With only a handful of hotels open, the three kilometre-long main street in the Cretan resort town of Hersonissos which is usually jam packed in August, is almost deserted and the few shops that are open announce ‘mega sales’ and ‘50% off everything inside’. “There are only about 20 per cent of tourists compared to last year and also tourists are scared – they are staying inside their hotels,” one business owner tells me. In a queue for the ATM I meet Evangelia Zervakis. Like more than half of Cretans who depend on seasonal work to survive, Evangelia, who made 1000euros a month during the 2019 summer season from May to November, was eager - if not desperate - for the hotels to open again. Now, however, the 45 year old divorcee who works in one of the region’s luxury hotels is scared of being ostracised. “Most of the guests are from Sweden, so my neighbours are terrified of catching Covid,” she says. Like Evangelia, many of Greece’s seasonal workers are stuck between a rock and a hard place. “I have two children and really need to work, but I’m also worried about getting ill,” says Dimitris Papadopulos who turned down a hotel job in Athens because of the recent spike of Covid-19 cases in Greece’s capital city. According to recent statistics from Greece’s Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, the pandemic has taken a huge toll on seasonal employment: with only 43,394 jobs available this year, compared to 296,466 in 2019, there’s just not enough work to go round. Vicky Maltabe, Human Resources manager for a well known luxury hotel chain says that the situation is heartbreaking. “I advertised a cleaning job and received 280 CVs in a single day – I had to take the phone off the hook because people were calling me all day long and pleading with me to give them the job.” Hotel owners are worried, too: a recent study by the Hellenic Chamber of Hotels states that as many as 65 per cent of hotels in Greece could be bankrupt by the end of the disastrous 2020 season. “We opened because someone had to be the first to make a move and support the government’s initiative, but it has not been an easy job,” says Georgios Kaloutsakis owner of Abaton Island, a luxurious spa resort near Hersonissos. With only some 40 cases, however, Crete is still perceived as a safe destination, and stars - including Jennifer Lopez – have flocked to relax on the uncrowded beaches of Greece’s largest island. A spike in cases elsewhere in Greece, however - from around 2,000 at the end of lockdown to 5,623 cases currently – have brought a flood of new protective measures, including the mandatory wearing of masks in all indoor spaces and the banning of large gatherings. The recent introduction of a midnight curfew for bars and nightclubs at the approach of the August 15 Panagia festival – Greece’s biggest celebration after Easter - has caused anger amongst young people. “I’m not taking any risks, but I have friends on Mykonos who say that they’ll go out and party anyway - they just don’t care anymore," says one Athens teenager. Business owners are angry, too. In the high-flung mountain village of Armeni, near Sitia in the island’s remote region of East Crete, two taverns which are a lifeline for locals have been told they must now close at 10.30pm, despite the fact that there have been no cases in the surrounding villages since the start of the pandemic. “Now cafes like this one must close early, even though August 15th is one of our biggest celebrations when everyone is out on the streets until dawn – how will they survive?” asks village mayor Giannis Portorakis. “We’re not worried about the virus here, we’re worried for our businesses and for the future of our young people who run them,” he says. Despite the doom and gloom, however, business owners are encouraged by the Greek government’s promise that another lockdown is not on the cards. “There won’t be a new lockdown in Greece – we are doing everything to avoid it,” says Professor Giorgos Sourvinos, head of Crete’s Laboratory of Clinical Virology and one of the medical professionals spearheading Greece’s team of Covid specialists. “We are monitoring the situation closely and constantly introducing new measures, including testing at all the major Covid-19 hotspots - we are currently carrying out more than 10,000 tests a day throughout Greece."
Mykonos is the new Tinos,” my friend Alketas joked. “I’m on Agios Sostis beach, with four or five other people. I just passed by Kiki’s and there isn’t a single person in line. Vassilis said: ‘Come for lunch any time you like.’”
