Europe, Wanderlust

Tips for Puy du Fou with kids in France

The Viking dragon boat rose gracefully out of the lake, water pouring along its fearsome prow. My jaw dropped even further when I realised there were people standing on the deck of the ship, which only moments before had been entirely submerged. 

Pyrotechnics behind a Viking Ship as one of the actors flies through the air in Les Vikings show at Puy du Fou, France - my tips for Puy du Fou with kids
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In the foreground another man galloped past on fire, while a huge bird of prey brought down yet another. It’s moments like these which help explain why I spent my two days at Puy du Fou in France in a state of almost constant amazement – and there’s plenty beyond the incredible shows, which is why I’ve created my tips for Puy du Fou if you’re planning a visit.

Set in the Vendee, in the west of France, Puy du Fou is themed around French history – but from the Romans and Vikings to the Knights of the Round Table plus Joan of Arc, not to mention spectacular shows featuring birds of prey, walk-through experiences to leave your spine tingling and eyes full of tears, plus some fabulous French food, you needn’t be a history buff to love it here.

And if you’re visiting Puy du Fou with kids, the thrill of seeing stories these brought to life is unbeatable.

After all, when adults are left wondering how a horse can rise up from a lake, someone can vanish in a puff of smoke, or a woman’s dress can apparently transform in front of your eyes, before marvelling at the chance to visit Alaska on board ship (without leaving dry land) and gasping at the lethal grace of the birds of prey, this is somewhere to be awed, dizzied and share the wonder together.

The birds of prey flying against a blue sky at the show Le Bal des Oiseaux Fantomes at Puy du Fou - tips for visiting Puy du Fou with kids

What is Puy du Fou?

Puy du Fou calls itself France’s second largest theme park (after Disneyland Paris) but this isn’t a theme park as you know them – instead of rollercoasters, there are spectacular shows and experiences.

It’s closer to a cross between a living history museum and a huge-scale theatrical experience. In all honesty, there’s nowhere else quite like it.

But with over 2.3 million visitors in 2018, it’s easily one of France’s biggest attractions. Easily reached from the UK too, more and more UK visitors are now discovering Puy du Fou – 22% more visited in 2018 compared to 2017. So what is there to see and do?

One of the stunt riders hanging in mid air from his galloping horse during La Secret de la Lance show - my tips for Puy du Fou in France if you're visiting with kids

The shows at Puy du Fou

Every year sees something new: in 2019 there are seven ‘big’ shows which are each performed up to seven times per day – and each watched by up to 6,000 spectators.

Les Vikings

My own personal favourite, Les Vikings sees an attack by the feared marauders on a quiet village in the year 1,000, with everything from a simulated hunt to two Viking dragon boats entering the action in dramatic fashion, not to mention explosions and sword fights.

Le Bal des Oiseaux Fantomes

The first show we saw, this intricate ballet by an astonishing 330 birds of prey set the scene for the next two days. Eagles, buzzards, owls, falcons, kites, vultures swooped above the stage of a ruined castle, often zooming low above the heads of the audience (snacks, understandably, are not allowed at this particular show).

La Secret de la Lance

The story of a simple shepherdess suddenly becomes the scene of some jaw-dropping horse-riding stunts and jousting, the appearance of Joan of Arc and a mystical lance, and the entire castle stage set transforming before your eyes.

Perhaps most astonishing was the apparently magical costume change of the main character.

A table emerges from the lake for the knights of the round table in the show Les Chevaliers de la table ronde at Puy du Fou - my two days at Puy du Fou

Les Chevaliers de la Table Ronde

King Arthur discovers his destiny, pulling the sword from the stone while Merlin helps guide the creation of the knights of the round table, before the table itself emerges from the lake – along with a horse!

All helped along by the Lady of the Lake in mermaid form.

La Signe de Triomphe

A return to Roman times in the huge purpose-built arena, where the Gauls are calling for their freedom and the Romans are resisting.

There was a fun chance for some audience participation before the action, with each side of the arena cheering for their own particular heroes – not to mention chariot racing and fights between gladiators.

Tips for Puy du Fou: scroll down to read more about the use of big cats in this show.

