Paris sets fashion for sand and the city as Europe falls in love with the urban beach

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Sand, palm trees and deckchairs returned to central Paris at the weekend as the concept of the urban beach spreads across France and Europe.

Sand, palm trees and deckchairs returned to central Paris at the weekend as the concept of the urban beach spreads across France and Europe.

The Paris-Plage, which was initiated by the city's Mayor, Bertrand Delanoe, was a huge success on the banks of the Seine last summer and attracted 2.3 million visitors. The second edition, which started yesterday and lasts for a month, is bigger and even more elaborate.

The free event offers new sports and cultural activities such as gym courses, sand castle competitions for children and a large screen to follow the Tour de France. A temporary library holds thousands of paperbacks in several languages, which can be taken out with a deposit of five euros. Celebrations continue at night with concerts on a floating stage.

M. Delanoe says that Paris-Plage is intended for Parisians who cannot afford a holiday. There are 3,000 tons of sand forming two beaches on the banks of the Seine this year, instead of one. They stretch from the Tuileries gardens to the Ile St Louis.

As the idea catches on, Berlin now has its own "federal press beach" in the city centre, just opposite the Reichstag building. Eighty tons of sand have been brought in from the Baltic and poured along the banks of the river Spree. The beach is intended to allow the city's journalists and politicians to meet and relax in a friendly atmosphere.

The Hungarian capital, Budapest, has built a beach on the Danube as part of its twinning arrangement with Paris.

Many similar initiatives, although on a smaller scale than Paris-Plage, have been set up in other cities in France. The southern city of Toulouse is building a sandy beach along the river Garonne for three weeks next month.

In the suburbs of Paris, Wissous has also decided to make a beach with a temporary swimming-pool in a sports stadium. Even the city centre of the gloomy industrial town of Tourcoing in northern France has tried to turn itself into a seaside resort this summer.

The city of Brussels is now considering having a beach next summer, even though it does not have a river. Maybe next year there will be one in central London or along the Manchester Ship Canal.

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