Toledo
In an open-air arena nestling in the arid plains of Don Quixote’s La Mancha, Puy du Fou España tells the story of Toledo, known as the “City of Three Cultures.”
The “El Sueño de Toledo” (“Toledo’s Dream”) night show transports guests from the present to the past, where Romans, Visigoths, Jews, Muslims, and Christians shaped the city. The show embraces its audience as “heirs to this mix of different cultures,” says Erwan de la Villéon, CEO of Puy du Fou España. Some 4,000 spectators are swept up in the action as Azacán of Toledo leads a young washerwoman named Maria on a journey through time.
Puy du Fou España’s show illuminates the vast canvas of history, from King Recared’s acceptance of the Catholic faith at the third Council of Toledo in 589, which unified Spain, to the bloody battles between Napoleonic and Spanish forces, and the arrival of the railways. Spectators gasp as horse riders gallop across the stage, fighters rappel down burning buildings, tapestries color the city’s ramparts, and the ship that carries Cristóbal Colón (Christopher Columbus) to America rises from the waters. The show brings a cast of historical characters, from Queen Isabella to Miguel de Cervantes, back to life.
The 70-minute extravaganza features 185 actors, 800 projectors, 28 laser projectors, 60 fountains, water screens, and almost 4,000 square meters of scenery across a 5-hectare stage. An app offers simultaneous translation for non-Spanish-speaking guests. Puy du Fou España also provides a rustic El Arrabal refreshment area.
“El Sueño de Toledo” premiered last August, seven months after breaking ground. The project’s breakneck speed depended on “huge preparation and enthusiasm,” says de la Villéon. He arrived in Spain in April 2016 to lead the development. Momentum was on his side, with the Castile-La Mancha administration, a regional governing body, extending a warm welcome (a new highway exit leads directly to the site). Toledo offered a rich history, a thriving tourism market, proximity to Madrid, and a potential audience of 8 million people living within two hours’ drive. Yet, with the Puy du Fou concept new to Spain, de la Villéon had to work hard to win local trust.
Ticket sales for “El Sueño de Toledo” surpassed his expectations. In 2019, 72,000 guests saw 18 shows—12,000 more than anticipated after the company added three extra shows in response to public demand. Tickets sold out in hours. It was a relief for a team that dealt with some very un-Spanish-like wet weather and a market where tour operators and travel agencies hold more sway.
“What makes our show successful is that it is authentically Spanish,” says de la Villéon. “It’s not exact, it’s not real, because it’s a show, but it feels Spanish. The humor is Spanish, and the emotions are Spanish. It really makes an emotional impact.”
The predominantly Spanish team bridged the cultural gap and were willing to give their all.
“I’ve learned that if you don’t like the people you’re working with, it’s impossible to make a project of this quality,” he concludes. A fluent Spanish speaker, de la Villéon fell “in love with Spain, with Toledo, and its incredible people.”
The night show is the first step in Puy du Fou’s quest to establish a 242-million-euro park in Spain by 2028. By next year, the company will add three indoor shows, an outdoor bird show, three themed villages in a range of styles (Castilian, Moorish, and Artisan), and restaurants serving 5,000 people within 30 hectares. “Obviously, the park will allow us to welcome more people and hopefully more families with children,” says de la Villéon. By 2025, a sixth show will be on the way, which should extend guest stay beyond one day.
Numbers and euros are not the driving forces, however; creating great artistic content is.
“In Puy du Fou, we are poets lost in the world of business,” says de la Villéon. His view on the brand’s global growth is that “we want to be grand without being big. Having a huge park in France is not our purpose. We prefer to make several different creations. As a family has children, we will do the same.”
Wherever Puy du Fou travels, the founders will always remain “faithful to their dreams.”