For those who can’t escape to seaside holiday spots, Paris Plages or “Paris Beaches” has been the answer. This ambitious scheme was started in 2002 by Bertrand Delanoë, the newly-elected mayor. It was to be a haven for relieving the misery of those cooped up in the sweltering city. He was widely criticized for this crazy idea at the time, but it has become a huge success. Over four million people, tourists and local Parisians alike, now take advantage of this “holiday by the Seine” each year.
French city-dwellers traditionally escape to the seaside or the countryside during the summer, especially in August. Paris is avoided, as the weather is unpleasantly hot and humid. Even worse, the centre is full of tourists! Nevertheless, each summer many residents are obliged to remain in the city, however reluctantly.
Paris Plages creates temporary artificial beaches each summer along the river Seine in the centre of Paris. Every late July to late August, roadways on the banks of the river are blocked off. Sandy beaches and palm trees miraculously appear.
Unlike many beaches in France, topless sunbathing is not permitted. For safety reasons, swimming in the Seine is also not allowed.
Even More Important
The influence of Covid is everywhere. In 2020 and 2021, many Parisians decided to stay home rather than travel. Paris is also the holiday destination for people from other parts of France who are reluctant to travel overseas for their holiday break.
This means Paris Plages is more important than ever. Social distancing will apply, but that’s no barrier to having fun.
There’s a full range of activities to enjoy. Movies, concerts, tai chi, boules, giant board games, ziplines, beach volleyball and more. Or just relax in your deck chair, grab an ice cream from the mobile sellers and soak up the sun.
Some of the roads around The Seine’s banks become pedestrian and the beaches are spread across a number of areas.
Good for the Environment
Bertrand Delanoë, the creator of Paris Plages, has also been behind several of the city’s other inventive programs, many of them environmentally friendly. He introduced the extensive Velib bike rental scheme and a system of non-polluting tramways is nearly complete. He banned the use of pesticides in public landscaping and widened bus lanes to encourage public-transport use.
Paris Plages have some environmental benefits, too. Anything that helps stem the massive annual exodus from Paris when cars clog the national highways is a good thing. Paris Plages may reduce the tons of global-warming-causing carbon emissions spewing into the atmosphere.
Within Paris, many streets surrounding the plages are closed to motorists, cutting down on cars in the city centre.
And there’s more. According to the city’s website, creating Paris Plages as fully sustainable is an integral part of the plan. For example, to reach its destinations, the 2,000 tons of sand needed for the ambitious project sails down the Seine River (rather than being loaded onto polluting trucks), and is 100% recycled after its use.
Tarpaulins used as rain cover are also recovered and turned into bags afterward. Sprinklers and water use are strictly managed and Greenpeace sets up workshops each weekend for educational activism. The Science Museum (La Cité des Sciences) holds workshops on correctly separating waste. There’s even an Eco-Library featuring specialized readings and presentations on preserving the planet.
The raison d’être of Paris Plages is to show support for those who do not have the means or the luxury to leave the city. A “summer in solidarity” is the project’s slogan.