Paris canal swimming pool: Prepare for the algae and long queues

Part of the Paris canal has been transformed into an outdoor pool for the summer. The Local's Ben McPartland took the plunge on the opening day.

Paris canal swimming pool: Prepare for the algae and long queues
Photo: The Local

It always felt like there was something missing about the Paris Plages beach festival.

Every summer thousands would head down to the banks of the Seine or canal at the Bassin de la Villette to sunbathe but no one was able to take a quick dip to cool off.

Until this year that is. 

La Baignade, the new swimming pool at the Bassin de la Villette in north eastern Paris is open and it's proving to be a huge hit with the locals, hundreds of whom queued up on Monday for the opening afternoon.

No one seemed concerned about the talk of whether the water was clean enough, not least the scores of young children eager to jump in and cool down.

If the Town Hall says it's clean then that's fine by us, was the message from the mums who queued up for over an hour with their children.

The Local managed to sneak in (we have no excuse not to as the pool is outside our office) just before the 300 capacity had been reached within 20 minutes.

The three pools have been nicely constructed, with one shallow paddling pool for children, a pool for older children with a depth of 1.20 metres and a larger pool for adults, where the depth was 2.20 metres.

There's a small area with a few deck chairs for sunseekers, showers, changing rooms and lockers, that many people seemed to be struggling with (remember you need a euro coin for them or ask a member of staff for a token).

It was no surprise for anyone who has been to a kids playground in a Paris park, or one of the city's swimming pools on a Saturday morning, to see the paddling pool was absolutely heaving. 

While the parents might not have enjoyed it, needless to say the kids were loving it, judging by all the screaming.

Over in the deep pool there was far more space and depth, where there was something lurking that appeared to be putting a few people off diving in.

After jumping in tentatively, I was pleasantly surprised by the temperature of the water: cold enough to cool you down but not too cold to make you feel like you are taking your last breaths.

But then the unpleasant surprise came with the amount of algae you get wrapped around your legs and arms. It wasn't only me who was found it unpleasant. 

Swimmers were diving in and emerging with algae in their hair, their ears, in their bikinis and trunks. 

“Aghhh c'est degueulasse!” (that's disgusting/gross) cried a few young lads as they emerged with green hands before lobbing the algae at each other. 

A member of staff said it was impossible for them to stop it coming into the pools from the canal.

Although the pools had filters to block big pieces of debris coming in the algae would always sneak past. They would be cleaned out everyday but that wouldn't really hold it back it either, said the lifeguard.

“This is the real water from the canal,” he said.

In other words, just deal with it. Which to be fair most people were. And as some pointed out, perhaps it's better than chlorine.

One bonus (at least for Anglos) is that the usually strict (but sensible) rules in France's swimming pools that force people to wear swimming hats and men to wear tight skimpy trunks are not in place at La Baignade. The usual rules of cleanliness don't need to be observed it seems.

So it's certainly worth a plunge, although be warned: the hotter the day, the more crowded it will be.

If the sun stays out then Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo (will she take a dip?) and the folks at the Town Hall will be heralding a groundbreaking attraction that they hope they can repeat every year.

And hopefully by 2024 we'll all be swimming in the Seine.