In what witnesses described as a 'scene from an Alfred Hitchcock film', thousands of bees suddenly descended on a dozen tourists - said to be mainly British.
Screaming, the visitors fled to nearby buildings and parked cars in desperate attempts to get away from the bees.
A swarm of bees attacked a group of tourists visiting an art gallery in France, with one woman suffering 500 stings
The worst injured was an English woman in her 20s who had at least 500 stings all over her body. She was in such a state of panic that she had to be sedated as emergency workers tried to remove the bees from her face and hair.
Three visitors were taken to hospital after the drama on Saturday afternoon. They had been viewing paintings and sculptures in a pigeon loft of a country house in Moulidars, near Cognac, in the Charente region.
Laure Moutet, owner of the house, said: 'We were inside when we heard screams and cries for help. I ran out on to the path and it was like a scene from an Alfred Hitchcock horror film. There were three women covered in bees. They were in their hair, on their necks, on their faces, on their blouses. One English woman was in a particular state of panic. I put a jacket on her head and tried to calm her down.'
He said another English woman and a French lady were also taken to hospital.
'One of the women was in a very bad way because she had suffered from an allergy after a bee sting 20 years ago. She had a panic attack and fell to the ground.'
Two other women rushed for cover inside a car, but the bees managed to get in through a partially opened rear window, stinging them. Four ambulances went to
Emergency services spokesman Laurent Vasseur said: 'We took the three worst injured to hospital, while others were treated at the scene. All were in a very bad way, with stings all over their bodies. At least two ambulance workers were also badly injured by stings. Our greatest fear was that someone might have an allergy and become seriously ill.'
Local council spokesman Pierre Blanchet said: 'The loft was immediately shut down and efforts made to destroy the swarm of bees. We've never seen anything like this before.'
The victims had not been named. Last night Mr Vasseur said all those injured were 'recovering well'.
Mon May 18 2009 12:33:26 GMT+0100 (GMT Daylight Time)