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France caps visitor numbers at Marseille coves

The Calanques National Park in southern France is limiting entries in a bid to stop its age-old rock formations from collapsing.

The Calanques National Park in southern France is at risk because of overcrowding.
The Calanques National Park in southern France is at risk because of overcrowding. (Photo by Nicolas TUCAT / AFP)

Two popular coves in the “Calanques” area near Marseille, among southern France’s main attractions, saw visitor numbers capped on Sunday for the first time to protect their fragile ecosystem.

The coast between Marseille and Cassis features France’s best-known Calanques, age-old rock formations featuring steep cliffs, offering spectacular views, rare marine fauna and protected swimming.

Hugely popular with locals and visitors alike, they are often accessible only by boat or hiking trails.

Because the limestone formations have little or no topsoil, plants have had to take root in cracks between the rocks, making their hold tenuous and vulnerable to disturbances.

“The Sugiton and Pierres Tombees calanques have fallen victim to very serious soil erosion because of overcrowding,” said the Calanques National Park which manages the landscape of narrow vertical cliffs, inlets and beaches.

“This phenomenon is threatening the landscapes that we love so much, and bio-diversity,” it said.

Access to Sugiton and Pierres Tombees was limited to 400 people each on Sunday, compared to the usual summer daily visitor numbers of 2,500.

The new measure is to allow “the natural regeneration” of the cove, Nicolas Chardin, the national park’s interim director, told AFP at the Sugiton beach on Sunday.

Online bookings are free of charge, but anyone found at the beaches without a pass on capped days can be fined 68 euros ($72).

“Everything went well this morning, let’s hope it stays that way the entire season,” Mathieu Benquet, who heads the national park’s police team, told AFP.

However, many people — including several foreigners — had been turned away at the several checkpoints along the access path to the cove because they didn’t have the required QR code.

Some visitors, hoping for a cooling swim on a hot day, were unhappy about the new rule.

“We’ve been coming here for 10 years, it feels like our home cove,” said Younes Azabib, a 26-year old Marseille resident.

“We thought of everything, the picnic and the pizzas. But we didn’t think to book,” said his friend, Bilal.

But others appreciated the new-found calmness at the beach.

“This is great,” said Isabelle, a 50-year old Marseille resident who usually stays away during the summer because of crowds. “It’s finally possible to have a swim.”

Nicolas Ponsot, a 41-year-old father of three, also welcomed the visitor cap, saying “it helps to preserve this whole eco-system”.

The new rule is to be applied again next Sunday and then daily between July 10 and August 21, the national park said.

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PARIS

Paris police warn tourists about ‘petition’ scam

Paris police have issued a warning to tourists to beware of scams targeting visitors that involve false petitions and donation drives.

Paris police warn tourists about 'petition' scam

The police préfecture in Paris has released an announcement warning tourists about a scam that might be used to target them especially. 

The scam involves young boys and girls asking people to sign their petitions and requesting that they give a donation. In reality, many people – especially tourists or those unfamiliar with the local area – find themselves giving their money away to a false organisation.

In other cases, the petition acts as a distraction while pickpockets target the visitors.

Frequently, these scams involve the young people feigning deafness or the inability to speak, and pretending to collect funds on behalf of NGO for the hard of hearing. 

The scam is just one of a number that criminals use to prey on tourists, and visitors return to Paris after a two-year break, police are warning people to be vigilant – especially in tourist hotspots such as Montmartre and the Eiffel Tower area or in transport interchanges such as Gare du Nord.

READ MORE: Warning: 6 of the most common scams in France to watch out for

For more advice on how to stay safe in Paris as a tourist, you can read the police “Guide for Staying Safe in Paris

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