French officials defend handing beach to Saudis

Much criticized authorities in the French Riviera have defended their decision to bar the public from a beach during the visit of a Saudi king, telling The Local it was simply a question of security and angrily rejected claims the Saudis had paid for the pleasure of having their own beach.

French officials defend handing beach to Saudis

Authorities in the south of France have provoked a storm of criticism after it emerged that a Saudi king has been allowed to commandeer a public beach all for himself.

King Salman is expected to arrive in the Riviera this week where he and his family will stay at his plush villa which stands just metres from the Mirandole beach in Vallauris.

Local beachgoers from nearby Cannes and Antibes, have protested against the fact they will be barred from the beach for the entire duration of the family’s stay.

Saudi royals further inflamed relations with local hosts when they were given the green light to build an elevator down to the sand to make it easier for them to access the beach from their villa.

But Francois-Xavier Lauch, director of the office of the Alpes-Maritimes prefecture, told The Local on Monday that the closing of the beach was simply a question of security.

“This move is consistent with the visit of a head of state and it would be the same if it was President Hollande visiting or Barack Obama,” said Lauch.

“Measures of security need to be taken for the visit and one of them is to block off access to the beach.”

“It’s only ten metres long. It’s not one of the most prominent beaches of the Riviera and is only visited by about 20 people a day. When you take this into account then closing the beach is a proportional measure.”

The story of the Saudis effectively privatising a public beach has made headlines around the world and led many to presume that the royals had paid French authorities for the pleasure of having their own beach.

Lauch however angrily dismissed these suggestions.

“We are shocked by these claims. There has been no payment. This is a visit by a head of state. It’s out of the question to talk about money,” he said. “It’s a question of security.”

He also dismissed the suggestion that the Saudis had wanted to beach for themselves because they may have been offended by French beach culture and the prospect that some women may sunbathe topless.

“It's got nothing to do with that,” he said.

Authorities say the king’s villa is so close to the beach that no risks can be taken.

“The beach is almost in the middle of the residence. Cutting off access to the beach is just like cutting off access to an underground car park situated under a meeting room where heads of state would meet,” he said.

“We understand that people will regret that the beach is closed during the visit by a head of state, but we are acting within French law and this is the best option,” Lauch said.

He said the prefecture had total confidence that all trace of the elevator that has been installed on the beach would be removed once the royal family’s Riviera sojourn was over.

While some complain about the public being denied access to the beach, Lauch said the royal visit would be extremely beneficial to the local economy.

The Saudis are expected to bring with them an entourage of several hundred people who will stay in hotels around the area.

Local newspaper Nice Matin said hundreds of rooms had been booked out in the resort of Cannes to cater for the group.

“The visit is extremely positive for the local economy. There’s a certain number of professions, for example hoteliers, who are very happy to have the Saudis visit,” Lauch said.

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IN PICS: The Corsican beach chosen as France’s ‘most beautiful’

Tripadvisor users have chosen Corsica’s breath-taking Palombaggia beach as their favourite. Here are some photos that might just decide where you’re spending your holiday this summer.

IN PICS: The Corsican beach chosen as France's 'most beautiful'
Photo: AFP

Not far from the quaint town of Porto-Vecchio in Corse-du-Sud (South Corsica) lies a strip of sand that has beach bums raving for everything it has to offer. 

That’s at least according to users of travel review website Tripadvisor, who voted for Palombaggia beach as France’s finest.

“A sublime place, my favourite beach in Corsica. Clear warm waters sparkle in the sun, and the white sand is as fine as powder,” wrote one user quoted by Tripadvisor.

As expected such natural beauty doesn’t go unnoticed by beachgoers, meaning that Palombaggia is often swarming with tourists during the busy holiday periods.

The Isle of Beauty’s “jewel” as it’s been described has also featured on Tripadvisor lists for Europe’s best beaches.

But Corsica has other gems that have made it onto this year’s French-themed beach list: Saleccia beach to the north in fifth and Petit Sperone beach in seventh, less than an hour’s drive from Palombaggia.


And if Corsica isn’t for you, there are other amazing beaches across l’Héxagone that have made it onto the best beach list.

Sillon beach in Saint Malo in Brittany came in second, La Côte des Basques in Biarritz in third and Hendaye beach in fourth (both in the Bay of Biscay), Pampelonne Beach in St Tropez in sixth, Le Tourquet and Deauville beaches in the far north of France in eighth and ninth position, and finally Escalet beach in tenth, also near St Tropez.