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PARIS

VIDEO: Why selfie-loving tourists are disappointed by Paris

Tourists are flocking back to the French capital after two years of travel restrictions, but is it still possible to take a photo with some of the city's best-known monuments?

VIDEO: Why selfie-loving tourists are disappointed by Paris
Tourists at the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Photo: AFP

From the Eiffel Tower to Notre-Dame, many of Paris’ iconic landmarks are currently hidden behind scaffolding.

In the case of Notre-Dame, the cathedral has been closed ever since the devastating fire ripped through it in 2019 – although it is possible to do a 3D virtual-reality tour of the Medieval structure.

Other monuments are partially obscured behind the scaffolding and boards that have become a major feature as the city prepares itself for the Olympics in 2024.

All of which means that taking that classic selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower is now a little tricky.

One Spanish tourist told AFP: “It’s such a shame that the area around the Eiffel Tower is under construction because it’s the most emblematic area of Paris.”

A French visitor agreed: “It’s a shame, a shame.”

Every year millions of tourists head to Trocadero as it offers a picture-perfect view of the Eiffel Tower — used as a backdrop countless times by celebrities and fashion models.

But the lengthy renovation works on the esplanade, which are nearing their end, pepper the horizon with fences and make the hunt for the ideal photo for social media more challenging.

“Finally after Covid, we get to come here … I don’t know if this is a temporary construction or whatever but it’s bugging me,” said Tami Agmon, a doctor on holiday from Israel.

It’s a similar story in front of Notre Dame Cathedral, which is undergoing extensive renovation works after the 2019 fire that almost burned the Gothic monument to the ground.

“We were at the Eiffel Tower and our pictures were ruined a little bit because of the construction going on there but nothing as much as over here!” said American tourist Steven Engelberg.

Parisian monuments have opted for different techniques to ease the eyesore — the Madeleine Church is covered with a billboard featuring Mont Saint Michel, while the National Assembly — parliament — opted to reproduce its own facade.

At the foot of the obelisk on the Place de la Concorde, tour guide Thierry Collegia told AFP he faces questions about the extensive construction works.

“I mainly tell them that it’s because of the 2024 Olympics,” said Collegia, adding that mostly tourists were delighted to be back in Paris.

“And there are so many monuments in Paris to admire that if some are undergoing building work, it’s not such a big deal,” he added.

Paris is clocking up visitor numbers that resemble those before the Covid-19 pandemic brought trips to a stop.

Some 12.1 million people visited the capital between January and May 2022, only three million fewer than during the same period in 2019, according to City Hall.

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PARIS

Paris pétanque club under threat from luxury hotel plans

A community pétanque club in the chic Paris neighbourhood of Montmartre is battling for survival after a luxury hotel filed plans for the walled garden that hosts its exclusive games.

Paris pétanque club under threat from luxury hotel plans

For 50 years, the walled garden on the ultra-chic Rue Lepic has resonated with the metal clacks of pétanque, the French national bowling pastime, defying the gentrification that drew envious eyes.

Montmartre in the north of Paris is one of the few elevated areas in the relatively flat French capital and “the butte”, as it is known, had for many years a rural feel that captivated artists.

Even now, with the area absorbed into the urban sprawl of central Paris, most residents still call it a village.

The garden is maintained by the non-profit organisation Club Lepic-Abbesses Pétanque (CLAP) and its 257 members, who say nothing less than the neighbourhood’s soul is at stake as City Hall considers rival commercial projects for the site.

“You have job-seekers, pensioner and CEOs, a chef, a teacher. A 16-year-old can play with someone who’s 80. Here you find all types, and it’s this incredible social fabric that makes us what we are,” said Maxime Liogier, the club’s communications manager.

The players took over the 765 square metres of playing grounds, a rare remnant of the vegetation that once covered the butte, after the city bought the land from a daughter of a resident painter in 1972.

No formal contracts were signed but the city gave its tacit approval, connecting water and electricity for the clubhouse and letting the club reserve entry to members only.

The status quo prevailed until a few months ago, when the luxury boutique hotel next door filed a plan to turn the site into a for-profit affair. What better setting for lush wedding receptions or cocktail parties?

READ ALSO 10 things you probably didn’t know about pétanque

Under a 2017 law, the city had to publish the proposal for use of public land and invite competing offers that are due by November 28th.

The move caught the CLAP off guard, especially since it had been trying to regularise its situation with local officials.

“Two months isn’t a lot of time for us to come up with a project!” Liogier said.

An online petition to save the club has garnered around 4,300 signatures, though members seem to accept that their days of exclusive access are numbered.

“We want to keep the site in its current state, while opening it up as much as possible to the neighbourhood,” Liogier said.

To that end, the club held an open house on Saturday, with members suggesting that schools would soon be invited so children could learn an activity more often associated with pensioners enjoying a game between glasses of beer or pastis.

“When a unique place like this is in danger, it breaks your heart,” French tennis great and neighbour Yannick Noah told AFP.

“It’s good to have commercial projects but maybe there’s something more important — this bond between people.”

But not everyone will be sad to see the club go. Alain Coquard, the influential president of the “Republic of Montmartre” preservation society, calls the CLAP an unaccountable clique that claims dominion over a “magical site” that should be open to everyone.

The stakes are high for the butte as it seeks to join UNESCO’s ranks of protected World Heritage Sites.

“Can we leave a city’s heritage, which belongs to all Parisian taxpayers, abandoned like this? Just give it to people who have turned it into the most exclusive club in Paris?” he said.

According to Coquard — who says he was refused entry the one time he was invited to play — private event operators are also preparing lucrative proposals for the city, which could be temping as the municipal debt load soars.

But his Republic is backing the bid by the Hotel Particulier next door, whose director Oscar Comtet declined to comment when contacted by AFP.

“We sided with him to ensure this corner of Montmartre is opened up,” Coquard said, conjuring up a range of open-door events, maybe even an ice-skating rink, on the petanque grounds in winter.

But the CLAP is digging in. Older members recall a years-long battle in the 1980s to prevent the construction of a multi-storey carpark on the site.

Prominent neighbours including Jean-Pierre Cassel, father of star actor Vincent Cassel, chained themselves to the trees to scupper the project, and in 1991 the site was designated a protected landscape.

“If we have to, we’ll do the same,” Liogier said, though he remains confident that 50 years of taking care of the garden have not been in vain.

“We trust that the planning commission will pick the best project, which is us.”

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