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Developing the French Riviera

The Paca region will see schemes of national and international importance taking shape in the coming years

14 November 2011

PROVENCE and the Côte d’Azur will see schemes of national and international importance taking shape in the coming years.

Regional president Michel Vauzelle said these were the LGV high-speed railway line, which will form the Marseille to Nice leg of the Mediterranean line from Barcelona to Genoa (reducing journey times to Paris as well), and the experimental Iter reactor which will investigate nuclear fusion.

Researchers at the multi-billioneuro, international Iter project (being built near Manosque, on the border of the Var and Bouches-du-Rhône) hope that one day the technology could be used to produce the same energy of 300 litres of oil from a litre of seawater.

“Nice also has major ambitions for the development of the Var Plain and considerable sums are at stake for these new infrastructure schemes,” said Mr Vauzelle. The works will take years, giving time to “reflect on a more harmonious development of the territory,” he said, adding that there was a danger of a fracture between the coast and the back-country being “torn apart socially between those who will have the means to benefit from its potential and its riches and those who will no longer be able to afford to live in the areas where they were born.”

“Our policies are aimed at restoring a balance, so our region will remain a good place to live and work.”

Unemployment has risen since the financial crisis but, while it had always been above average, it had been improving in the previous decade. The gap between rich and poor had grown and this, in part, explained the “impressive results” of the far right at the recent departmental elections. Mr Vauzelle said he was determined to preserve a model of society protecting the weakest, while encouraging innovation, talent and initiative.

“This guides policies we are putting in place now: whether it is free local trains for lycée students and apprentices from September, or an ambitious plan to improve the energy efficiency of 25,000 social homes, which we will fund with €60 million to encourage social landlords to reduce
the burden of energy costs on the most needy families.”

In addition, Marseille becoming European Capital of Culture in 2013, would boost tourism, giving an “extraordinary opportunity” to consolidate Provence’s international standing. Regional council support includes funds for cultural facilities in Marseille and other key towns, creating a Regional Centre of the Mediterranean at Marseille port, and a new regional fund for contemporary art.

“In total, the region is contributing about €100 million to the success of this event,” Mr Vauzelle said.

Tourism is still the key for Côte d’Azur to maintain success

PRESERVING the Côte D’Azur’s natural environment is vital for the Paca region to retain its popularity with tourists in coming years, says Bruno James, head of the regional tourism committee (CRT).

“Our region is historically linked to tourism and a study done among our main markets – Italy, Germany, the UK, Belgium and the Netherlands – showed that our climate and sunshine remain the biggest draws.

“We have good reason to think our region will remain very attractive as long as we preserve the natural environment and maintain the overall quality of our holidays,” he said.

Each year the region attracts 34 million tourists, of whom 20% are non-French. Britons are the biggest group among these visitors, at about 1.5 million. In the future, however, the CRT is looking much wider afield and will promote the region in countries such as China, India, Russia and Brazil, while maintaining its work with neighbouring countries.

“For British customers, there are significant opportunities linked to the opening of new flight routes, because 60% of them arrive by air,” Mr James said.

Tourism accounts for 12% of GDP in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, supporting about 25,000 firms in different sectors ranging from spa centres to ski-lift operators.

Plans include making sure that the region’s resorts are easily accessible and attractive at all times of year, whether for a week or just a weekend, said Mr James. The key to its tourism will remain its diversity.

“The region ranges from the Alps to the Mediterranean, from the Rhône to Italy, so it offers an extremely large variety of activities and our resorts are usually ‘multi-activity’.

“We offer winter sports, city-breaks, long summer holidays in a rented villa, cruises; and themes like culture and art, wine, open-air activities like white water sports in the mountains, hikes, horse-riding and cycling. Each holiday is targeted at different customers, so the region is not associated with any demographic in particular.”

He said the CRT has identified eight sectors that it will be promoting especially: golf, luxury holidays, eco-tourism, winter sports, business tourism, motorcycle tourism, wine tourism and short city breaks.

