Seaside tourism, a legacy of sea bathing

La sea ​​bathing fashion is a phenomenon that appeared in France in the XNUMXth century thanks to a trend then very popular among the elites. The ocean and sea air are good for body and soul! The seaside resorts welcome their first visitors, who have come to enjoy the benefits of balneotherapy on the beaches. 

It's hard to imagine what the pioneers of the seaside tourism : no bikini for women, no swimming trunks for men. In the middle of the XNUMXth century, the long-sleeved shirt, the corset, the baggy pants and the charlotte stuck on the skull are the outfits of rigor imposed on anyone who wants to take a dip.

À Royan, the use of small cabins for sea bathing is becoming more democratic with the installation of a dozen mobile cabins on the Grande Conche beach. Bathers, modest, need a space between the intimate and the public in order to change out of sight. The cabins are thus developed over time on our beaches. 

Until the 50s, decency was essential. In 1934, a municipal decree even forbids swimming or exposing oneself on the beach without being dressed in a full suit or swimsuit. The goal is to cut short the quivering fashion of the two-piece.

Did you know?

The French designer Jacques Heim invented the two-piece swimsuit in 1932. Its “Atom” mini swimsuit is, in a way, the precursor of the bikini.

The fashion for sea bathing, an English invention

In this period still marked by the crisis, seaside tourism for leisure and pleasure has definitively supplanted the original concept. In fact, originally, sea bathing was aimed at the exclusive search for healing well-being.

thierry avan

Chay beach in Royan

Sea bathing today

The practice started in England, in the Sussex region (south-east of the island), around 1750. A famous doctor, Richard Russel, sends patients to bathe in the salty waters of a small fishing port – Brighton – in order to treat yourself with hydrotherapy. These therapeutic prescriptions end up attracting the healthy wealthy, the cream of the bourgeoisie and the London aristocracy. Thus, from 1770, Brighton was rapidly transformed into an elegant destination whose luxury and status reached their peak.

Russell's very popular theories are spreading in France like wildfire. We then see the emergence of an enthusiasm imbued with a very British spirit for bathing. Through a slow and gradual domino effect, this craze first seized certain small coastal towns in Normandy, followed by those on the Atlantic coast, in particular in Charente Maritime.

Royan attracts Bordelais by the sea

À Royan, the first bathers arrived after the reign of Napoleon I, around 1816, when peace returned to Europe. Here too, it is a very wealthy clientele, mainly from Bordeaux, who benefit from a steamboat connection set up in 1820 between the Gironde capital and the "new" charentaise station. This unprecedented phenomenon first surprises the locals and upsets them in their well-established habits and traditions. 

The contrast between the local, sedentary people and this upscale, itinerant population, ready to jump into the water for reasons other than work, is striking. This sometimes difficult cohabitation pushes the elected officials of the municipality to regulate the frequentation of the beaches. In 1819, a decree prohibited these summer visitors from showing off and swimming naked in the part of the Grande Conche bordered by the port and the houses. 

Residual at first, this seaside tourism is gaining momentum as rail transport develops. THE train arrives in Royan in 1875. A tram service linking the seaside districts to the city center completed it in 1895. In the meantime, the town was acquiring infrastructure and equipment to offer comfort and leisure to these prestigious summer visitors. THE seafront was renovated in 1845 and a boulevard laid out along the beach. THE first casino in Foncillon, created around 1845, is equipped with “Neothermals”. This initiative was also followed in 1872 by Doctor Auguste Guillon. He digs on the rock of Bec-des-Brandes in Pontaillac several open-air pools. These bathtubs carved into the cliff are still visible today, along the Boulevard de la Côte d'Argent.

Baths Pontaillac Royan

The sea strengthens the immune system

In 1900, the fashion for sea bathing still boils down to therapeutic and hygienist considerations. Besides, not many people really know how to swim. We rather dabble. And, according to the doctor's prescriptions, we immerse our heads in cold water or face the wave. The curiosity of this time is the “bathing machines”. These horse-drawn pseudo-caravans take bathers in light clothing to the edge of the ocean.

After the First World War, as the body freed itself, people threw themselves into the gap more for pleasure than to heal themselves. Tourism is intensifying: new hotels in Royan are emerging, others are expanding. The seaside resort is changing to respond to this influx of visitors. The beaches of Pontaillac and Le Chay are in turn equipped with bathing cabins. THE relaxing virtues of sea water and its ability to strengthen the immune defenses are operated in establishments specializing in the thalassotherapy. 

Did you know?

Invented in 1865 by Joseph La Bonnardière, the term “thalassotherapy” is built from two Greek words: thalassa, the sea and therapeïa, the treatment.

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