Horses with masked riders dance through the spray of water on stage during the Mousquetaire de Richelieu show at Puy du Fou - discovering some of the shows during two days at Puy du Fou in France

Mousquetaires de Richelieu

One of the indoor shows, this managed to mix action, slapstick and an entertaining finale – after a young member of the audience showed up the swashbuckling swordsman, the musketeers arrive to help save the day, the heroine breaks into flamboyant gypsy dance and the stage slowly floods for the choreographed finish by the horses.

Le Dernier Panache

The high-tech stage used during this show cost 19 million Euros to create, turning through 360 degrees as the plot unfolds.

This local tale follows a French Navy officer and hero of the American War of Independence who helps lead the rebellion in the Vendee against the leaders of the French Revolution, finishing with a boat rowing across the sea – the show uses as much water as an Olympic swimming pool on stage.

The walk-through experiences

There are also three immersive experiences: peopled by actors, you walk through a set packed with special effects, including 2019’s new attraction Le Premier Royaume.

One of my own favourites, it’s inspired by the life of the first king of the Franks to unite the country’s tribes, Clovis I – the French equivalent of Alfred the Great perhaps.

Walking through 14 fantasy worlds, you’re transported under the sea and to Valhalla, to a battle with the Huns and the crowning of the King as the old gods make way for the new.

Fleur de lys shapes decorate sheets of water, weapons are forged and treasure destroyed before your eyes in a mystical atmosphere which takes you far from the present day.

Other similar experiences transport you on board a ship of exploration in Le Mystere de la Perouse, travelling via Easter Island and Alaska, so realistic I almost felt seasick, while Les Amoreux de Verdun is set in the horrors of a smoke-filled trench during the First World War. I defy anyone to walk out without feeling moved.

A woman with a goat in the medieval city themed village of Puy du Fou - my tips for Puy du Fou with kids includes saving time to explore these areas

Puy du Fou’s other attractions

You’ll also find themed villages with shops, and smaller attractions which are great if you’re visiting Puy du Fou with kids – dancing fountains, the chimes of Le Grand Carillon and the fables of La Fontaine, including golden eggs laid before your eyes.

There are lovely gardens to wander through and farm animals for little ones to spot along the way as well. Although it’s tempting to rush from spectacle to spectacle, it’s worth spending some time ambling around and soaking everything in.

La Cinescenie night show

At the heart of the Puy du Fou is Cinescenie – the Puy du Fou night show which launched the whole attraction. Performed for 42 years now, it involves 2,550 actors on a 23-hectare stage, along with 30 drones, 150 fountains, 28,000 costumes, 850 fireworks and over 3,000 projectors.

Perhaps the most startling statistic is that the cast is made up of volunteers – around 140 of the 4,150 involved have volunteered every year since the show started.

Performing is something of a rite of passage for locals, with children aged five and above appearing in this tale of one family in the Vendee across the centuries.

Fireworks over the huge Cinescenie stage, the famous night show at Puy du Fou - booking well in advance is one of my tips for visiting Puy du Fou

Is Puy du Fou worth visiting?

Short answer? YES. Any Puy du Fou reviews you read might seem a bit gushing – and it’s impossible to appreciate just how astonishing the spectacles are until you experience them yourself. But there’s a reason that people who’ve visited rave about Puy du Fou.

Where else could you see a stage transformed into a lake – flooded and cleared several times a day – while horses dance as you do in Mousquetaire de Richelieu?

Or sit in a giant auditorium where the spectators are rotated slowly around from scene to scene, ending with a boat rowing across the sea like Le Dernier Panache?

Perhaps the biggest shock was realising that by this point, I was so accepting of the magic of the shows that it barely occurred to me to wonder how on earth you get the sea onto a stage…

During our June visit, we had some unseasonably rainy weather… by which I mean it poured with rain almost incessantly on the first day. But tucked inside my Puy du Fou poncho (worth every cent of the six Euro price tag), I was so mesmerised by the shows that I barely noticed.

I could write a whole separate post about the shows alone and it’s a struggle to pick a top 3, let alone a single highlight. My own favourites? Les Vikings and Le Bal des Oiseaux Fantomes, plus Le Premier Royaume but it’s a hard fought winner’s podium.

One of the rooms in Le Premier Royaume walk-through experience at Puy du Fou, designed to feel like it's underwater - the latest attraction to visit at Puy du Fou

What age is Puy du Fou best for?

