Normandy has won the title of ‘most desirable region’ in Europe in a leading UK travel magazine’s awards.
And Britons were once again the most numerous international visitors to Normandy in 2022 after falling behind other nationalities for a couple of years.
The Normandy Tourist Board says it proves naysayers were wrong when they predicted the British would not come back after Brexit.
With 3.6 million overnight stays recorded between January 1, 2022, and November 3, British visitors were up 71% on the previous year.
UK’s ‘biggest travel awards’
Tourist board staff went to a ceremony at the Tower of London to pick up a prize, voted for by the public, at the Wanderlust Travel Awards.
Tourist board marketing manager for English-speaking areas Ben Collier said the awards are the UK’s “biggest travel awards”.
He said: “50,000 people voted, many of them readers of the magazine, and we got people to vote too via our social media channels – we are the only French region to have four social media platforms in English.
“It was very special to us that the awards were announced at the Tower of London, because it was built by William the Conqueror [Duke of Normandy].
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“We knew that the readers appreciated Normandy because our most famous monument, Mont-Saint-Michel, was on the magazine cover a couple of months back and they told us it was their best-selling issue of the year.
“We’re thrilled to have received the award and to know the Brits still love Normandy. We share common history and friendship links as neighbours.
“A few years ago, people were saying ‘they won’t come back, things have changed’ but we believed that they would, and 2022 has proved it.
“We’re optimistic for the future of ferry travel too, so the future’s looking bright for the relationship between the UK and Normandy.”
Britons want to venture outside Paris
The Dutch, Germans and Belgians had been the top visitors since 2018.
“The Brits are back now. A lot of Britons are getting on the ferry, which is great. There are a mixture of reasons: there was some chaos in UK airports in the summer as well as problems in Dover, so a lot of people got on the ferries in the south of England to come to Normandy instead.”
He added that many Britons who have already seen Paris are now keen to discover other regions such as Normandy. Others opt to combine a stay in the capital with visiting Normandy as it is easily accessible.
“For example, you can visit Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny in just an hour’s journey from Paris.”
Younger visitors are taking the ferry
One trend has been more young visitors, which has been noticeable on the ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe.
“They tell me ‘we don’t want to fly any more’ and they are enjoying the experience. The crossing only takes four hours, but your holiday starts when you set foot onboard.
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“We’re also seeing a lot of people coming with bikes, which is another of the benefits of ferry travel.
“The London to Paris Greenway [a dedicated off-road cycle route] runs through Dieppe, so they can get off the ferry and take it straight to Paris. But there are also eight other major greenways in Normandy.
“Many Brits have also been coming to see the beautiful new British Normandy Memorial that opened in Ver-sur-Mer, and pay their respects, because they couldn’t see it during the pandemic.
“It’s a new highlight and a symbol of the friendship and common history we share.”
He added: “People really like the relaxed atmosphere in Normandy, its café culture, the food and drink. They say it feels a slower pace of life, they can take their time on the terraces to enjoy life and watch the world go by.”
Working with Normandy ports on incoming border checks
Asked if he is concerned about the coming European Entry/Exit System, he said they have been liaising with the Normandy ports and they are not too worried as the ports are well-staffed with customs officers.
Read more: Passports, Etias, EES: Changes to European border control in 2023
“There will probably be a transition period, and some delays at first, like when Brexit first came in, but things will turn out fine.”
Mr Collier said that, regarding Brexit, the main issue has been the fact of second-home owners being unable to stay for more than 90 days in 180 visa-free.
“Apart from that, it’s not changed much for the visitors who come for a few days or weeks.
“There have been slightly longer queues on both sides on the ferry but we’ve not heard anyone say it’s been a major problem for them.
“There is no international airport here in Normandy – it’s slow travel, so people are used to taking their time.”
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