Paris in the spring time. This is actually happening. Just me, my unwell credit-card and 39 Parisian swimming pools (or piscines if you want to get specific).
I’m not new to Paris. I’ve visited half a dozen, or so times as a tourist. During my first visit as a backpacker more than 10 years ago I actively sought out ‘authentic’ restaurants with red check table clothes and escargot on the set menu. We smoked cigarettes under the Eiffel Tower at midnight with gypsies for company and shared one audio guide between four of us. Frankly, those were not the days.
Since then I’ve had a drunken night at a Montmartre fondue restaurant, pushed a friend in a wheelchair up the Eiffel Tower (that’s another post), and eaten eclairs with my mum on the Seine. All lovely memories but I’ve never had any quality time alone. With just me.
Paris is THE BEST PLACE EVER to travel solo. Sure it might be the city for lovers but let’s be honest doesn’t the pressure of a romantic location just cause more fights.
With the travelling lawyer safely in another hemisphere away, I was going to shop, swim, eat and go teaspoon shopping, just because I bloody could.
It’s such a cliche to love Paris. Damn all those bijoux home-ware stories for your embroidered Eiffel Tower cushions. The reality is Paris can be one the most exhausting, cramped, overpriced and over chi-chi-ed destinations on the planet.
But here is the deal-breaker, in all my previous visits the sun had never shone. And when it does, hello boys. Paris, in spring, in full bloom, you just look positively radiant. Sorry for gushing.
Back to the subject at hand. Despite being landlocked Paris is a city that takes its swimming extremely seriously.
I read years ago about the dozens of pools dotted around the city, built in the 1920s and 30s they were popular with Parisians, as many French homes did not have private bathrooms at the time.
The most famous of the lot, Piscine Molitor, birthplace of the bikini (apparently) has recently found itself in a bit of Parisian controversy when, after a extremely expensive restoration, it has been reborn as a 180 Euro a day health spa. The closest most of us will probably get to it these days is renting the movie the Life of Pi where it features.
But thankfully there are 38 other options left. On the flight over I read a Vogue article on fashion designer Isabel Marant, who always starts her day in a St Germain swimming pool. After her wheatgrass shot she slides into her minimalist one piece, glides through 30 laps, then showers and blow-drys her perfectly coiffed hair, before heading to the design studio. I pictured soft lighting, diptyque candles, azure water and mosaic tiles.
Since I was in the St Germain neighbourhood after an exhausting morning teaspoon shopping, I faux stumbled across Piscine Pontoise.
Key learning when it comes to French swimming pools. Always check the opening times. Second learning, read up on the rules. First failure, I forgot my towel. Turns out, no you can’t hire them. They do however have a very impressive vending machine that sells everything from bathing caps to nose plugs, just not towels.
Swim or no swim I still got a good look at Piscine Pontoise in all its glory.
First observation, French swimming pools still smell like chlorine. Not jasmine scented candles.
The lighting was also very bright, thanks to the large glass ceiling, But the blue and gold Art Deco building (constructed in 1934) did have a certain je ne sais quoi, with individual change cabins lining the pool, three floors high. This makes it look like the inside of a cruise ship. Still, I’m not sure where Isabel dries her hair.
Parisians were striding down the lanes, cramming up to seven bodies a lane into the 33 metre pool. It was clear no one was here to talk about the price of cheese. With no swim for moi I did the next best thing on this gorgeous spring day. Crossed the road to the bistro and ordered a glass of Rose. It was 3pm afterall. In Paris.
High points – those change rooms, no inappropriate nudity was happening on my watch. The water quality was just as good as reported, sparkling blue and very clean. The life guards were also very dedicated.
Low points – not actually getting in the water. However as this pool gets extremely busy I wasn’t that disappointed to miss the Parisian piscine rush hour.
Attire – a little black one piece, obviously
Cost: 4.80 euros
Best for – Fast swimmers, fashion designers and sticky-beaking tourists
others to check out
- Best for naked swimming – apparently Roger Le Gall offers naturalist evenings
- Best for fake beaches – Centre Aquatique de Neuilly-sur-Seine
- Best for floating pools (and modern design) – Pscine Josephine Baker
- Best for outdoor swimming – Piscine Georges-Vallerey