You can visit with any age, although certain shows and attractions will be better for younger kids, while others aren’t really suitable for little ones.

The key is whether they’ll be able to sit still for around 30 minutes: shows do vary in length, but are often around half an hour long so I wouldn’t recommend it for most kids aged under four.

It depends too on their personality – my six-year-old would be spooked by the eerie monks at the start of Le Premier Royaume, for example, and I doubt I’d get her through entrance shaped like a huge mouth with that crashing soundtrack and flashing lights beyond.

But she’d have loved being on board ship in Le Mystere de la Perouse, as well as watching the Vikings, the castles and jousting of Le Secret de la Lance, and the knights of the round table in Les Chevaliers de la Table Ronde, with the mermaid lady of the lake.

Fire exploding from a castle in the show La Secret de la Lance at Puy du Fou - my tips if you visit Puy du Fou with kids

The attractions aimed at younger kids would also have been a hit, including French fables with animatronic animals at Le Fond Imaginaire de la Fontaine, La Grand Carillon – a regular show of chiming bells with a side of abseiling – and Le Ballet des Sapeurs, a silent comedy performed by children attending Puy du Fou’s school.

While La Cinescenie is the heart of Puy du Fou and a spectacle on an astonishing scale, this really isn’t one for younger kids. It starts late (around 10.30pm when we visited in early June) and lasts for an hour and 40 minutes – so a finish after midnight.

It also gets chilly in the evenings too – certainly not unbearably so for adults (though wrap up warm) – but my six-year-old would either have been asleep or practically crying with exhaustion, especially with packed days before and after.

There is another evening show called Les Orgues de Feu which starts between 9pm and 10.30pm (depending on sunset) and lasts just over half an hour if you do want the experience of a night show. If you have busy days planned, again, an early night might be better for younger kids.

Visiting Puy du Fou with older or younger kids? Get tips for Puy du Fou with teens in this post from Actually Mummy while Travelynn Family explored with a four and five-year-old.

What should I do before I visit Puy du Fou?

To get the most out of visiting Puy du Fou, you really need to plan ahead – if you only follow one of my tips for Puy du Fou, make it this!

For starters, Cinescenie, the Puy du Fou night show, gets booked up months in advance – this is the one part of your visit which costs extra, and you’ll need tickets for a specific night during its run (Fridays and Saturdays between June and September) so plan this first.

Make sure you download the Puy du Fou app as well. Not only can you add shows to your own personal schedule, see the map of the park and check the times of the various shows, there’s also an option to have an English translation playing as you watch – bring headphones.

One of the birds of prey from Le Bal des Oiseaux Fantomes show flies back to its handler during the show at Puy du Fou

It’s also worth getting a paper version of the Puy du Fou map which also has planned times of the shows. Updated daily, it’s available every evening from the accommodation – if there’s bad weather, occasionally shows may be cancelled (or amended) to protect the animals, but otherwise the schedule normally runs as planned.

Cross check your plan for the day against the map too. Although it’s relatively easy to get from one end of the grand parc to the other, it’s going to take longer with kids and it would be easy to accidentally make a plan that sees you criss crossing back and forwards continually.

You can’t just wander and hope if you want to try to fit in all the things you’d like to see… And do take comfy shoes, as you’ll be walking a lot.

How much can I see in two days at Puy du Fou?

For starters, you do need two days. You can just come for one but you’d have to miss a lot – equally, you probably don’t need more than two days, although a two-night stay works well if you’re travelling from the UK.

In our two days, we squeezed in every show and visited every immersive experience, as well as having a brief look at the themed villages, experiencing the restaurants, and visiting Cinescenie.

But this was a visit without kids, organised by people who knew their way about well, with fast track passes and a very precise schedule. 

Realistically adults could fit in between six to eight attractions in a day, including the immersive walk-through experiences, which you can visit at a time to suit you, and the smaller shows and attractions. With kids, you need to slow down a lot more, especially with younger ones.

I’d limit it to three main attractions per day if you’re visiting Puy du Fou with kids – although as above, there will be some attractions which aren’t as suitable – Le Dernier Panache and Les Amoureux de Verdun, for example.

Do save time to wander through the four themed villages – Viking, medieval, 18th century and 20th century – which have local craftspeople making items to sell, including glass, jewellery, pottery and more, not to mention a chance to dress up for a photo, some themed activities and a bit of window shopping too.

