Parisians urban beach dreams of swimming in the River Seine is to become a reality

Going for a dip in the Seine on a hot summer's day has been the pipe dream of many Parisians. Picture: Pinterest

Going for a dip in the Seine on a hot summer's day has been the pipe dream of many Parisians. Picture: Pinterest

Published Apr 25, 2024


Going for a dip in the River Seine on a hot summer's day has been the pipe-dream of many a Parisian since swimming in the river was formally banned a century ago.

But floating on your back under the Eiffel Tower could very soon become reality thanks to the Paris Olympics.

The river will be the star of the opening ceremony of the Games on July 26 and will host the triathlon and the swimming marathon. Then, if all goes well, next summer Parisians and tourists will be able to dive in too.

Like Zurich and Munich before, Paris has been reclaiming its river with one of three new urban "beaches" to open under the windows of its historic town hall next year, with another almost at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.

Nearly 30 more, complete with pontoons, showers and parasols, are planned for the suburbs and along the River Marne, which flows into the Seine just east of the French capital.

Once regarded as an open-air dump, former French president Jacques Chirac first floated the idea of swimming in the Seine in 1990.

But it was the current mayor Anne Hidalgo who really ran with the idea, making it a pillar of her Olympic bid in 2016.

A colossal public works programme has been under operation to counter pollution, with Hidalgo vowing to swim in the Seine herself in late June. French President Emmanuel Macron says he too will take the plunge, but is coy about saying exactly when.

For many it feels like a long-held fantasy is finally within reach - a return to an 18th-century idyll when Parisians splashed naked in the Seine.

But there is a big if to all this: the sharp fluctuations in the Seine's water quality after storms.

Disastrous Olympic test events last August raised doubts over whether the triathletes and marathon swimmers will be allowed to race for gold in the river.

Most of the events had to be cancelled because the water failed to meet European standards on two bacteria found in faeces.

Unusually violent downpours and a faulty valve in the sewage system were blamed.

There was progress in the summer of 2022, when the Seine passed EU water quality tests at three test points in Paris, only to fail at all 14 in the capital last year.

With five big anti-pollution plants due to come on stream in the weeks leading up to the Games, Paris mayor Hidalgo, saying the "quality of the water will be right up there. We are going to make it despite all the scepticism," she declared.

The push to make the Seine swimmable for the Olympics has accelerated a French government plan to limit wastewater and sewage getting into the Seine and the river Marne.

Urban beaches

Some Parisians were still swimming in the Seine until the 1960s and right up to the 1970s in the Marne, where riverside lidos called "Little Trouville" or "Deauville in Paris" did their best to summon up the holiday atmosphere of English Channel beach resorts.

In Champigny-sur-Marne, the old beach had a small pool where children were able to touch the bottom, recalled 74-year-old Michel Riousset. "Everyone had their own cabin".

Ris-Orangis hopes to have its old river pool complete with cabins, first built around 1930, back in service next year.

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