Paris annual beach party is now on

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The banks of the river Seine has been transformed to a palm-lined sandy beach till 21 August.

25 July 2008

PARIS - A three-kilometre stretch of the banks of the river Seine on Monday turned into a palm-lined sandy beach for a few weeks as the seventh annual Paris Plage kicked off.

The usually busy roads lining the river in central Paris have been closed to traffic until 21 August and redecorated with sand, grassy areas, deck chairs, hammocks and palm trees to give a French Riviera feel.

The initiative, begun in 2002 and since copied by Berlin, Rome and other European cities, has proved hugely popular with locals and visitors alike, with up to four million people soaking up the sun every year or attending the many free concerts, sports and other activities.

Paris's Socialist Mayor Bertrand Delanoe set up Paris Plage as part of what he called a "new era" to reclaim the city for its people. The summer beach - and a hugely popular bike rental scheme - helped get him re-elected in March.

This year's beach fest kicks off officially with an orchestra and 120 singers outside Paris city hall performing Beethoven's ninth symphony, part of which - the Ode to Joy -  is the anthem of the European Union.

The concert was followed by a giant picnic on Monday evening along the whole length of the artificial beach.

Another feature of the 2008 edition is the upgrading of a one-kilometre stretch of the temporary beach along the Canal Saint-Martin in northern Paris to include activities such as canoeing, rowing, sailing, and ballroom dancing.

Four tonnes of sand - twice as much as in 2007 - have been used this year along the Seine and the canal, officials said, adding that the total cost of the summer beach was EUR two million.
Paris Plage's debut in 2001 met with scepticism, laughed off as yet another gimmick by Delanoe.

Co-opting a riverside road for the duration would disrupt traffic, critics said, and why waste money dumping tonnes of sand and moving giant palms to remind people stuck in the city they would rather be strolling down the Promenade des Anglais in the posh Riviera resort of Nice.

But most tongues have been quieted by the millions of visitors to the site every year, plus a spin-off industry of Paris Plage products and the fact that other cities have followed suit.

Several suburbs around Paris, many with immigrant and lower-income residents who cannot afford to take holidays, have set up their own smaller versions of Paris Plage, as have some regional French cities.

The trend has also spread to Brussels, Prague, Amsterdam, Berlin, Rome and Budapest among other cities.
[AFP / Expatica]

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