By Vincent Morvan,
Vallauris (France) (AFP) – Beach lovers on the French Riviera expressed their anger Sunday over the imminent arrival of the Saudi royal family, who have ordered a long stretch of beach to be closed off to the public.
Nestled in the rocks between the coastal railway and the translucent waters of the Mediterranean, the grounds of the royal family’s immense villa stretches across a kilometre of Riviera coastline between Antibes and Marseille.
Local authorities confirmed that King Salman is due to arrive at some point this week, and that access to the entire kilometre stretch will be cut off, including the public beach at Vallauris, which can only be reached through a tunnel under the railway line.
“Access to the coast will be prohibited by police officers for the duration of the king’s holiday,” said local official Philippe Castanet.
Coastguards will also stop anyone coming within 300 metres of the villa by sea.
Beach users swung between disappointment and anger over the news.
“They take the decision and there’s nothing we can say,” said Mohamed, rinsing off his fishing rod on the beachfront.
“It’s a good fishing spot and blocking access is not acceptable.”
– Beach-to-villa elevator –
Fatima, a local nurse, had come with her two daughters for a swim.
“Whether it’s him or another billionaire, they always have priority over ordinary people. On the other hand, they are good for business, coming here with 400 people in their entourage. I heard they might even fix the roads.”
Her boyfriend Didier recalls a time when Salman’s predecessor King Fahd was visiting and the police had to forcibly remove swimmers who refused to clear out.
Workers hired by the Saudis had last week already started building the fence that will close off access to the beach, but were ordered to stop until the royal family arrives.
They had also generated a great deal of anger by starting work on an elevator from the beach to the villa, which involved pouring a huge slab of cement directly on to the sand.
The local authorities have allowed work on the elevator to continue on condition that it is dismantled when the family vacation ends.
The villa itself has become a hive of activity, with one local, Christian, saying there were dozens of people decking it out with rose bushes and other plants over the weekend.
“You can see they’ve replaced the balcony windows, no doubt to put in some bullet-proof glass,” he said.
He also pointed out what appeared to be a golden throne, positioned to soak up the sun — and a view unspoiled by the general public — on the villa’s terrace.