Even as summer begins to wind down in Paris, the big annual debate about whether to stay or go lingers. While some argue that it’s the best time to be in the city because it is less overrun by people (since most locals vacation at a beachside town or in the countryside), others are adamant that Paris is unbearable as things come to a complete halt when shops and restaurants close for the holidays. Either way, since 2002, those spending the summer in the city have been able to seek relief from the heat at the temporary beaches along the Seine and its canals.
Lying on imported sand alongside hundreds of other keen sunbathers with a stream of cars racing past on the roads up above isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but Paris Plages (“Paris Beaches”) is a curious phenomenon that has become an integral part of the Parisian summer experience. And while more and more European cities are setting up their own makeshift beaches for holiday-less urbanites, Paris does a pretty good job of bringing the sands to the Seine.
Whether you want a pre-dinner boogie at a free concert, a waltz close to the water, to dine out in the open on a barge, to get your competitive side in gear with a game of pétanque (also known as bowls, it’s a French hybrid of bocce and horseshoes) or to curl up on a deck chair with a good book, it’s all possible at one of three Paris Plages spots until August 18.
About to wrap its 12th year, Paris Plages (not to be confused with the Seine-lining Les Berges project) is one of the city’s top summer attractions and this year even more activities were added to the urban beach schedule, ensuring that the estimated 5 million visitors got plenty of fun in the sun.
The trio of Riviera hot spots, all in the eastern half of the city, includes the original Seine sunbathing stretch from the Louvre to the Pont de Sully, the second on the Ourcq Canal in the Villette area close to the Jaurès metro and the third along the river close to the Quai de la Gare metro on the Mauriac quay in the southeast.
The three beaches have different atmospheres. The Seine beach resembles more of a Côte d’Azur affair with its blue parasols, striped cabana changing areas, sand and false turf where a multitude of deck chairs are laid out. Beachgoers here can make the most of the temporary library put in place from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., or they can simply choose to relax with a tai chi lesson from 10 a.m. to noon.
The Ourcq Canal is a lot livelier and more isolated from passing traffic. At the water’s edge, docked barges serve as restaurants and concert venues, while the battered earth lining the promenades makes prime territory for the ultimate Southern French pastime: a game of pétanque. If the ball-rolling game sounds too pedestrian, try kayaking, electric boat racing or bobbing around in a pedal boat.
The third spot along the Mauriac quay is probably the coolest of the three, what with the beautiful people sipping on a French-spun mojito or glass of rosé while waiting for fresh oven-baked pizza at an inconspicuous bar between la terrasse du Batofar and La Vagalam. The Mauriac quay is the place to go to be seen this last weekend — especially if you aren’t heading south for a vacation. The entire quay is kitted out with temporary bars and eateries as well as comfortable oversized bean bags and deck chairs. The area is also home to several barges that host club nights like the aforementioned Batofar, a red, industrial-looking contraption that has become one of Paris’ top spots for electronic music.
Photo Courtesy of Marc Bertrand, Paris Tourist Office and Amelie Dupont