July 20, 2009 / 6:17 PM / 10 years ago

Paris offers bargain beaches to cash-strapped French

People enjoy the sun as "Paris Plages" (Paris Beaches) opens along banks of the River Seine in Paris July 20, 2009. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

PARIS (Reuters) - Paris Plages, the annual transformation of the banks of the River Seine into an artificial seaside, opened on Monday, offering low cost relaxation to Parisians hit by the financial crisis.

All the activities are free of charge and a special effort has been made this year to keep down the price of refreshments. Ice creams will cost no more than 1 euro ($1.42).

“The context of the financial crisis is very significant for this year’s Paris Plages - it’s been a difficult year,” a spokesperson for the organizers said. “The idea is to offer something to families who aren’t going on holiday.”

Hundreds of tons of sand have been unloaded in central Paris and at the Bassin de la Villette, a man-made lake in the northeast of the city, for the summer-long event that is now in its eighth year.

Beyond the sand and sun-loungers, which by noon on the opening day had drawn in crowds of city-dwellers and tourists, this year’s event offers free activities ranging from fencing, table tennis and work-out bikes to tai chi and back massages.

Children will be able to take part in a host of art and music workshops, with organizers also calling on a team of specialists to provide free dietary advice to beach-users.

In the square in front of Paris’ town hall, punters are encouraged to don disguises and be photographed bouncing on two giant inflatable beds, with prizes for the most original poses.

“It’s magic, it adds another dimension to the city,” said Fred Cuys, a tourist from South Africa. “You get away from the hustle and bustle, the mood is different from only 20 meters away.”

Parisian beach user Edda Verziera said: “Lots of people come here because they’re not going on holiday, which I think is great. It offers a little holiday because you do feel somewhere else.”

Editing by Mark Trevelyan.

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