After years of neglect, the 60-kilometer web of quays, wharves, and docks that were once Paris’ arteries bringing the oxygen of trade to the city’s heart are once again at the forefront of city life, and some of Paris’ best entertainment can now be sampled afloat. The canals and quays renovation project pumped life back into the city’s waterways, and several decades later everything from swimming to chocolate tasting and live opera can be enjoyed on a boat.
Planning to spend a day exploring as many of those watery kilometers as I can, I’ve just stepped from the Métro near Bercy, the site where countless French moviemakers flocked to film the loaded coal barges, beret-clad fishermen and women scrubbing piles of laundry on Bateaux lavoirs (laundry boats) that were moored here right up until the middle of the last century.
Life’s a beach
It’s August and Paris-Plages – that brilliant project dreamt up by socialist mayor Bertand Delanöe for turning the city’s water zones into beach-type resorts complete with sand, sprinklers and deckchairs – is in full swing: this year it opened in style with an open-air cinema set on the banks of the River Seine.
Despite unseasonably cloudy weather, there’s a holiday ambience that makes it hard to believe I’m actually at the heart of France’s capital city: candyfloss and Ambre Solaire perfume the air, overheated children dash in and out of the water sprinklers and a throng of beach babes clad in crop tops and teeny-weeny bikinis decorate the candy-striped deckchairs, which stand on wooden decking fringing the water’s edge.
The canals and quays renovation project pumped life back into the city’s waterways
I stroll past La Baleine Blanche (baleine-blanche.com), an excement barge that is now a hip, local venue for cultural events ranging from pop concerts to children’s theatre workshops. “It looks small on the outside, but inside there’s seating for 150 people,” barman Philippe, who is pinning up a poster for an Édith Piaf tribute evening, tells me.
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