"Anyone wishing to leave the train at Dent, please be aware that Dent village is nearly five miles from the station. There is, however, a bus connection to Kendal. Once a week.” Our humorous train host, Anthony, was in full flow as the ‘Staycation Express’ approached Dent, at 1,150 feet above sea level the highest mainline station in England and not actually a scheduled stop on this service. From our start point at Appleby’s delightfully pretty station in the rolling Westmorland countryside, the train had fought hostile yet heavenly terrain, heaving slowly up to the line’s highest point at Aisgill. At Garsdale, if you are quick, you can spot the statue of border collie Ruswarp (pronounced ‘Russup’), the only dog to object to the proposed closure of the scenic Settle & Carlisle Line in the 1980s. Up in the moors, in blissful isolation, with roads sparse and wildlife abundant, I felt thankful to faithful old Ruswarp and the 32,000 human objectors who kept this line alive. This little excursion was a big step for me. After a lifetime travelling, making rail holidays for a living, a few months ‘off the rails’ and shielding at home had resulted in itchy feet. Back out in the wide world, the ‘Staycation Express’ – launched last month as Britain’s newest rail service – seemed too good an opportunity to miss. The brainchild of Rail Charter Services, this special timetabled tourist service pulls former first class InterCity carriages three times a day in each direction across the stunning Settle & Carlisle Line. You can join the train in Skipton or Settle at the southern end, whereas Appleby is the excursion’s northern terminus. Whilst not luxurious, the seating is spacious and comfortable, each seat coming with a table and positioned by a full window to view the Pennines in all their changeable glory. Seating is arranged with four seats with table on one side of the aisle and two seats with table on the other side, each bay separated by unobtrusive perspex screens to conform with these unusual times. At stations, boarding and when walking around the train I wore my facemask, a train design (of course!) hand-made by my daughter. Otherwise, you can sit back mask-free and enjoy a little bit of nostalgia and escapism amidst the moorland heather. After Dent came more drama. Our train trundled slowly above the 24 arches of the Ribblehead Viaduct, over 100 feet above the valley, the line crossing between Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent, Yorkshire’s ‘Three Peaks’. Brooding clouds added to the drama before our descent through Ribblesdale to glorious sunshine at Settle, a gorgeous town in the Yorkshire Dales from where Malham, Grassington and the Ingleton Falls are just a short ride away. Back in the market town of Skipton, itself a great base for exploring Yorkshire, the news broke that the UK’s quarantine regulations would be widened to include France and the Netherlands amongst other countries. It felt pretty apt to have spent that same day enjoying the striking beauty of this island on a train called the ‘Staycation Express’! Rob Carroll writes a travel blog at railholidaymaker.com and is director of Airedale Tours. The essentials The ‘Staycation Express’ will operate until September 12 with three journeys a day northbound from Skipton/Settle to Appleby and three southbound from Appleby to Settle/Skipton. There are no stops along the way. Tickets are priced per couple (due to social distancing guidelines): £35 one-way (£17.50 each); £70 return (£35 each); family tickets for four, including at least one child under 16, from £49 one-way. Book at railcharterservices.co.uk
The clouds had been gathering for the last few days and finally on Thursday night it was confirmed: France has been struck off the “green travel list”. From 4am on Saturday August 15, all those returning to Britain will have to quarantine for 14 days and an FCO warning advising against all but essential travel to France has been reinstated.
At times, during my month working remotely from Amsterdam, things have often felt a bit too good to be true – a bit “unpandemicky” (new word). There have been no snotty side-glances on pavements, no “excuse mes” because you can’t understand what on earth somebody is saying through a face mask. Life in Amsterdam has been, just about, entirely normal.
Up to 400,00 Britons currently on holiday in France are now faced with the decision whether to pay significantly more to return home early by travelling before 4am on Saturday; or keep existing flights after this time and be forced to self-isolate for 14 days upon returning to the UK. The consequence of such a conundrum is a wildly fluctuating range of flight costs for today, August 14, meaning many of those that choose to return home will be left paying a hefty premium for the privilege or forced into taking complicated routes. This morning, Telegraph Travel saw one-way direct flights from Toulouse to London as high as £855. By 11am, another option with EasyJet had appeared with a direct flight for a much more reasonable £142; however, at 11:49, Skyscanner, the flight comparison site, was not showing any direct flights available from Toulouse to London. There are several options with one stopover for less than £200. The only direct flight left from Paris to the UK at the time of writing is a £460 with British Airways; likewise Nice to London has just one direct flight with seats available, each at a whopping £772. Routes with a stopover are significantly cheaper. Amsterdam is another key destination that will have large numbers of UK travellers that are affected. Currently the cheapest direct flight home is £328 per person. As it stands, August 14 has seen the biggest change in flight prices; later dates in the month are still very reasonable for peak summer, including flights on August 19 and August 20, which would be the last possible dates for many families to return in order for their children to complete quarantine before school starts. A spot check on these days sees a flight from Paris to the UK as cheap as £56. The UK Government decided to strip France, along with Malta, the Netherlands, Monaco, Turks and Caicos and Aruba, from the “green list” late last night due to a rise in coronavirus infections. Many are complaining of the short notice provided to travellers; though this time there is arguably much more of a chance for British holidaymakers of being able to return before the changes in quarantine rules come into place compared with when Spain was removed from the “green list” less than six hours before its confirmation. After the quarantine announcement that was made concerning Spain on July 25, Skyscanner reported an instant change in search behaviour with destinations without restrictions immediately entering the top searches. Gavin Harris, Commercial Director at Skyscanner, said: “Changing rules around travel have altered consumer confidence, and we are seeing a corresponding dip in traveller searches and booking habits to those destinations on the restricted list. But that’s not to say that the pent-up demand for travel has gone away, as we’ve seen travellers adapting their preferences and opting for other destinations such as Greece and booking last minute summer trips abroad. "We’ve also seen an uptake in travellers interested in tickets with flexible booking policies which protect them from unexpected changes in the status of their origin or destination country. For anyone considering booking a flight, safety is of course paramount, and travellers should always check official government travel advice whilst keeping an eye out for airlines’ updates as the travel landscape evolves continuously.” Have you seen high fares for flights or ferries back from France? Let us know in the comments below.
