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Swimming in Paris

Lap-swimming in Paris takes cultural openness and skimpy bathing attire

The Hotel Ritz in Paris is home to one of the city's few swimming pools. Image courtesy of Flickr user xarop1960

It used to be almost impossible to find a swimming pool in Paris.

Who needs it?

People who eat too many croissants for breakfast or visit during August.

Of course, for those who can afford a room at the Ritz on Place Vendome, there’s a pool in the basement health club famous because it’s where U.S. Ambassador to France Pamela Harriman had a fatal stroke while doing laps in 1997. Hotel le Bristol on the rue du Faubourg St. Honoré has an endearing little rooftop piscine lined with teak and trompe l‘oeil murals that make it feel as if you‘re on a yacht headed toward St. Tropez.

Three new luxury hotels are building or have completed pools, including the largest in town at 28 meters, sunken below the courtyard garden at Le Royal Monceau. The Mandarin Oriental which opened in June near the Place Vendome and the Shangri-la Paris just off the Trocadéro will both have pools about 15 meters long.

Of course, many arrondissements have public pools with low day-use fees, like the glass-roofed Piscine Pontoise in the 5th and the Piscine du Marché St. Germain in the neighboring 6th. The Piscine Molitor, an Art Deco glory with indoor and outdoor pools in the 16th next to the Bois de Boulogne, is being renovated by developers who plan to add a hotel next year.

Mind you, swimming at a public pool in Paris can cause culture shock. With scant regulation to keep order in the lanes, lap-swimming is generally a free-for-all, like traffic around the Étoile. Changing rooms are often co-ed, though cubicles have curtains or doors. And tight, skimpy Speedos are de rigueur for men, not because Parisians haven’t heard that baggy trunks are stylish, but because they are considered un-hygienic.

What can I say? The French are different.

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