Summer in the city can leave you needing more than an ice-cream to cool down – especially if you have been slogging round the must-see sights. As the sun beats down on the roofs of Paris and crisps the leaves of the horse-chestnut trees in the Jardin du Luxembourg, the beaches of Paris Plages appear along the banks of the river Seine to offer respite to weary travellers and office-trapped workers.
Every year since 2002, the city has tranformed the heart of the city with sandy strands, palm trees and hundreds of deckchairs and hammocks for sunbathing. Widely copied around the world, Paris Plages is surpassing itself in this, its 10th year, with 10 times more sand than before – 6,000 tonnes in all – to create a uninterrupted 1km-long (more than 3,000ft-long) beach along the Right Bank of the Seine, from near the Louvre to near the Hôtel de Ville.
There are play areas for children and stands selling cold drinks, snacks and ices. The more active can enjoy rollerblading, ballroom dancing, tai-chi, climbing walls or unwind with a meditative game of boules. Farther along the voie Georges-Pompidou, towards the quai des Celestins, the attractions continue with temporary swimming pools and all sorts of beach sports. These activities alone drew more than 200,000 participants last year.
Remember, to swim in any public pool in France everyone needs a swim hat and men must not wear baggy shorts. Tight swimming trunks – the kind the Australians call “budgie smugglers” and the rest of us call Speedos – are mandatory.
Nor, this being Paris, is the cultural side of life forgotten. Paris Plages also hosts concerts, story-telling sessions and a photo marathon. Whatever you choose to do – or not do – whenever you raise your eyes from the pool or your deckchair you are reminded by a view of the distinctive roofs of La Conciergerie or the twin towers of Notre-Dame cathedral that you are still in the middle of one of the world’s most beautiful cities.
At the other outpost of Paris Plages, la Bassin de la Villette, a cultural hub along the canal in the north-east of the city, the waterside bars and clubs add their own pop-up beach bars to the fun. For example, open now and running until 16 August 2011, Glazart’s LaPlage 2011 at the porte de la Villette is a curtain-raising music festival, which welcomed 25,000 visitors last year. This year among the 60 artists appearing are Bootsy Collins, Tower of Power and La Maison Tellier.
The open water at the Bassin de la Villette is ideal for a kayaking session or pedalo ride, while on its banks you can take an aquagym class in a mini pool, play beach volleyball, or simply borrow a book to read while your children ride on a carrousel. Twice a week, floating markets will sell fresh food produced in the neighbouring region of Seine-et-Marne.
Need to know
Paris Plages is open for a month, from 21 July to 21 August 2011, from 8 in the morning until midnight, entry free.