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Juilletistes vs Aoûtiens: Do France’s two summer holiday tribes still exist?

For years France has had two tribes of holidaymakers - juilletistes and aoûtiens. But do these two traditional tribes still exist?

Juilletistes vs Aoûtiens: Do France's two summer holiday tribes still exist?
When do you prefer your beach time? Photo: Valery Hache/AFP

Summer holidays are a big deal in France, with cities emptying out in July and August as people head to the coast or the countryside and it’s common for people to take a month off work – but which month?

One of the most iconic forms of rivalry between French holidaymakers is the opposition between the juilletistes and the aoûtiens – those who go on holiday in July versus those who prefer August.

And the final weekend of July is usually one of the busiest weekends of the year on the roads as juilletistes return and aoûtiens set out. It even has a special name – chassé-croisé.

The terms date back to the summer of 1969 when a fourth week of paid leave was voted into French law. It was a milestone piece of legislation that laid the basis for one of France’s most important annual traditions, les grandes vacances (the “big” summer holidays).

Suddenly eight out of 10 French people were able to take a summer holiday. Some chose July, others preferred August – made possible by the fact schools in France close for pretty much the whole of July and August.

But traditionally, the month you took your holidays reflected more than a simple preference. 

‘Well-to-do’ vs. ‘working class’

Back in the 1960s the August holidaymakers were largely working class as this was the month factories closed across France. July on the other hand was reserved for executives and professionals. The idea of the ‘well-to-do’ July clan was contrasted with the ‘working class’ August clan.

The clichés grew into deep cultural stereotypes. The juilletistes were seen as lazy people who escaped to an exotic place while everyone else was still working hard, only to return to work in August when things are still calm. (Of course a juilletiste would say someone needed to keep the country running while the workers went away on holiday

READ ALSO: How much holiday time do the French really get every year?

Does the divide still exist today?

Times have changed and people no longer have the same habits. Over the years, as the service sector expanded and changed, the divide between the two different casts slowly faded away as people began to pick their holiday month based much more on personal preferences and workplace demands.

It’s now safe to say that this rivalry is no longer accurate, although it remains firmly installed in the French psyche.

August still remains the emblematic summer month – even more so than July – with cities virtually emptying and everything seemingly closing down. It’s common for local shops, cafés and pharmacies to be closed for the month, with signs simply reading ‘back in September’ and you should probably forget about getting any administrative task done during August.

READ ALSO The 8 signs that August has arrived in France

But for several years now, there has been a new tribe, the septembristes, who wait for September before packing up their things – probably to avoid the juilletistes and the aoûtiens.

As schools return in September, the septembriste is not a category easily accessible to everyone, but mostly made up by the young, the child-free and the elderly.

By Olivia Sorrel-Dejerine

Member comments

  1. As I am retired and very fortunate to have friends in Paris, I get to visit sometimes twice a year from America. I love visiting and staying for maybe 4 weeks each time. My favorite months to visit are June when the roses in the Parc de Bagatelle are blooming, and it is absolutely worth the visit. And the other month is September so I can enjoy the European Heritage Days or what some call Patrimony weekend. If I could afford to move to Paris I would in a heartbeat.

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TOURISM

Reader question: Are there private beaches in France?

Amid accusations of racism at fancy seaside resorts and legal controversies surrounding US statesmen, we take a look at the law surrounding private beaches in France.

Reader question: Are there private beaches in France?

Question: I read that all beaches in France are public property, but down here on the Riviera there are a lot of ‘private beaches’ – how do the rules actually work?

In France, everyone has the right to a dip in the ocean, though it might not seem that way when walking through certain areas.

There are 1,500 of these “private beaches” in France – the vast majority of them located on the Côte d’Azur.

They have become a source of controversy recently, after two private beaches in Juan-les-Pins were accused of racism and discrimination following an investigation and video circulated by French media Loopsider. The video (below) shows how a white couples receive different treatment than North African or Black couples.

So what are these ‘private beaches’ and are they even legal in France?

In reality, none of these beachfront hotels, resorts or beach operators actually own that land, as the sea and the beach are considered ‘public maritime’ and are therefore the domain of the French state.

This means that technically there are no private beaches in France, as no one is supposed to be allowed to own the beach, though there are some caveats to that rule.

Since 1986, the State has been able to grant ‘concessions’ to allow for parts of the beach to be temporarily rented. Thus, hotels, resorts or beach operators can request a temporary rental of the beach for a specific period of time – the maximum duration being twelve years, which is renewable. If the local town hall agrees, then the renter will pay a fee (typically between €15,000 and €100,000 per year). 

This might seem like a de facto way of allowing beaches to be privatised, but the few who manage to ‘rent the beach’ are still subject to some constraints. For instance, they are only allowed to occupy the beach for six months of the year (sometimes this can be extended up to eight months with the permission of the town hall, or twelve months in less common circumstances).

At the end of the season, they are required to dismantle their installations, so permanent private structures on the beach are therefore not allowed.

So you might see a waterfront resort, but they do not technically have ownership over the beach.

What about private deckchairs or sun beds next to the water? 

This is another rule that is not always perfectly respected. Legally, any organisation that rents a part of the beach is required to leave a strip of “significant width” along the sea.

This is usually about three to five metres from the high tide mark, where members or the public can walk along the water or bring down their own towels or deck chairs down to the beach.

If a ‘private beach’ has deck chairs or sun-loungers right up against the water, there is a good chance the renting organisation is not following the rules.

Beachfront property

As the public has the right to be able to access the beach, homeowners are not allowed to block passage and can even incur fines for doing so. 

The public must be able to pass through land to get to the beach, and cannot be blocked from the beach in front of a property.

Public access to the beach came into the spotlight due to a controversy surrounding a property of former American presidential candidate and statesman, John Kerry.

Kerry’s family owns a villa in Saint-Briac-sur-Mer in Brittany, and has fought a three-decade legal battle to be able to block the coastal trail on the property, which by French law, should be accessible to the public. 

Despite the family siting potential ‘security threats’ should the beach front path be open to the public, local authorities backed plans to continue allowing public access in 2019.

What about building a waterfront property?

First, keep in mind that building in general in France is a heavily regulated process that requires planning permission.

You will not be able to build within 100 metres of the shoreline. If you buy a pre-existing coastal property, you will need to remember the three-metre rule discussed above and, as the Kerry family discovered, you are not allowed to block public access to the beach. 

For ‘coastal zones’ specifically, there are more strict regulations and most plots of land by the sea are listed as protected natural areas, and therefore are not allowed to be built on.

Can access to the beach ever be forbidden?

Yes, as per the Coastal Law of 1986, local authorities can forbid access to the beach for “security, national defence or environmental protection.” During the Covid lockdowns several local authorities banned access to beaches to avoid illicit partying.

There are also several rules about what you are allowed to do – and not to do – while visiting French beaches, and some of them might surprise you. 

READ MORE: The little-known French beach rule that could net you a €1,500 fine

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