“One tendency that will have a long-lasting impact is that people are paying more attention to costs during stays. Expenditure is going down and people spend more time weighing up whether or not to take part in a certain service or activity.” Value for money would therefore be important.

Gastronomy and wine, especially since ‘the French meal’ was listed as world heritage by Unesco, are also important considerations for many foreign visitors, he said.

The launch of a new website last year was an important part of the CRT’s strategies for the future, Mr James said. Called www.52sunsations.com it offers a weekly idea for a weekend break in one of our resorts, centred on a promotional offer and a certain theme.

“Internet users can also win the holiday by playing an online game. The site also suggests a lot of ideas for outings and top tips for unusual things to do. The ‘web 2.0’ aspect of the site livens it up and creates a relationship with users, who can watch videos and look at photos, give their opinions or become a member of our community of fans.

“This year we will also be launching dedicated sites for our eight priority areas.”

Transport links open up Alpes-Maritimes

IN 2016 a new 35,000-seater stadium in Nice will host football matches during the Euro 2016 championships. The stadium will be on the plain of the river Var (the plaine du Var), which confusingly runs through the Alpes-Maritimes, and will be part of the largest long-term infrastructure projects in the department. The plaine du Var redevelopment has been classed as an area of national interest because of the size and importance of the project.

Alpes-Maritimes council president Eric Ciotti said: “It is an ambitious scheme which will cover about 10,000 hectares between the airport and the mouth of the Esteron, from the Var river to the hills.

“It will create a partnership with Sophia-Antipolis to make the Côte d’Azur the world leader in research into new technologies for sustainable development and management. It should create 30,000 jobs over 30 years.”

The Mayor of Nice Christian Estrosi plans to turn the plaine du Var into an “eco-valley”, showcasing environmentally-friendly living and businesses. A key project for this is a road linking the A8 motorway from Var Plain to the Nice back country and the ski resorts of the Mercantour.

The Southern Alps ski resorts could rival Europe’s most famous resorts and Mr Ciotti said that the 85m spent on developing them since 2004 had boosted winter tourism.

He is also pushing to get Unesco World Heritage status for the Parc National du Mercantour. “It is a wild jewel that is known to scientists worldwide and we must try even harder to make the most of it. It is a trump card for us with no comparison in other countries and which gives a different i mage of our territory and attracts a different public.”

Better public transport is one of the priorities for the Alpes-Maritimes this year and it is offering an unlimited travel pass and an electric car-sharing scheme to cut down on cars in the urban centres.

The Carte d’Azur travel card links several local authorities and allows passengers to travel wherever they want in the Alpes-Maritimes and Monaco by bus or tram for €1 a day.

It is matched by the newly-launched Auto Bleue project in Nice which offers electric cars for personal hire, similar to the city’s Vélo Bleu bike-hire scheme. Nice’s hugely successful tram line is to be extended further to the north-east towards the new Pasteur hospital complex, with other lines planned in later years linking the port and the airport, and serving the plaine du Var.

The building of the 300 million Pasteur 2 hospital in Nice, to replace two existing hospitals in the east of the city, is said to be one of the largest construction projects in France. The first part of the project is meant to be finished by mid-2012 (three years behind schedule), with the whole site completed by 2014. Around 500 people are working on the 90,000m2 site.

Alpes-Maritimes council president Eric Ciotti said that while the tramway and stadium are projects of the Ville de Nice authority and the Nice Côte d’Azur agglomeration, the department helps with funding. Mr Ciotti said tourism would remain a pillar of the economy, thanks to the exceptional location between sea and mountains.

A key challenge would be reconciling economic development and preserving the department’s wealth of natural spaces, he said, and the department is working to protect these sensitive areas by developing five new parks, including the Tenchurades at Cagnes-sur-Mer, the Rives du Var [along the banks of the Var] and the Massif du Paradou at Vallauris.

