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COVID-19: France tourist hotspots missing UK visitors as amber rating keeps holidays off the menu

It’s been a blowy, blustery day in Brittany. There was a bracing wind and a few brave souls in the sea.

It all felt very British.

But for the British desperate to get abroad, a French holiday is still effectively off-limits.

Its amber rating means people should not be travelling there for leisure trips. For those who do go, it will mean a test before leaving, two more upon return and 10 days in quarantine.

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Saint-Malo’s beaches are much quieter than normal

Saint-Malo is a coastal town that relies heavily on tourism.

Atop the old fortress wall is the town’s oldest creperie. In the 18th century the building housed soldiers, the mission then was to keep the British at bay.

But now they are welcomed with open arms and local specialities.

The owners say they’re really missing tourists from across the Channel.

“We’re used to speaking English every day,” says restaurant worker Magali Garncarzyk. “But for a year now there have hardly been any British tourists.”

Alain Cabot
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Alain Cabot says losing British visitors has been a big blow

It’s had an impact says her boss, Alain Cabot: “In terms of visitors, the British were the first who started coming to Saint-Malo, mainly due to the ferry connections, so that cuts off quite a large number of tourists.”

France is the second most popular destination for British tourists after Spain. Pre-COVID, in excess of 10 million people travelled here every year .

It won’t be that way this year and the impact is already being felt by numerous small businesses.

Mont-Saint-Michel, a tidal island topped by an 11th century abbey, is one of France’s top tourist attractions and would normally welcome 2.5 million tourists a year to its cobbled streets and quicksand bay.

This is the first weekend the French are being allowed to travel further than 10km (6 miles) from their homes.

It’s a small relief to tourist businesses, but rows and rows of car parking bays stood empty and just a handful of people strolled onto shuttle buses that would usually have seen long queues.

Julie Dion
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Julie Dion says the cost of tests for seeing family back in Wales is too expensive

In the town, cafes and shops are still shuttered, and when they reopen they’ll need custom.

Julie Dion works in the tourist office and says almost 100% of enquiries at the moment are from the French. But it may not be enough.

“It is very worrying,” she says.

“We don’t know how many people are going to arrive. It was a guaranteed place where we were very busy every day, so will there be enough tourists for the businesses to continue to run as they were?”

It’s having a personal impact for her too.

She’s originally from Wales, all her extended family are still there and she hasn’t been back for over two years.

Julie says the cost of multiple tests for herself, her husband and her three children make the journey prohibitive.

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French holidays are off the table – for now

“It’s very sad, it’s really difficult. It’ll be a long, difficult time now away from family,” she says.

Like all countries, France’s rating will be reviewed every three weeks, but while cases are still high here and vaccinations low, the chances of a French holiday remain distant.

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