There’s even a traditional carousel for kids to ride on as well as play areas for some relaxed downtime between spectacles.

For a great break-down of which shows are suitable for which ages, check out this post from Tinbox Traveller.

Do I really need the Emotion fast pass?

The Pass Emotion currently costs 15 Euros per person per day, with a limited number available – I think they’re worth every penny to make the most of your visit, so buying one is another of my big tips for Puy du Fou with kids.

Not only can you jump the queues, there’s also reserved seating with good views, so if you’re racing up shortly before a show starts, you’ve got a much better chance of getting in and getting a good seat.

Even on a drizzly weekend, the queues for some of the most popular shows were long – I definitely wouldn’t have fancied standing in them with younger kids, especially as you’re recommended to arrive 30 minutes before the start of the big shows.

And you don’t just benefit on rainy days: in the height of summer, there’s limited shade outside some of the shows (and sometimes inside too) so being able to reduce the amount of time you spend standing around in the heat is ideal.

You can’t use it on every show but it’s a great way to make the most of your time, especially if you want to see the biggest – and most popular – shows.

Showing off our Puy du Fou poncho at Puy du Fou in the rain - five family travel bloggers and lots of tips if you're planning a visit

What if it’s a rainy day at Puy du Fou?

The shows will go on – occasionally the format will be changed or cancelled for the safety of the animals (especially the bird show) but they’re all designed to be performed in any weather.

Although I’d packed a raincoat and an umbrella, my Puy du Fou poncho came in incredibly handy – almost like wearing your own personal tent (useful when it really rains). You also won’t block anyone’s views, as you would with an umbrella.

The poncho came in handy for putting on the benches after the clouds cleared too, so I didn’t get wet setting down.

There are indoor options as well (also useful if it’s incredibly hot as they’re air conditioned). Mousquetaire de Richelieu, Le Mystère de La Pérouse, Le Premier Royaume, Les Amoureux de Verdun and Le Dernier Panache are all indoors.

We visited all bar Les Amoureux de Verdun on our first day when the weather was worst, as well as seeing the birds of prey outdoors in Le Bal des Oiseaux Fantomes, then kept the majority of the main shows for our second when it was drier.

La Grand Carillon bell tower - one of the frequent smaller shows at Puy du Fou that's perfect with kids

What if I can’t speak French?

It’s not essential but even basic French is useful. Staff usually speak at least some English and are incredibly helpful, although having Google Translate or a similar app on your phone can come in handy for menus.

You could watch the shows without listening to the narration at all, and for younger kids that might actually be more fun – it’s the effects and the drama which are going to capture their attention rather than the intricacies of the storyline.

But the translations on the Puy du Fou app are cleverly done to follow the live narration and are an option for most of the shows so do bring earphones. Ours worked seamlessly except for one point where the WiFi briefly went down because of the bad weather.

My own (rusty) French was enough to get the gist of what was going on without it, and walking around with non-French speakers, they still enjoyed the experience but it’s definitely a bonus.

The exception to this rule is La Renaissance du Chateau which isn’t translated and is aimed more at a French audience so was the one place we didn’t visit during our two days at Puy du Fou.

What’s the food at Puy du Fou like?

Theme parks and family attractions of the world, take note: you can be hugely popular and cater on a massive scale and yet still offer delicious food. Well… this is France, after all.

I ate so well during our visit (and ate so much, probably a good job that we were walking a lot!).

Many of the options were buffets, all had children’s options or menus, and there are casual choices in the park as well as the sit-down restaurants. In total, there are 22 places to eat, dishing out up to 19,000 meals per day in high season.

So if you want to grab a crepe or a waffle (and despite our multiple three course meals, the smell as I passed was very tempting), a panini or something to take away from the Rotissoire, you can do. If you want to make the most of being in France and have a more gourmet experience, you can do that too.

I particularly liked La Mijoterie du Roy Henry, a buffet with a difference – rather than being all you can eat, you get a little wooden board as a tray with three holes: one for a starter, one for a main course, one for a dessert, and then help yourself.

The main courses – I had a duck cassoulet – come in little pots, while the others are in glass bowls, so it feels a bit more special and cuts down massively on the usual disposable plastic. Or at Le Bistrot, kids get a free ride on the carousel as part of the 3-course set menu.