He said the reorganisation of local councils, with the introduction of “territorial councillors” sitting in both department and regional councils by 2014, would help councils act more effectively and meet residents’ needs better.

Population rise means choices... and chances

THE population of the Var is set to explode in the next 20 years; rising 25% to 1,250,000, and that poses special problems if it is not to lose what makes it special to both tourists and local residents.

Conseil général communications director Régis Rostein said: “We are France’s top tourist department after Paris, with 10 million visitors a year, and if people come here it’s because we have unique heritage: the Verdon Gorge, Saint-Tropez, the Islands of Hyères. Our challenge is to continue to welcome visitors and enjoy economic growth while preserving our attractive setting.”

Taken from the council’s Var 2030 study, the population growth figures were confirmed by national statistics body Insee and mean the Var will have the biggest expected population growth in Paca’s six departments.

Mr Rostein said the figures showed a real risk that the rural back-country, where land prices are cheaper than on the coast, could become heavily urbanised.

“We do not want the Var to lose its identity, that its countryside should be spoilt; so it is important to think about the best ways to accommodate new housing and to rethink the ways we urbanise.

“We must resist the temptation to cover everything with concrete, and we must preserve the environment. We should not be turning the countryside into the town.”

They could increase the housing density in existing towns but Mr Rostein said there was also a risk of encroaching on agricultural land, and the council is determined to defend the Var’s agriculture.

“It is notable for its diversity. We are known for excellence in wine growing, horticulture, market gardening, trees, honey, figs, olive oil, chestnuts and sheep. This quality and diversity must be better showcased. The ‘Terres du Var’ label that will be displayed at numerous outlets will allow shoppers to identify the products and be sure of their quality.

“We are especially hoping to encourage direct selling from farmers to customers, which we think encourages production and consumption of high-quality products.”

Away from the land, Mr Rostein said a centre, the Pôle Mer Paca, based at La Seyne-sur-Mer, would also be important for better management of the sea: whether in new shipping technologies, environmental protection, marine energies, durable fishing, water management or future port projects.

Sustainable energy (such as solar panels) has strong potential and he said: “Economic development also depends on having the right training programmes adapted to businesses’ needs, and we are doing a consultation on this.”

The department faces important choices:

“How can we equip our territories with infrastructure and networks allowing for greater accessibility – whether it is the LGV line for TGV trains, major roads or new public transport – and how to maintain a quality of life and public services that are really adapted to the population’s needs.”

He said the key was “sustainable development”, with plenty of consultation and solutions carefully adapted to local needs.

Technology and tourism give Antibes a vital edge

Antibes mayor Jean Leonetti, 62, has many strings to his bow as doctor, mayor and MP. Connexion asked him about the British love affair with his town and what the future holds.

You started as a cardiologist…

I was a hospital doctor in Marseille and then Antibes before I was elected mayor in 1995 and MP in 1998, when I stopped working as a doctor. I still do some voluntary work at the hospital. I am also president of the Communauté d’Agglomération [inter-communal body], that includes Sophia-Antipolis, Europe’s leading technology park. I am best known for my interest in euthanasia and
bioethics.

You are also president of the French Hospital Federation

Yes, its role is to defend French hospitals. There are debates over staffing, the reorganisation of medicine and concerning which medical acts are essential or not. There are a lot of issues with regard to the constraints of the economic crisis.

How do you manage to find a balance?

There are links between Antibes and the communauté d’agglomération, between the federation and my work as an MP. My work has a national level – medicine, health, ethics and hospitals – and a local one, with Antibes and Sophia, where we have a collegial, team style, which allows me to combine the two. To Anglo-Saxons, combining local and national responsibilities can seem like a French exception but it is important to me. The national sphere involves reflection and exchanges that I find enriching intellectually, and the town is enriching as you see the results.

They complement each other. When I am in Paris, I need local support and, when I am here, I need the national perspective.

Do you get time for any hobbies?

I used to enjoy sport, but these days I do it in front of my TV. I read a lot and adore cinema, theatre and opera.

