Every year on the first of May, families flock to the beach at Piémanson in the south of France. May 1 is both a public holiday and the day the beach opens for the season, and though it’s often too cold to go in the water, people have picnics while their kids enjoy the sand for the first time of the year. When the sun sets, the women drive back to the city with the children, leaving the men on the desolate, cold beach. For a week, they’ll be busy building cozy wooden cabins on the sand, sleeping in their cars to ensure everything is set for the summer ahead. How can they get away with this? It turns out that Piémanson, located in the Camargue coastland, is France’s last remaining “wild beach.” It’s not regulated in any way–and is therefore completely free–and thousands of people from the region and all over Europe camp here to get away from the bureaucracy, the clutter and the crowds of city life. Vasantha Yogananthan photographed Piémanson for five consecutive summers. This year, he self-published a book about daily life in this unusual refuge. He joined R&K from his home near Paris.
Roads & Kingdoms: What exactly is a “wild beach”?
Vasantha Yogananthan: In France, littoral law says that you can’t camp on a beach for more than one night. Piémanson’s particularity is that it exists outside of the law. People park their caravans there, they build small cabins in which they stay for a few weeks, a month or even the whole summer. That’s why it’s called a wild beach. It also refers to the fact that there’s no water and no electricity. You don’t pay to camp there, so there’s nothing. You are in the complete wilderness of the Camargue.