It’s worth booking in advance for dinner in particular, as well as some of the park restaurants for lunch. There are enough spaces for everyone staying in the on-site accommodation at Puy du Fou in the Cite Nocturne to eat dinner, so you shouldn’t find yourself without any options after the park has closed, but reserving ahead gets a discount and gives you the choice.

Some of the dishes including goat's cheese, salmon and charcuterie that we ate at Le Bistrot at Puy du Fou in France - the theme park has some amazing food

In La Citadelle and Les Iles de Clovis accommodation, the restaurants – L’Ecuyer Tranchant and Le Banquee de Merovee – are both unlimited buffets, and the latter has a special section for children.

Perhaps one of the most memorable places to eat was Le Café de la Madelon, which is basically dinner theatre – with a set menu, it’s not ideal for fussier younger kids, although teens and tweens would enjoy it as North East Family Fun discovered.

Following the story of unfortunate bride Madelon, with lots of music and dance, it’s a very fun experience – not least to suddenly realise that your waiter or waitress has dashed from dishing out potatoes to performing.

There are options if you’re vegetarian, and even more so if you eat fish but not meat, but it’s worth checking in advance – especially with the limited menu at Le Café de la Madelon, but also at La Mijoterie du Roy Henry, where chorizo popped up unexpectedly in various pre-made dishes.

Where can I stay at Puy du Fou

The Cite Nocturne, as the accommodation area is called, has five Puy du Fou hotels – and the area has its own gate into the main park.

Puy du Fou being the historical extravaganza that it is, even the accommodation is themed with five different periods of history to pick from, from Ancient Rome to the 18th century.

We stayed in Les Iles de Clovis, thatched roof huts on stilts over the lake, mimicking those from the 1st millennium – although with a huge comfy bed and wonderful rainhead shower (not to mention bunk beds, a safe, a TV playing some of Puy du Fou’s greatest hits and the toilet) it was a far cry from the Dark Ages.

In total there were five beds, with little curtains around the bunk beds, so it’s perfect for families.

Alternatively you could check in to Le Camp du Drap d’Or – yes, they’re tents, but as this is supposed to depict the meeting of Henry VIII and Francis I of France at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, this definitely isn’t slumming it either, with four-posted beds and embroidered tapestries.

I couldn’t quite decide what my daughter’s favourite would be, but La Citadelle, a fairytale castle style building would definitely have been high on the list.

With 400 rooms on site in total, there’s plenty of choice but there are also 33 local hotels within an hour’s drive of the park – Puy du Fou parking is free, and you can park at Puy du Fou for free for your whole stay if you’re checked in to the hotels too.

There’s also free parking for camper vans during the day, and a 10 Euro fee for overnight parking, with electricity and water available on site.

If you do want to eat somewhere other than Puy du Fou in the evenings or need other essentials, the small village of Les Epesses is the closest while the nearest town is around seven minutes away for more choice of shops.

There was a small bar at Les Iles de Clovis, with tables outdoors, but limited facilities beyond the restaurants – don’t expect to self-cater, there’s no kettle or fridge in the rooms.

Gladiators fight in the show La Signe du Triomphe in a purpose built Roman aren at Puy du Fou - my tips for Puy du Fou with kids

Is it true there are big cats at Puy du Fou?

Animals are a huge part of the experience at Puy du Fou – there are 640 birds from 78 different species, and 330 different birds of prey appear in Le Bal des Oiseaux Fantomes show alone.

You’ll also see horses, geese, camels, pigs, oxen and even ostriches appearing, as well as Czech wolves which take part in the Viking show.

The most controversial appearance is from the big cats – four lions, a tiger, a hyena and a leopard – in La Signe du Triomphe Roman gladiator show. Attitudes have changed since these animals first performed almost 20 years ago, so it’s something of a historic hangover.

But there’s no question it’s a shock to UK audiences in particular, where wild animals in circuses and performances are rare and set to be banned altogether before long.

Talking to a spokesman for Puy du Fou, it’s something they’re aware of – the new Puy du Fou opening in Spain won’t feature big cats for example.

And while there’s no official date to stop the big cats appearing in the shows, Puy du Fou has tacitly accepted that this is going to be phased out.

