Finally, the news travel lovers have been waiting to hear for weeks: summer holidays abroad are on.
When the announcement came last week that quarantine-free travel is permitted in 59 countries, tour operators experienced a welcome surge in bookings — with plenty of bargains, as well. Tui, Britain’s largest travel company, was offering discounts of 70 per cent to some of our favourite Mediterranean destinations. And today’s Mail reveals that you can bag a week-long break for less than £100, including flights.
But what’s it like to go on holiday during the tail-end of a pandemic? Is it all facemasks, plastic gloves and stringent social distancing? Is it really worth it? Come with us to find out on a whistle-stop tour of Europe’s most popular hotspots.
FREE BUCKS FIZZ IN SPAIN
Summer sun: Holidaymakers are returning to the beaches and bars of the Mediterranean
Elizabeth Bennett, above, in Lloret de Mar
After a strict lockdown, in Spain hotels, restaurants, bars and beaches are reopening and tourists are very much welcome.
ON ARRIVAL: Everyone must complete a FCS form (a health declaration questionnaire) 48 hours before travel for a confirmation QR code to flash at arrivals. At airports, some passengers have temperature checks done.
RESTAURANTS, BARS AND BEACHES: Forget a mask at your peril! It’s a faux pas and a legal offence to be without one in public spaces where 1.5m distancing is impossible. This includes shops, streets and transport, with fines of £89. Restaurants and bars can be enjoyed mask-less. At Restaurante Miramar in Lloret de Mar, Costa Brava I’m given hand sanitiser and have to scan a QR code for the menu.
In the Costa Blanca, Benidorm’s party strip is locked-up. ‘I booked the first flight out here. I wanted to get away in case there’s another lockdown,’ says an English tourist at Aromas British Café. At Connolly’s Irish Bar in nearby Calpe, Tvestana, the owner, says: ‘Bars are dropping prices. Soon you’ll be able to buy a glass of wine for €1.’ One cafe advertises ‘free bucks fizz with breakfast’.
Watch out though: Costa Brava beaches can be overcrowded, with police clearing gatherings. ‘It’s Barcelona day trippers,’ says a bar owner. In Benidorm, the beach has social distanced ‘plots’ (16sqm for up to 5 adults).
GETTING AROUND: Some internal flights available; trains and buses running normally.
GOOD TO KNOW: Masks are mandatory in Catalonia, regardless of distancing.
COSTS: A cappuccino is £2.25; bottle of lager £1.80; glass of wine £2.20; litre bottle of water £2.50; three-course meal for two with wine £31.
WHAT WE SAY: There are great deals and few crowds. Keep an eye on local outbreaks/lockdowns, currently in Segria, Catalonia and La Marina, Galicia.
TUCK INTO TURKEY!
Tom Chesshyre relaxes with a beer in Turkey
Tourism is 12 per cent of GDP, so Turkey is keen to open up. Hotels, restaurants and bars have been back since mid-June, as have flights. Fewer than 5,500 pandemic deaths (population 81 million).
ON ARRIVAL: After catching Turkish Airlines to Dalaman (free on-board ‘Hijyen Sets’ with masks/sanitisers), social distancing announcements echo across the empty arrivals hall. The only temperature check is at Heathrow, using a thermometer ‘gun’.
BARS, RESTAURANTS AND HOTELS: My temperature is also taken on arrival at D-Resort hotel in Gocek, the yachties’ hotspot popular with Madonna and Beyonce (Rafael Nadal is said to be in town on my visit). Masks are encouraged in public areas, except when eating. It’s the same at the marina-side Breeze restaurant, which has sanitised laminated menus and QR code menus, and tables 1m-plus apart.
Masks are required in shops — yet on the way to Breeze, a jandarma (policeman) points at mine when it is round my chin while walking outside, telling me to use it properly.
In Kalkan, 70 miles south, some hotels remain closed and harbourside bars are quiet. Hasan Aktas, owner of Baharat restaurant, says ‘Please, please come!’ — when asked if tourists are welcome. Meanwhile, Paula Keskin, of Kalkan Direct villas, says: ‘We are 30 per cent full this year, last year was 95 per cent. There is plenty of availability.’
GOOD TO KNOW: Gulet boats are operating at half capacity for social distancing. ‘Inshallah, all will be well,’ says Ali, captain of the Vira in Gocek.
GETTING AROUND: Restrictions have been lifted — easy to move about.
COSTS: Sterling is up from 6.5 lira to £1 last summer to 8.5 now. A pint of beer is £2.50; bottle of wine £4.15; 1.5-litre bottle of water 12p; three-course meal for two with wine from £25.
