For the†third year in a row, a section of the expressway on the Right Bank of the Seine has been turned into a sandy beach in the heart of Paris, complete with palm trees, umbrellas, hammocks and deck chairs.† Dubbed "Paris-Plage" (Paris-Beach), the site is free and open to the public 24 hours a day until August 18, with special activities programmed from 9 AM to 10:30 PM.

Sunbathing, Sports and World Music

[img]122|left|[/img]The Banks of the River Seine in Paris provide one of the world’s most scenic drives, rating inclusion in UNESCO’s World Heritage List.† For the past several summers, the downtown expressways have been turned into pedestrian areas.† The idea of taking this concept further came from the successful man-made beach of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.† In 2002, 1,000 tons of sand were used to create the first Paris-Plage, which welcomed 2.3 million visitors.† The experiment received worldwide press coverage, gave a major boost to the French capital’s image and prompted the City of Paris to make it an annual event.

The 2004 version is bigger and better.† Stretching from the Pont de Sully bridge, across the Eastern tip of Ile St. Louis to the Pont des Arts bridge near the Louvre, Paris-Plage now covers close to two miles on the sunny side of the Seine.† Three thousand tons of sand had to be trucked in, all donated by Lafarge, the French construction materials group († Sifted and cleaned every day during the month-long event, the sand will eventually be donated to sandboxes in schools and parks in Greater Paris.† This year, a boardwalk that recalls that of Deauville in Normandy has been added.† Sunbathing amenities have also been extended to include 300 deckchairs, 22 blue-and-white-striped tents to serve as cabanas, 150 beach umbrellas, three water-sprinkler stations and a 500-book free lending library to while away the tanning process.†

[img]123|right|[/img]More active visitors can scale the banks’ walls, learn river fishing techniques, attend a marine knot-tying clinic, roller-skate or bike in special lanes, take instruction in Tai Chi (Chinese gymnastics) and master "pÈtanque", the French lawn-bowling game.† Children have not been forgotten: they have their own area for building sandcastles and can choose from 2 youth clubs (limited to 3-year-olds and up!).† A floating stage has been anchored in the Seine and a total of 32 concerts are planned.† And yes, since we are in France, there are open-air food stands, "bistros", picnic grounds and dance floors to add that Parisian flavor to summer nights.† Nearby, the square facing the HÙtel de Ville (City Hall) has been transformed into a beach volleyball area, a small sports stadium and a putting green for golfers.† Last but not least, first aid posts comfort stations and security guards guarantee that all contingencies will be provided for.

The entire complex was installed in record time: one day and four nights.† Although larger than last year’s Paris-Plage, the total budget is identical–1.5 million Euros.† There is one difference, however: private sponsors now finance half.† Entry to the site and participation in all activities are free, with the exception of bicycle rentals (at reduced rates) and of course all food and beverages.† Opening day for the 2004 Paris-Plage†is July 21, with the Mayor of Paris officiating.†

The Sincerest Form of Flattery… Budapest, Berlin and Toulouse

[img]124|left|[/img]The success of the concept has already generated international imitators: copycat "city beaches" can be found in Hungary, where "Budapest-Beach" adorns the banks of the Danube, and in Germany.† There, Berlin’s "Beach" involves 80 tons of sand and is open for two months on the Spree River banks, right in the middle of the Government district.† Closer to home, the French city of Toulouse has shipped 2,000 tons of sand from the Dordogne River to the banks of the Garonne River to create "CÙtÈ Plage" (Beach Front).† There as elsewhere, the delights of the beach are combined with cultural pleasures in a month-long schedule of festivities.†

So far, the unusual 90-degree-plus temperatures have made this year’s "Paris-Plage" a huge success, attracting over 600,000 visitors on its first day alone.† The only complaint seems to be that "the polluted Seine is not the sea".† City Hall has already come back with the idea of adding clean-water floating pools for future Paris-Plages.† Then Parisians and visitors alike can really say: "Let’s hit the beach!"

(Reported by Fanny leJemtel Hostie, a writer specializing in tourism and economic development issues in France and the U. S.)