The big cats themselves are trained and looked after by Thierry Le Portier, the animal trainer behind the Life of Pi and Gladiator who lives nearby – and having watched La Signe du Triomphe, they’re obviously healthy and well looked after, with precautions taken for the safety of performers and audience when they appear.

Having said that, I felt uncomfortable watching them – it’s really not the right place for wild animals like these, and when you’ve got the drama of multihorse chariot races and gladiatorial combat to entertain, there’s no need for them to appear.

The drama and spectacle elsewhere in the park show that Puy du Fou doesn’t require lions to wow the crowds, and hopefully before long this relic of the past will be left in the past.

If you’re also uncomfortable about watching wolves perform, these appear only in the Viking show.

It’s only fair to add that the park also donates money to help protect rare species around the world, more than half a million pounds since 1993, and has been commended for its conservation activities and animal welfare.

Chariot races in the Roman gladiator show La Signe du triomphe in the purpose built arena at Puy du Fou - my tips for visiting Puy du Fou with kids

How do I get to Puy du Fou?

Puy du Fou is in Les Epesses in the Vendee region of France – it’s around one hour from Nantes by car, and there are direct flights from the UK to Nantes Atlantique airport from London, Birmingham and Manchester, including low-cost airlines like easyJet.

If you’re taking the train, there’s a shuttle bus between Angers TGV station and Puy du Fou, although you have to book this in advance. It costs 29 Euros return. 

There are also plans to start a shuttle service from the airport in Nantes.

How much does a stay at Puy du Fou cost?

Two nights at one of the five on-site hotels costs from 590 Euros for a family of four, including two days’ entry to the Park which is open from April to early November.

If you only want a day pass, these start from 36 Euros for adults, 26 Euros for children, while Emotion fast track passes cost 15 Euros per person per day. Children under five are free.

Tickets to La Cinescenie cost 28 Euros for adults and children.

Set menu and buffet prices in the restaurants cost from around 21 to 23.50 Euros per person, excluding drinks for adults (children’s rates from 10.90-11.50 Euros), including L’Ecuyer Tranchant, Le Bistrot and La Banquee de Merovee.

Lunch at La Mijoterie du Roy Henry was 15.50/8.90 Euros for three courses for adults/children. Le Café de la Madelon was 26.90/11.90 Euros for adults/children but included drinks for adults as well (red wine and coffee). 

For more details and to book a visit to Puy du Fou, click here.

Children performing in the Ballet des Sapeurs at Puy du Fou

Last tips for Puy du Fou

Don’t bother packing a costume to wear at Puy du Fou – it’s strictly forbidden and gate staff will either refuse you entry or ask you to change.

Do pack your earphones though (and work out a way for multiple people to listen if you’re visiting with kids).

You can also bring your own picnic – there is a bag check and metal detector at the entrance though so be prepared to open bags up on the way in.

Having comfy shoes has to be one of my important tips for Puy du Fou – we walked for miles trying to discover everything there is to do at the park. There are two small trains called Colporteuse which run every 20 to 30 minutes and are aimed at helping disabled visitors get around: you can’t take pushchairs on them though.

There is a separate pushchair rental service near the main entrance which costs 8 Euros per day, subject to availability (you can book at the same time as your tickets). Realistically, Puy du Fou isn’t for toddlers though.

A few of the shows have announcements beforehand saying you’re not allowed to take photos. As there’s so much to see, you’ll want both eyes on the performance most of the time in any case.

There’s also free WiFi throughout the park – you’ll need this for the app to hear the translations. And almost certainly to share how wowed you’re feeling too.

PIN FOR LATER: TIPS FOR PUY DU FOU WITH KIDS

Tips for Puy du Fou with kids - visiting the Puy du Fou theme park in France, including how to plan the visit, the best shows for kids and how to get the most from two days at Puy du Fou #puydufou #visitfrance #mummytravels

For more reviews of Puy Du Fou, check out these blogs from My Travel Monkey and Flying with a baby.

Disclosure: My visit was courtesy of Puy du Fou for the purposes of review – all opinions and tips for Puy du Fou are my own. This post also contains affiliate links: any purchases you make are unaffected but I may receive a small commision.

Images copyright Puy du Fou (Stéphane Audran/Alain Monéger/Cécile Potier); poncho and food image copyright MummyTravels

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