WHAT WE SAY: A brilliant choice: friendly welcome and cheap prices.
‘There’s not a face mask, anti-bac dispenser or Covid poster in sight at Split Airport,’ writes Harriet Sime. Pictured is Split’s waterfront
The country woke up from its three-month slumber on June 15, when hotels opened their doors. British holidaymakers are able to travel quarantine-free and are very welcome. Tourists need to fill out a form stating purpose of travel and where they are staying.
ON ARRIVAL: Forget temperature scanners or questioning policemen. There’s not a face mask, anti-bac dispenser or Covid poster in sight at Split Airport. I am whisked through border control with a smile.
BARS, RESTAURANTS AND HOTELS: It’s easy to forget we’re in the throes of a global pandemic. In Split, perma-tanned blondes stumble off yachts and sunburnt backpackers in tiny shorts and with strong Eastern European accents congregate in seafront bars.
At Bokeria restaurant it’s all disposable paper menus — no QR codes or glass dividers. Tables are only spaced half a metre apart and the waiters are PPE-free. I feel a pang of embarrassment as I apply anti-bac gel.
‘We love it here, we’ve pretty much forgotten about coronavirus and it’s never been so cheap,’ says an Austrian tourist sitting nearby.
Hotels are offering record discounts and restaurants everywhere advertise ‘10 per cent off!’ At the five-star Vestibul Palace, my room would usually go for £450 a night. I pay just over £100. ‘There’s never been a better time to come,’ says Bruno, the hotel’s supervisor.
GOOD TO KNOW: Hotels have stringent policies. Rather than a welcome drink, I have a thermometer ‘gun’ check in reception; luckily I’m a safe 36.1c. Masks and latex gloves are provided in my room.
GETTING AROUND: Almost all restrictions lifted. Masks are only mandatory on public transport, yet on my 400-seater catamaran to Hvar Island, there are 11 passengers and I’m the only person in one.
COSTS: A cappuccino is £2.75; bottle of lager £1.20; glass of white wine £4; one litre bottle of water 90p; three-course dinner for two with bottle of wine £82.
WHAT WE SAY: Good value but a risky, laissez-faire approach.
PORTUGAL IS OPEN
Expect to be greeted by face masks, social distancing reminders and anti-bacterial gel at every turn in Portugal (stock image)
On July 1, Portugal downgraded to a ‘state of alert’, the lowest of a three-tier emergency plan, despite a few clusters of Covid-19 outbreaks on the outskirts of Lisbon. The country desperately wants tourists back on the golden beaches of the Algarve.
ON ARRIVAL: You need to complete a Passenger Locator Card and hand it in at the airport to comply with regulations, stating journey details and contact information. However, visitors who cross the border from Spain are not required to do so. Expect to be greeted by face masks, social distancing reminders and anti-bacterial gel at every turn.
BARS, RESTAURANTS AND HOTELS: Bars must shut at 11pm. Tables at restaurants must be 1.5 metres apart; you must wear a mask on entry to be removed when food is served. Waiters wear masks and menus are either disposable or on QR codes.
Hotels across the Algarve are offering incentives to woo customers. Bela Vista Hotel by Praia da Rocha beach has four nights for the price of three. Meanwhile, Vila Vita Parc is rewarding bookings with free spa treatments or meals. Joanne Ellis, from Bradford, holidaying with her daughters says: ‘I have seen fewer people on the beaches here than I do at Waitrose on a Saturday morning. I feel so secure.’
GOOD TO KNOW: Portugal has done everything in its power to suppress the spread of Covid-19 with firm but sensible measures.
GETTING AROUND: Masks are mandatory on public transport and in taxis.
COSTS: Cappuccino £1.34; local lager £2.24; 51p for 1.5 litres of water; bottle of white wine £4.47; three-course dinner with wine for two £62.
WHAT WE SAY: The stringent measures and adherence to rules engender confidence to relax and enjoy being here.
SAFETY FIRST IN CYPRUS
Cyprus has only had 1,005 coronavirus cases and 19 deaths. It is one of the safest destinations
We can fly to the island from August 1, but if you want to go further than immigration control, you’ll need a negative PCR swab test result — taken within 72 hours of flying — and a Flight Pass (cyprusflightpass.gov.cy).
ON ARRIVAL: Temperatures are in the mid-30s, but expect a cool reception at the airport, where you are likely to be greeted with a thermometer ‘gun’.