What is so special about Antibes?

It’s a Mediterranean town, with an “Italian” aspect, a certain kind of light, and the impression life is good. It feels like a small town, whereas in fact we have nearly 80,000 inhabitants. It has got an “authentic”, sensible side, the ramparts and old town, as well as its more unrestrained, irresponsible one with Juan-les-Pins. At least that is the image, but I notice a lot of parties in the old town, notably organised by Britons. Juanles- Pins has its well-to-do side when you get over to Cap d’Antibes.

The town has a long association with the British

Yes, you hear people talking in French, Italian and English, and the English is spoken mainly by Britons, not other nationalities using it as a lingua franca. The town was boosted by the British community: Juan-les-Pins only exists because of the British and Americans, who used to come for the mild winters and go home in the summer, when they found it too hot.

Today Cap d’Antibes is the greenest, most preserved area, but in 1900 it was a rocky outcrop. The British brought compost and planted the pines that give it the green look it has now. Now the British have come to live here permanently. They come for two reasons: first we had Europe’s first pleasure port, and a lot of British crews. You hear a lot of English spoken there. We even have an English bookshop, and an English grocer. Then there is Sophia-Antipolis with 5,000 employees of 62 nationalities, of whom most speak English.

Is there a good rapport between them and the French?

No problem: Antibes is very open and international.

Do you try to make sure that, in the public services, there are people who speak English, or is it up to the British to learn French?

The French and British would both rather speak their own language, but there is not a tourist leafet that is not in two languages: you go to the Picasso museum and the catalogues are bilingual; there is work being done on the old town and information on the work and traffic management is bilingual.

What areas of life have the British really contributed to?

Everything to do with the sea, whether it is the yacht show or the Voiles d’Antibes [regatta], you swap between French and English the whole time. When there is a France-England rugby match, the supporters are evenly split in the bars, whereas normally in France no one supports the English team.

Do you think it will stay that way in the future or will new nationalities move in?

No, the British community is permanent; the next biggest is the Italians. There are Russians – the first wave were very rich, who bought properties on Cap d’Antibes – and some Russian tourists, but they are not such a large or stable population.

You have the Côte d’Azur’s biggest pleasure port; is it still developing?

We plan to extend it and to redevelop the Saint-Roch cove area to the east of the port, where development is a bit anarchic. International experts have suggested restrained extension while creating new business areas and we plan for cruise ships to moor there, which cannot be done at present because of a lack of space, even though the depth is suitable.

You have other plans, too…

We are developing nine hubs with partnerships between high-tech firms and researchers at the technology park and, with the new Sciences and Technologies of Information and Communication campus welcoming 5,000-6,000 students we want a strong connection with the coast. So we are developing a tram/bus system like that in Nantes and Nîmes. It is less expensive than a tramway and quicker to put in place. Later this year we will start building a multi-modal station near the train station to send buses to Sophia, and by 2015 the whole route will be in place.

The town is still very attractive to investors so a new underground car park will be built under the port and a conference centre at Juan-les-Pins. With a relatively elderly population, we will build a new retirement home and palliative care centre and we will also have a new 1,300-seat performance hall.

Our “brand” is cultural with the Picasso museum and jazz at Juan-les-Pins and we want a real cultural season all winter. The old court is being turned into a theatre. We also have a basketball team and a lot of people have sports licences so we will create a new “omnisport” centre.

How will the town look in 10 years?

Antibes has become the second biggest town in the department and has strong potential for economic development: maritime, tourism and new technologies. We want a high quality of life, but not by turning our back on modernity, which can improve quality of life: for example, we are creating a network of médiathèques [modern, multi-media libraries] in Biot and Villeneuve-Loubet to complement ones in Antibes and Valbonne.

We are confident and the future looks good, because the territory is attractive and our major economic foci are stable and not really able to relocate – that means tourism, of course, but also the high-tech sector, which benefits from having public-private labs here and the University of Nice Sophia-Antipolis.

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