Or do we? Travel guidelines are changing week by week but Tim Magee has suggestions for where we might jet to later this summer and into autumn …
Fully vaccinated people in Ireland will begin to receive digital Covid certificates for travel within the European Union from Monday July 12 meaning holidays are a possibility for many this summer. Those who have not been vaccinated will have to pay to get a private PCR test if they wish to travel abroad. Below, Travel Editor Tim Magee shares where we should plan to go this summer and into autumn – start booking now …
You could be reading this on a table on a terrace outside your favourite restaurant, with a shot or two of Covid–hunters coursing through you. Or maybe we will all be living underground. Who knows? Writing a travel column no longer needs experience, some storytelling ability and an idea of where to go, what to eat, drink and do. You just need to close the laptop, then your eyes, then reopen them wide and mix some chicken bones with tea leaves, crush them with a Magic 8-Ball against a sheep skull while eating tarot cards. Or engage in the now probably permanent self-hieromancy of inspecting your own entrails every ten minutes.
So, what do we know now that we didn’t know 15 months ago? Personally, nothing much useful. The box room in my head had been jammed for the previous five years with history books, posts and pundits trying to answer the question of why the Republican Party is bad. The same room is now packed again with news reports and op-eds on aerosol transmission versus fomites, social distancing, therapeutics, vaccines, mask types and post-pandemic positing, all of which won’t be worth the paper it’s written on when this is all over.
What we do know is that people like to travel. Beyond 20km ideally, then intercounty – which up until last year was for hurling and football teams. Now we dream of BIT – Beyond Intercounty Travel.
Hotel Can Ferrereta, Mallorca, Spain
We know that when you are on an island, however lovely, you dream of getting off it and onto a plane, giddy and chatty, with a G&T in one hand and this magazine in the other. But something we didn’t know at the beginning of last year – that this longing to leave would stretch to flying with mask-and-visor combos, €200 a head down on double testing, smelling of cleaning alcohol, sweating iron tablets, vitamin D, oil and fear, trying to breathe through our ears, but all the while knowing that we are going somewhere, anywhere, where six o’clock won’t be framed by unpredictable numbers via the CMO.
Travel bubbles will burst and re-bubble, corridors will collapse then reopen and zones will change colour, and there’ll be Covid travel columns for some time, but this isn’t last year. Some of our favourite countries need tourism now more than others, most need business travel and meetings where you can’t see yourself looking back at you. There will be BIT.
Common sense says our initial bubble would be with our nearest neighbour – we do share an open border. I missed London more than I expected during lockdown, and the two islands might have done me for now. Our British friends have been through a triple trauma of Brexit, Covid and populism, and it’s remarkable that their PM didn’t buy all the vaccine that had his name on it twice. I want to sit in or outside any number of brilliant places in the UK to talk nonsense like that and toast their resolve, but a dearth of common sense on borders in the UK seems like a long Covid symptom to me.
The EU’s Green Cert is a good idea in theory, but any kind of BIT will still involve checking the destination’s entry requirements at the time of booking and every day until the moment the seatbelt lights come on.
The finest beach bodies are the antibodies from vaccines (not from the time you caught the bug) and all visa permutations are trumped by the vaccinated travelling to the vaccinated.
If you are dreaming of BIT, get vaccinated. Having that option is a privilege that most of the world is still dreaming about. Vaccines should go to the world’s most vulnerable soon or we will be living with this thing forever. Otherwise, it’s like smiling at essential work being done to your gaff while your neighbour’s house burns to the ground.
All the vaccines are wildly successful moonshots that mostly keep us out of hospitals and coffins. I’ve more of a chance of getting pregnant than getting a blood clot from any of them. I think everyone being inoculated should get some extra vaccine and a free dart gun. On Friday nights, the government should put up prize money and the guards should stand down while the vaxxed should be allowed to roam and bag and tag those with no good reason not to be. That’s just me though. I want my BIT.