BARS AND RESTAURANTS: It’s a tale of two cities in post-corona Cyprus. In Limassol, beach bars and restaurants continue to prosper with temperature checks at the door and a fine mist of anti-bacterial spray. But don’t expect discounts. One Columbia Beach regular revealed the minimum spend on a table ‘had doubled’. The marina also remains popular, with the city’s well-heeled Cypriots and Russians proving no slaves to social distancing.
In Paphos, the vibe is different. ‘It’s a cemetery,’ a lifeguard informs me. The harbour area — usually buzzing with artists, hair braiders and Britons in various shades of lobster — is almost deserted. Some restaurants haven’t even bothered to open. The manager of the Arapis Coral Bay Beach restaurant says takings are down 80 per cent. Discounts? ‘No,’ he mumbles beneath the obligatory face mask.
GOOD TO KNOW: Cyprus has only had 1,005 coronavirus cases and 19 deaths. It is one of the safest destinations. Some five-star hotels are offering 20 per cent off rooms.
GETTING AROUND: The government has also bought a fleet of self-disinfecting buses from China.
COSTS: Cappuccino: £3.15; bottle of local lager £1.98; glass of white wine £3.60; litre bottle of water: 81p; three-course dinner for two with wine £36.
WHAT WE SAY: Cyprus is a low-risk destination crying out for tourists.
FRANCE FOR ALL
The beaches in Nice are fairly quiet (especially at the western end) and nowhere near full in Cannes, which is busier
No need to quarantine on arrival at or return from our second favourite destination (after Spain). You may have to complete a paper form with your contact details at the departure gate at Heathrow, as I am asked to, but nobody collects mine.
ON ARRIVAL: My BA flight to Nice from Heathrow has a well-run, staggered disembarkation process. The airport is all but deserted with no hand sanitiser dispensers. Mask-less immigration officers display a reassuringly traditional Gallic eye-rolling disdain. I clear security and catch a tram to Nice in less than ten minutes.
BARS, RESTAURANTS AND HOTELS: At my hotel, the Radisson Blu on Promenade des Anglais, changes include a requirement to book a time slot for the rooftop pool, glass dividing screens in reception, free masks and the removal of mini-bars in rooms. ‘I feel completely safe here,’ says Debbie, a Brit visiting Nice from her home in Lille. ‘The QR codes instead of menus are a great idea and the spacing works.’
In the nearby neighbourhood of Vieux Nice, some bars are still shuttered, but there are enough watering holes and restaurants open to make for a ‘business as usual’ summer vibe. Bar staff and waiters wear masks, but the vast majority of locals do not.
GETTING AROUND: I catch the train from Nice to Cannes and everyone is wearing masks. Guards at Cannes station are refusing entry to those who don’t have them. It’s a different story on the platforms though, with masks off and passengers smoking cigarettes. ‘It feels like Covid is all over,’ says Pierre, a fellow passenger. ‘As long as you don’t get too close to people then I think all is good.’
GOOD TO KNOW: The beaches in Nice are fairly quiet (especially at the western end) and nowhere near full in Cannes, which is busier.
COSTS: Cappuccino £2.70; bottle of lager £5; glass of white wine £6.30; litre bottle of water £3.60; three-course dinner for two with wine £85.
WHAT WE THINK: Lack of masks worn among locals is a concern but there’s no doubt the holiday vibe has returned to the Cote d’Azur.
‘It’s party time on the Italian beaches,’ writes Mark Jones. ‘If you want a quieter experience with classical sights, head inland’
Italy’s lockdown was deeper and started earlier than the rest of Europe. Restrictions were lifted at the beginning of June, but you’ll still need to wear a mask in shops, bars, restaurants and other public places. But Italians have found ways to make even paper face coverings into a fashion accessory.
ON ARRIVAL: Immigration at Pisa was efficient. Car hire was a pain — no staff at Avis/Budget, just a phone number taped to the office window.
BARS, RESTAURANTS AND HOTELS: I visited Rimini on the Adriatic coast and Pisa on the west coast. The hotels and lidos along Rimini’s Miami-esque beachfront were all full with Italians desperate to rebronze themselves. At the four-star Continental hotel there were long queues for the non-self-service buffet.
No English people, even in ‘Italy’s oldest pub’, The Rose and Crown. I eventually tracked down one: Andy Ormerod, owner of the swish Turquoise beach bar near the Marina. After 40 years in Rimini, his accent has morphed into a kind of Latin Mancunian.
‘Seems busy,’ I said.
‘If you’re here at the weekend it’s like New Year’s Eve,’ Andy replied. Things were lively around the Parco Federico Fellini at 10pm as families tucked into their favourite piadina flatbread at Casina del Bosco. Sure, there was social distancing — but Rimini is rocking at night.
