France joins exclusive 'million-visitor' club

Australians can't get enough of France, it seems, with the nation's tourism authorities claiming more than a million Australians visit every year.

The new milestone of 1,076,900 Australian tourists in a year has propelled France into the "million-visitor" club with New Zealand, the US and Britain.

A spokeswoman for French tourism development agency Atout France said Australians were also staying in France for up to two weeks at a time.

"First they go to Paris for the culture and gastronomy and then they usually travel to two or three regions around Paris, usually by train or car," said Atout France's Claire Kaletka-Neil.

Battlefield sites in northern France were especially popular, with the 100th anniversary of World War I coming up next year, she said. Specialist travel agency The French Travel Connection's Coralie Pierre said interest in the battlefields had been surging

Rosemary Martin has just returned from a one-week trip with husband Alistair McLean and children Lillian and Hugh.

She said places such as Amiens and Villers-Bretonneux were moving, with a generation of Australians lost.

"Paying tribute to people who died is tremendously important," she said. "The shocking thing to me was the contrast between the peaceful and beautiful French countryside and it being the site of utter devastation for so many Australians."

And Paris moved her to tears. "I was overwhelmed in the Louvre, but when I went into the Van Gogh room at the Musee d'Orsay and stood in front of Starry Night I couldn't stop crying. It was so beautiful, I just cried for 10 minutes, to the horror of my family."

The figures from the French Bureau of Statistics are based on Australian arrivals from all countries in 2012. In contrast, Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show only 135,800 travellers going to France in 2012. But that only counts Australians who mark France on passenger cards as where they will spend most time.

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