Russian tourists flock to France for New Year party

Mon Jan 10, 2011 1:33pm EST
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By Elizabeth Pineau

PARIS (Reuters Life!) - Hotels across France are gearing up for an influx of Russians coming to celebrate their Orthodox Christian New Year in a country that is becoming a playground for millionaires from the former Soviet Union.

As Russia grows richer, more than half a million Russians are visiting France each year, according to French tourism development agency Atout France. Numbers peak each January when Russians celebrate their New Year according to the Orthodox Julian calendar, 13 days after the western New Year.

Well-heeled Russians favor the fashionable ski resort of Courchevel, Cote d'Azur resorts like Nice and Paris -- where five-star hotels are busy lining up decadent Russian-themed soirees with caviar and vodka to mark the 2011 party.

"We get families, couples, celebrities like the model Natalya Vodyanova, oligarchs, some politicians and business clients," said a spokesperson for the swanky Le Meurice hotel, which will offer a special menu of beef stroganoff, caviar and blinis prepared by Michelin-starred chef Yannick Alleno.

In the same chic Paris district, the upmarket hotel Bristol also has caviar and blinis on its January 13 dinner menu, with prices ranging from 240 euros ($310.8) to an eye-watering 800 euros per head in a annexed eatery -- and that excludes vodka or wine.

On the elegant Champs Elysees avenue, nightclub L'Arc will cater to Russian revelers by laying on live Cossack-style music and installing an ice-rink for the occasion.

"We're talking about a clientele with a very high purchasing power, that is very much dependent on the financial markets, on stock market and commodity prices," said Thomas Deschamps, head of statistics at the Paris tourist board.

Russia's move to a market-based economy and high demand for oil, natural gas and raw materials has created a large pool of millionaire tycoons who are flaunting their wealth abroad, including snapping up Paris apartments and holiday chalets in the Alps, where they stand out in designer ski suits.   Continued...