But in Pisa — these are (forgive me) — lean times. My characterful Hotel Bologna was quiet. So, incredibly, was the area around the Leaning Tower. I counted 27 tourists. Perhaps a third of the restaurants are shuttered.
I toasted Italy’s recovery with a full-bodied Negroni (€5) in a hip alleyway pizzeria called L’Aroncio. Recovery is more full-bodied in some places than others
GOOD TO KNOW: Rimini claims to have Italy’s cleanest seawater thanks to a new sewerage system.
GETTING AROUND: Many of Italy’s holiday airports don’t come on-stream for UK airlines until August. If you fly-drive, check that your car rental place is operating normally.
COSTS: Rimini is no cheaper than usual — but it’s not expensive either. Double scoop of gelato €2.50; gin and tonic at Turquoise €6; lunch at Casina del Bosco €12; bottle of local Strati white wine at Club Nautica €20; glasses of beer and wine can be found for €2 in Pisa. Hotel prices have dropped more there, where my very acceptable four-star offers rooms from only €78.
WHAT WE SAY: It’s party time on the Italian beaches. If you want a quieter experience with classical sights, head inland.
Getaway: Careful preparation is needed for visiting places such as Corfu (pictured)
‘Greece is more beautiful than ever and thanks to local efforts, it’s probably the safest holiday destination in Europe,’ says Thomas W. Hodgkinson (stock image)
No wonder the Greeks have been reluctant to let us in. They’ve had a hundred times fewer cases of Covid-19 than we have — and they’re keen to keep it that way. The result is that, when direct flights start up again on Wednesday, you’ll find as many safety measures being observed by the locals as you could wish for. It’s the same in Santorini, Crete and Corfu, all of which I visited this week.
ON ARRIVAL: You need to fill out a short online Passenger Locator Form (PLF) two days before travelling. My first port of call was Santorini. At the airport, I’m given a quick mouth swab by a nurse wearing surgical gloves. Then I’m on my way.
BARS, RESTAURANTS AND HOTELS: As I grab a bitter Greek coffee on a semi-deserted beach in Crete, the cafe owner tells me of the safety-measure course every tourism employee has to take — that’s one Greek in five.
At the Mega Hotel in Corfu, the manager Chris takes the temperature of every guest on arrival. When you pop out, you leave your room key in a UV light steriliser box. The trouble isn’t employees, he says, it’s the guests. The Germans have been particularly unruly, refusing to lay their towels out on the poolside recliners before lying on them. ‘They do everything stupid you can imagine,’ Chris says.
GOOD TO KNOW: With fewer boats in the sea and planes in the air, the water is teeming with fish and the bird population of Corfu has doubled. That’s according to Yorgos, a twinkly-eyed waiter in Corfu Town. Then again, he also tells me that the pandemic is an international conspiracy.
GETTING AROUND: If you’re visiting more than one island, you’re not required to renew your PLF code or show it again. On domestic flights, everyone scrupulously keeps their masks in place.
PRICES: Cappuccino £1.80, bottle of local lager £1.40; can of Coke 50p, glass of white wine £2.70; litre bottle of still water 50p; three-course dinner for two with one bottle of local wine £55; hire of a sunlounger per hour £2.70, supermarket sun cream £6.50.
WHAT WE SAY: Greece is more beautiful than ever and thanks to local efforts, it’s probably the safest holiday destination in Europe.
Thomas W. Hodgkinson
MAKE IT MALTA!
Almost back to normal: The Maltese government managed Covid-19 extremely well by closing its borders rapidly. Pictured is Marsaxlokk harbour
The international airport reopened on July 1 and UK tourists can go from July 15.
ON ARRIVAL: Temperature checks are operated by special cameras. When collecting your luggage, coronavirus signs are everywhere, and the new meet-and-greet point is outside the arrivals hall.
BARS, RESTAURANTS AND HOTELS: When checking into the Duke Boutique Hotel in Victoria, Gozo with my mandatory mask on, the receptionist takes my temperature and, after sanitising my hands, I receive my room key.
Around the kiosk on nearby Hondoq beach, I expected some unease – but you wouldn’t guess for a moment that the world is in the throes of a pandemic.
GOOD TO KNOW: The Maltese government managed Covid-19 extremely well by closing its borders rapidly. Life is more or less back to normal.
GETTING AROUND: You can get around by taxi and most drivers are wearing a mask and they have sanitiser for the passenger’s disposal.
COSTS: Cappuccino £1.80; bottle of water £1.62; glass of wine £2.25; meal for two wine £65.
WHAT WE SAY: It feels very safe on Malta and Gozo. Locals expect visitors to respect social distancing rules.