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Pirou, France

Pirou-Plage Ghost Village

An abandoned beach resort in Normandy reclaimed by artists.  

Born of a financial fiasco in the 1990s, the resort of Pirou-Plage in Normandy remained a half-built ghost town until its colorful houses were discovered by squatters and ravers in the 2000s. Since then the French village has taken on a new identity, becoming a hub for artists and filmmakers and blossoming into an art project open to all. 

The 17-acre piece of land is situated a couple hundred yards from the beach, behind a lovely natural dune. The original plan was to turn it into an ambitious holiday village, with 75 houses, a hotel-club, and two tennis courts—all this in a seaside town that counts only 1,500 year-round inhabitants.

The promoter was a convincing salesman: he quickly sold all the houses—on paper, anyway. But no plans were made for water, electricity or draining. By April 1992, 25 houses were already up when the building work suddenly stopped. The contractors were not paid anymore: the promoter had vanished with its investors’ money. Pirou-Plage would never turn into a holiday village.

The new houses were systematically plundered: everything that could easily be taken away disappeared. Stripped of their doors, windows, and roof tiles, the desolate houses then became homes for squatters and ravers who came and went as they pleased. A sort of seasonal ghost village was born, open to whoever wanted to come, without barriers.

Pirou-Plage’s story took another interesting twist when it started to attract artists in the 2000s. Street artists, painters, photographers, and filmmakers adopted the abandoned resort, and for the first time its houses were lively. In 2014, some Pirou inhabitants were featured in projects led by the famous French photographer and street artist JR, and filmmaker Agnès Varda. Word of mouth and media coverage spread the news: Pirou-Plage had become a cool place to go. But unfortunately, not for long. Recently, local authorities made plans to bring in bulldozers and demolish the resort’s graffiti-covered structures.