Bri­tain back in favour with Aussie trav­ellers

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - The Food Issue -

PER­HAPS it’s a legacy of last year’s Lon­don Olympics or of the year-long cel­e­bra­tions for the Queen’s Di­a­mond Ju­bilee, but Bri­tain is back on the itin­er­ar­ies of Aus­tralian trav­ellers, with tour op­er­a­tors re­port­ing a 30 per cent in­crease in book­ings in the past year.

Whether it’s English stately homes and cas­tles or leisurely canal-barg­ing hol­i­days, Bri­tain is once again a hot des­ti­na­tion. And when the Olympics precinct in Lon­don’s East End re­opens as Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park this year, it will be a re­vi­talised cen­tre for events and en­ter­tain­ment, home to Europe’s largest ur­ban shop­ping cen­tre and ex­pected to at­tract more than 9.3 mil­lion vis­i­tors a year.

‘‘With the [cur­rent] strength of the Aus­tralian dol­lar be­ing the ‘new nor­mal’, we con­tinue to see an ev­er­grow­ing ap­petite for overseas travel and con­se­quently ev­ery­where in Europe is now ac­cepted as af­ford­able and ac­ces­si­ble for many Aus­tralians,’’ says Trafal­gar man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Matthew Cameron-Smith.

His com­pany is tap­ping into the pop­u­lar phe­nom­e­non of ‘‘set-jet­ting’’ or ‘‘lo­ca­tion va­ca­tions’’ — that is, vis­it­ing set­tings fa­mil­iar from film or tele­vi­sion hits, such as High­clere Cas­tle, west of Lon­don, where most of the scenes in Downton Abbey are filmed.

Lonely Planet co-founder Tony Wheeler, who di­vides his time be­tween Mel­bourne and Lon­don, is not sur­prised at the resur­gence of in­ter­est in trav­el­ling to Bri­tain. ‘‘A lot of it is be­cause of the Lon­don 2012 Olympics . . . I was there and it was magic . . . the same as it was at the Syd­ney 2000 Olympics. Lon­don has al­ways had a buzz, [but] the Olympics gave it a boost,’’ he says.

For Aus­tralians tak­ing ad­van­tage of the good ex­change rate against the Bri­tish pound and plan­ning a so­journ this year, Wheeler rec­om­mends Southamp­ton and the New For­est. ‘‘Eng­land has really in­ter­est­ing coast­lines, [but] it’s a shame the water is so cold,’’ he adds.

Ad­di­tional good news is that there are bargain deals to be had on flights to Europe. At Wo­tif.com, Cathay Pa­cific re­turn econ­omy fares via Hong Kong to Rome or Mi­lan are $1640 from east coast cap­i­tals for flights un­til May 31. Flight Cen­tre has re­turn flights to Paris from Mel­bourne and six nights in a three-star ho­tel near the St Ger­main des Pres area for $2155 a per­son twin-share. The deal in­cludes daily break­fasts, but travel dates are re­stricted from Oc­to­ber 1 to 31. Also in Paris, and valid for se­lected dates, Tempo Hol­i­days has four nights for the price of three at Ho­tel La De­meure on the Left Bank from $389 a per­son twin-share; flights are ex­tra.

Trafal­gar’s Cameron-Smith says Croa­tia and Turkey are also good value and Italy and France ‘‘re­main stand­out as­pi­ra­tional des­ti­na­tions for Aus­tralians’’.

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