Greece and the Islands
I flew for work a few times since C-Day last year. Getting connecting flights nowadays is more draining than not, especially while keeping your mask on through terminals. For the year that’s in it, go direct. It’s easier for small islands to vaccinate everyone and control things and Greece has done spectacularly well since this pandemic started, despite a considerably creakier health system than our own. If you want to climb around a calmer Athens, there are a couple of beautiful new openings with the Modernist and the Kefalari Suites in the leafy burbs. If it is silence and staying in your own private version of Mount Olympus you’re after, the new Santorini Sky is the limit. www.themodernisthotels.com; www.yeshotels.gr; www.santorinisky.com.
The Canary Islands and the Balearics
It’s 2,000km from Madrid to the Canaries as the sunburnt and very tired crow would fly. It’s not really Europe. The island’s alert system worked well over winter but won’t be tested again until Brits are allowed back. Bear in mind the island’s highest alert means you can still go to a restaurant, sit outside and have some of the island’s excellent and widely varied wine while admiring the remarkable local compliance with outdoor mask-wearing. The Canaries’ three little sisters of El Hierro, La Gomera and La Palma have cute two and three-star hotels that haven’t changed in a century but if that isn’t your thing and you want something shiny, polished and luxe, then head to the other Spanish island. The much-anticipated sustainable glamour of Six Senses has just opened in Ibiza or the gorgeous Can Ferrereta, a renovated 17th–century mansion on acres of green in the historic heart of Santanyí in Mallorca, is close to some of the island’s best beaches. www.sixsenses.com; www.hotelcanferrereta.com.
Ca’ Di Dio, Venice, Italy
I wonder if I can make it back to Venice to see how nature is healing, before the high tide of vaxxed cruise ships hits, wandering the streets with phone locked in the safe, fish-watching and breathing in the quieter campi and calli. I doubt I’m the only person thinking this. If I do make it there, I will try the new Ca’ Di Dio, unusual for Venice with its contemporary style. The 13th-century building which has welcomed guests for more than eight centuries has been given a lavish update by queen of the eclectic, Patricia Urquiola, the architect behind the brilliant Il Sereno in Como and half a dozen handsome hotels in Italy and Asia. www.v-retreats.com
Upstate New York
Fall in New York isn’t as long a shot as before (he says nervously) as Uncle Fauci and the CDC have been allowing the vaccinated to travel inbound since early April. There’s little reason to believe that the vaccinated travelling to the vaccinated rule won’t be firmly and universally in place by September. Worst case scenario is a couple of days’ room service and PCR at the new TWA Hotel which opened into the silence of May last year. Celebrating a negative test at the rooftop runway pool with a Manhattan before shooting into town for a few nights in the Casa Cipriani would be enough mega-city action for 2021 – and enough time to take in the opposite vibe, a road trip out to the Catskills. First Chatwal Lodge then up through the Hudson Valley, pit-stopping at Mohonk Mountain House before heading through all those fall colours to the Point Resort in the Adirondacks for a deep breath of that fresh autumm air ahead of whatever winter is going to throw at us. www.cipriani.com; www.twahotel.com
Douro Valley, Portugal
Quinta Nova, Douro, Portugal
I was slow to pick a spot in the Douro, the traditional destination for Portuguese wine tasting, as everywhere in Portugal now has some of the best pound-for-pound wines in Europe, but the country’s featherweight sunny day-drinking wine, Vinho Verde, lives just next door to the big reds and port of Douro and Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carmo is some spot. This is a year for breathing in different scenery and Quinta Nova, perched on the steppes of the upper Douro, surrounded by centuries-old cypresses, between terraces full of vines and fruit trees, will do nicely. If you’re coming from Porto, take advantage of a cheap and sleepy designated driver with one of the most gorgeous train journeys in Europe that tracks along the river to nearby Pinhão. www.quintanova.com.
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