There we were soaking up the sun, lying on the hot sands of our favourite beach, Pirou-Plage in the heart of the Cotentin Peninsula, Normandy, when a short stroll to cool off led to a striking discovery…beyond the steep sand dunes bordering the beach lay a deserted holiday village.
Nestled in the grassy scrubland were some 120 villas, in varying states of decay and dereliction, but what really made the sight arresting was that, over time, each building has become a canvas for the impressive tags and murals of local graffiti artists. Shy and given to startling easily, the artists themselves disappeared into the shadows as we approached, just the tell-tale clicking of their spray cans as they shook them into action.
Left to slowly fall apart
Built more than 20 years ago, the remains of the buildings represent what might have been an idyllic hide-away, just steps from the beach. Built on land purchased during the 1990s, the developers had reportedly run into legal problems and, with money running out, abandoned the project mid-way through development, leaving the holiday homes – together with a two-story clubhouse, tennis courts and hexagonal swimming pool – in varying stages of completion.
According to locals, there then followed a period of prolonged legal wrangling, leaving the site suspended in time, during which it was pounded by all the extremes that coastal weather can bring. Roofs caved in and walls collapsed during storms. In time, squatters moved in and the buildings were further damaged by fires…and then the graffiti artists arrived.
Abandoned towns given love by graffiti artists
What began as tags and slogans developed into intricate artwork covering entire walls and murals encompassing whole buildings. Out of a landscape of such neglect and dilapidation has emerged a scene of immense creativity and colour. You walk around the ruins like you would an art gallery.
What could be a bleak and desolate backdrop to this typical, pretty French seaside town that the tourists see, is actually a work of art evolving and coming to life, a living, breathing, art installation on a grand scale. Walls have been painted and repainted over the years, with layers of artwork masking the decay, as weeds sprout between broken bricks and wild flowers grow through strewn rocks, ever encroaching.
What’s most strange about the site is the location of this tumbledown canvas right next to an ordinary French town with the occasional car rumbling past and residents tending their gardens with the same care the graffiti artists give their work. Sooner or later this ephemeral art show will be torn down or reclaimed by nature. Until then it remains something you’re unlikely to see in any tourist information about the region. If you’re ever in the area, go check it out!
A short film by Andia & Alpace Productions takes viewers on a three-minute tour of the abandoned village by air using a drone. Just ignore the crazy laughter in the background…it’s not me, you know, I don’t think…
Guest post by the lovely Kate Parker.