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SKI

French ski resorts celebrate as British tourists allowed to return

French ski resorts reacted with delight on Thursday after the French government announced an easing of travel restrictions on the UK, allowing British tourists to return.

France's Courchevel ski resort.
France's Courchevel ski resort. Photo: Thomas Coex/AFP

A blanket ban on non-essential travel from December 18th caused British holiday-makers to cancel planned trips at the end of the year, particularly skiers who head to the Alps over the holidays.

However, on Thursday France announced a lifting of the rules, which were originally put in place due to the spread of the Omicron variant in the UK.

“The wide circulation today of the variant in both countries has led the government to make the following changes,” a statement from Prime Minister Jean Castex’s office said.

From Friday, January 15th all vaccinated travellers entering France from the UK will have to show only a negative PCR or antigen test taken 24 hours before their departure.

Unvaccinated travellers, however, will have to provide a “compelling reason” to travel such as a family emergency, and will have to quarantine for 10 days upon arrival in France at an address that must be registered with security forces.

Find a full breakdown of the rules for travel in both directions HERE.

The opening of the border will allow British winter-sports enthusiasts to return to the French Alps.

READ ALSO What are the Covid rules in French ski resorts?

“Thousands of people head there for ski breaks at this time of year, so this will be a huge relief for customers with holidays booked there for the next few weeks, who have been waiting anxiously for news,” the ABTA, which represents British travel groups, said in a statement.

Alex Sykes, flight operations manager at the UK-based Mark Warner travel operator, told AFP that he was “very relieved and very happy to get operational again, starting this weekend.”

“We’re hoping this is the last of the disruptions this winter season,” he said.

Gilles Delaruelle, chief executive of the Courchevel resort in France, told AFP: “We’re expecting a wave of bookings for February and March.”

French Tourism Minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said last week that stays in the Savoie and Haute-Savoie areas, where most resorts are located, were down by 10 to 20 percent over the Christmas and New Year period compared with 2019.

Lemoyne said on Thursday that Britons accounted for around 15 percent of all visitors to French ski resorts, and even more in some of the biggest high-altitude stations.

“The decision this morning will enable them to recoup some of their losses, I hope,” he told the TV5 Monde channel.

Eurostar, the operator of train services between the UK and France, also welcomed the change, saying it would increase the number of services in the weeks ahead.

The boss of cross-channel ferry group Brittany Ferries, Christophe Mathieu, said he hoped it was “the last border closure of the Covid crisis.”
  

Member comments

  1. The thing I still can’t work out is whether a 12-18 year old with a single vaccine dose will be able to continue with the daily antigen test to access ski lifts. My fully boosted daughter and son in law arrive on 29th January with my 13 year old grandson who has only had one vaccine. As he has not reached the 12 week wait, the UK will not give him the second dose until early February which is too late for their departure. Any suggestions or clearer advice would be greatly appreciated. Maybe the authorities at the resorts will know? Thanks John

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TOURISM

Reader question: Are there private beaches in France?

Amid accusations of racism at fancy seaside resorts and legal controversies surrounding US statesmen, we take a look at the law surrounding private beaches in France.

Reader question: Are there private beaches in France?

Question: I read that all beaches in France are public property, but down here on the Riviera there are a lot of ‘private beaches’ – how do the rules actually work?

In France, everyone has the right to a dip in the ocean, though it might not seem that way when walking through certain areas.

There are 1,500 of these “private beaches” in France – the vast majority of them located on the Côte d’Azur.

They have become a source of controversy recently, after two private beaches in Juan-les-Pins were accused of racism and discrimination following an investigation and video circulated by French media Loopsider. The video (below) shows how a white couples receive different treatment than North African or Black couples.

So what are these ‘private beaches’ and are they even legal in France?

In reality, none of these beachfront hotels, resorts or beach operators actually own that land, as the sea and the beach are considered ‘public maritime’ and are therefore the domain of the French state.

This means that technically there are no private beaches in France, as no one is supposed to be allowed to own the beach, though there are some caveats to that rule.

Since 1986, the State has been able to grant ‘concessions’ to allow for parts of the beach to be temporarily rented. Thus, hotels, resorts or beach operators can request a temporary rental of the beach for a specific period of time – the maximum duration being twelve years, which is renewable. If the local town hall agrees, then the renter will pay a fee (typically between €15,000 and €100,000 per year). 

This might seem like a de facto way of allowing beaches to be privatised, but the few who manage to ‘rent the beach’ are still subject to some constraints. For instance, they are only allowed to occupy the beach for six months of the year (sometimes this can be extended up to eight months with the permission of the town hall, or twelve months in less common circumstances).

At the end of the season, they are required to dismantle their installations, so permanent private structures on the beach are therefore not allowed.

So you might see a waterfront resort, but they do not technically have ownership over the beach.

What about private deckchairs or sun beds next to the water? 

This is another rule that is not always perfectly respected. Legally, any organisation that rents a part of the beach is required to leave a strip of “significant width” along the sea.

This is usually about three to five metres from the high tide mark, where members or the public can walk along the water or bring down their own towels or deck chairs down to the beach.

If a ‘private beach’ has deck chairs or sun-loungers right up against the water, there is a good chance the renting organisation is not following the rules.

Beachfront property

As the public has the right to be able to access the beach, homeowners are not allowed to block passage and can even incur fines for doing so. 

The public must be able to pass through land to get to the beach, and cannot be blocked from the beach in front of a property.

Public access to the beach came into the spotlight due to a controversy surrounding a property of former American presidential candidate and statesman, John Kerry.

Kerry’s family owns a villa in Saint-Briac-sur-Mer in Brittany, and has fought a three-decade legal battle to be able to block the coastal trail on the property, which by French law, should be accessible to the public. 

Despite the family siting potential ‘security threats’ should the beach front path be open to the public, local authorities backed plans to continue allowing public access in 2019.

What about building a waterfront property?

First, keep in mind that building in general in France is a heavily regulated process that requires planning permission.

You will not be able to build within 100 metres of the shoreline. If you buy a pre-existing coastal property, you will need to remember the three-metre rule discussed above and, as the Kerry family discovered, you are not allowed to block public access to the beach. 

For ‘coastal zones’ specifically, there are more strict regulations and most plots of land by the sea are listed as protected natural areas, and therefore are not allowed to be built on.

Can access to the beach ever be forbidden?

Yes, as per the Coastal Law of 1986, local authorities can forbid access to the beach for “security, national defence or environmental protection.” During the Covid lockdowns several local authorities banned access to beaches to avoid illicit partying.

There are also several rules about what you are allowed to do – and not to do – while visiting French beaches, and some of them might surprise you. 

READ MORE: The little-known French beach rule that could net you a €1,500 fine

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