By stephane mahe
LA BAULE, France (Reuters) - With ski lifts closed because of COVID-19 restrictions, Parisians have flocked to the French Atlantic coast where sunny weather and a spike in visitor numbers have given beaches an air of summer.
At upmarket La Baule, a five-hour drive west of Paris, hotels and holiday homes saw a flood of last-minute bookings as Parisians left the capital at the start of a two-week school holiday that is normally the height of the skiing season.
"We will go to the mountains later, when we can ski again, but it is so much better here than in Paris. My husband is tele-working from here, with an ocean view," said Clemence Martin, a school teacher whose in-laws own a house in La Baule.
La Baule, whose winter-time population of about 17,000 swells more than tenfold to 180,000 in summer, saw hotel occupancy rates rise over February last year, its mayor Franck Louvrier said.
"Normally, we are not the number one destination for French people in February, but this year people have traded their ski suits for anoraks," Louvrier said.
He said more people now were living year-round in La Baule, with lockdowns and curfews making life in cities more stressful. Travelers who cannot do that often extend their stay by tele-working from the coast for a while.
"People want to live and work in holiday land. With home working, that is perfectly possible," he said.
He added that La Baule was also attracting people from northern Europe, some of them thanks to the region's advanced cycling infrastructure.
The restaurant business remained closed nationwide, but some in the food industry said holidaymakers were compensating losses by preparing lavish dishes at home.
"Since restaurants are closed, people treat themselves to delicacies like lobster and langoustine. There are more people and their food budget is up; for us it is good," said Sara Grandjean, a fish vendor at the La Baule covered market.
(Reporting by Stephane Mahe; writing by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Mike Collett-White)