French Riviera braces for Saudi royals after beach lockdown

Beach access is normally open in France, and tensions often flare when towns close them off.
Beach access is normally open in France, and tensions often flare when towns close them off.PHOTO: AFP

NICE, France (AFP) - King Salman of Saudi Arabia arrived in France on Saturday for a Riviera holiday, with the closure of the beach in front of his villa incensing local residents.

While the King’s three-week visit with an entourage of nearly 1,000 is a boon for the local economy, the closure of a public beach for the privacy and security of the royal party – along with illegal construction work – has sparked anger.

Authorities brought forward the closure of the kilometre stretch of beach to early on Saturday to prevent an occupation of the area beforehand.

Two Saudi Arabian Airlines Boeing 747s arrived on Saturday evening at Nice airport with King Salman and his entourage on board.

They then headed to the private villa in Vallauris, on the Riviera between Antibes and Marseille.

The King’s inner circle will be put up at the family’s private villa, while some 700 other members of his entourage will be accommodated at top hotels on the promenade in Cannes.

Hundreds of other Saudis will be following the king on his holiday – as is the tradition – swelling the total number of Saudi citizens flooding into the southern French beach resorts.

“Clearly this is good news,” Michel Chevillon, president of an association representing hotel managers in Cannes, said earlier this week.

“These are people with great purchasing power which will pep up not only the luxury hotel industry but also the retail and tourism sectors of the town,” Chevillon said.

ROYAL 'MESSING AROUND'

But not everyone is happy.

Beach access is normally open in France as it is the state that owns the coast, and tensions often flare when towns close them off partially by granting concessions to firms offering rentals of parasols and sunbeds.

More than 100,000 people have signed a petition protesting the “privatisation” of the beach in front of the Saudi King’s villa.

“We recall that this natural zone, like all maritime public estates, is an intrinsic public property that should be available for the benefit of all, residents, tourists, French, foreigners or people passing through,” the petition said.

“We ask the state to guarantee the fundamental principle of the equality of all citizens before the law,” the text added.

French authorities may close off beach access for security reasons, however.

A ban on approaching closer than 300m of the villa by sea goes into effect on Saturday.

Illegal construction work by the villa has also poisoned the atmosphere.

Workers had tried to install a fence to close access to the beach during the King’s arrival, but local authorities intervened and it was removed, as was a metal catwalk bolted to the rock cliffs upon which the villa sits.

A cement platform was also poured on the beach for an elevator up to the villa. Local authorities acquiesced on condition the elevator is removed after the visit.

“We’re sick and tired of this messing around,” a local woman said ahead of the visit.

“I can see it’s normal that you need to guarantee their security, but they should let us go for a swim.”