French government defends allowing theme park’s 9,000-person show

The French government has defended a decision to allow a theme park to stage a show attended by up to 9,000 people, after critics blasted the move as wildly irresponsible and hypocritical due to the coronavirus epidemic.

French government defends allowing theme park's 9,000-person show
The Puy du Fou historical theme park in western France. Illustration photo: AFP

The Puy du Fou historical theme park in western France was given an exemption by local authorities to allow the show with up to 9,000 spectators, even though the number of people permitted to gather in France is limited to 5,000 due to social distancing rules.

The controversy is even more acute given that the park's founder Philippe de Villiers, a former culture minister and ex-MP, is according to French media on friendly terms with President Emmanuel Macron.

Participants in France's cultural scene, ravaged by the coronavirus and ensuing restrictions, have expressed outrage that the weekend event was allowed to go ahead when major summer festivals were cancelled.

Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot, however, denied that the Puy du Fou, which attracts millions each year with its mediaeval and history-themed attractions, had received special treatment.

Local authorities have the power to grant exceptional permission for gatherings of more than 5,000 people.

“I understand the emotion and the anger of the professionals and the artists who had to cancel their activities and it is a real heartbreak,” said Bachelot, quoted by Le Parisien website late Sunday.

But, “the park of Puy du Fou did not benefit from any special privilege,” she insisted.

Prime Minister Jean Castex last week extended a ban on gatherings of more than 5,000 people until October 30th.

The measure has already cost France some of its top summer cultural festivals including Avignon theatre festival and the Vieilles Charrues music event.

On Friday, the local authorities in the Vendée region of western France issued a decree allowing the Puy du Fou to welcome up to 9,000 people for its Cinescenie theatrical show on Saturday.

The Cinescenie is the park's summer showpiece, a spectacular historical show with fireworks and hundreds of actors and horses.

“These are double standards! In these times of major crisis for events, concerts, sports and nightclubs it is even more unbearable to witness!!”, tweeted prominent French show business promoter Pascal Negre, a former president of Universal Music France and former vice-president of Universal Music International.


“It's incomprehensible”, Jean-Michel Ribes, director of the Parisian Rond Point theatre, told Europe 1 radio.

“I think that there will be a real question for the government and it will need to answer it and explain,” he added.

Bachelot said that in the coming days she would receive representatives of the cultural sectors most impacted by the virus and resultant lockdown.

“We have a feeling of being abandoned,” said Aurelie Hannedouche, of the SMA union of modern music.

“Irritated, alone, fed up, that's what we feel: we are the only sector that has not got back to business,” she added.

The Puy du Fou, France's second-most popular theme park after Disneyland, welcomed over 2.3 million visitors in 2019. It reopened its doors on June 11th following the coronavirus lockdown.

Member comments

  1. All to do with money and connections. It’s exactly the same with allowing the Tour to go ahead. Totally irresponsible. Surely to stop these “events” for just one year isn’t beyond reason?

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French AOP cheese the latest victim of France’s drought

Your cheeseboard board might have to go without a classic French cheese for some time, after production was halted due to the impacts of drought. 

French AOP cheese the latest victim of France's drought

Production of Salars – a type of cows’ milk cheese from the central French département of Cantal – has been halted for an indefinite period, as France suffers its worst drought on record.

Across the country rivers have run dry and water restrictions have been imposed – and now the cheese-makers are affected too.

The Salars cheese is an AOP (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée), meaning the rules for its production are carefully defined – to be authentic, the cows’ diet must be at least 75 percent grass from pastures within the Auvergne region.

But as the drought continues, the normally fertile volcanic earth in Auvergne has gone hard and dry, and the grass has died – for the 78 AOP cheese producers in the region, their cows have not been able to graze for weeks.

READ MORE: Ask the expert: Why is France’s drought so bad and what will happen next?

“There is nothing left to eat at my place,” said Laurent Roux, a farmer at Gaec de la Calsade in Cantal, to Francetvinfo.

“In some places, the ground looks like ashes. It’s dust,” he added. Roux’ cows have not been able to graze since June 25th. 

While this is the first time a full production stop for Salers has occurred, it is not the first time the AOP has had to contend with challenging climate conditions.

Some farmers had to temporarily suspend production in 2017, and in 2019, the AOP requested a waiver to decrease cows’ share of grass in their diets to 50 percent rather than the usual 75 percent.

However, farmer and head of the AOP, Laurent Lours, said this option was not on the table this year. “It is not worth it because we do not even have 50 percent of the grass,” he told the local station of France 3

He expects production to drop by at least 15 percent this year, as the cheese is only produced on farms between April 15th and November 15th. 

READ MORE: More than 100 French villages without tap water in ‘unprecedented’ drought

For individual farmers, many will turn to Cantal cheese (rather than Salers), which has less restrictive regulations for its production. Doing so also means that they will earn less – a loss of €200 per 1,000 litres of milk.

As for consumers, they can expect a shortage in stores and increase in prices for Salers cheese.

The drought is expected to continue for the foreseeable future, with the possibility of impacting other cheeses and AOP products.

In Switzerland, producers of Gruyère cheese are also worried about a lower quantity of milk production and are considering bringing their cows down to the plains earlier than usual this season.

From the mussels in the bay of Mont-Saint-Michel (as a result of a lack of fresh water in the rivers) to the Espelette peppers being lost to high temperatures, drought will likely impact a range of France’s unique ingredients.