This morning, we woke to a dozen emails, WhatsApps and texts from friends and family back home checking we’d seen the news.
The addition of France to the Foreign Office's 'red' list is a devastating blow for a travel industry that hoped Spain's inclusion might have been the worst of a fretful summer. France and Spain together represent the most popular summer holiday destinations for British holidaymakers. This year has now seen the summer season shortened at both ends, a disastrous turn of events for the sector. One travel industry source said of the decision: "Summer is effectively cancelled... We had hoped that France would manage to cling on." Neill Ghosh, director of sales and services for luxury tour operator Original Travel, said what little hope there was has been extinguished. "When the government first announced... travel corridors, there was hope in the industry that we could rescue some part of the summer travel season and we saw demand returning very quickly," he said. "However, the changes in advice for Spain, and now additional countries, has had a significant impact on consumer confidence, not just for those destinations but for all travel. Consumers are, quite rightly, worried about where might be next. And given the obligations on tour operators to refund where Foreign Office advice changes, there is fear for us too. "Many tour operators rely heavily, some almost exclusively, on the European summer travel season... so the impact on many companies will be catastrophic." Malta will also suffer from the Government’s latest decision as Britain is the country’s largest inbound tourism market - in 2019, 650,000 Brits visited the island. Kelly Cookes, director of leisure at The Advantage Travel Partnership, the largest consortium of travel agents in the UK, said: "For the travel agent community the removal of Malta is even more worrying [than France] as it’s a destination more likely to be booked by an agent as a package holiday." Industry executives are now calling for a more nuanced approach from the Government to avoid the collapse of an industry already trying to recover from record losses this year. "Everyone understands health before wealth but the Government response needs to be both targeted and proportionate," said Kane Pirie, Managing Director of Vivid Travel. "Switching travel to entire countries on and off is neither. It’s tantamount to nuking your own garden to deal with a mole problem in one corner." Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, is calling for "a sub-national approach to quarantine, in addition to a testing regime for arriving passengers so that those testing negative can avoid having to self isolate – which other countries like Germany have already implemented". "[The Government should avoid] broad-brush, weekly ‘stop and go’ changes to travel corridors at a national level, which have proven so disruptive to airlines and passengers alike," he added. One anonymous source who works with a French hotel said of the news: "[They] are reeling – and coping with an exodus of British guests." Indeed, travellers trying to return from France today to avoid quarantine restrictions face paying hundreds of pounds. The cheapest ticket on a Eurostar train from Paris to London is £210, while the cost of taking a car through the Channel Tunnel on Eurotunnel Le Shuttle services on Friday morning is £260, although all trains after midday are fully booked. Paul Charles, CEO of travel consultancy The PC Agency and who predicted in The Daily Telegraph on Monday that France, Malta and Netherlands would be added to the quarantine list, said: "The 14-day system of quarantine has to be changed - it creates confusion and anxiety among consumers; it’s hurting the travel sector with lower demand; and it says Britain is closed to the world, just ahead of Brexit. Why aren’t we investing more in testing and testing again?" ABTA, the UK travel trade association for tour operators and travel agents, echoed his sentiment, calling for a better plan to protect the 221,000 jobs in the industry: "The Government’s measures to restrict travel will result in livelihoods being lost unless it can step in." Without tailored support, Neill Ghosh adds, the sector is in for further tough times ahead. He said: "The lack of new revenue in a key departure period, coupled with the ongoing burden of refunds and the winding down of the government furlough scheme in the coming months is very worrying for a sector that is trying hard to recover and protect jobs."
The Mediterranean archipelago of Malta seemed like a safe holiday bet when it was exempted from both the UK's list of countries requiring quarantine on return, and the FCO advice against all but essential travel, back in July. Eoghan Corry reported at the time that it had "fared well, with a relatively meagre death toll of nine, and only 15 active cases [currently]".
So the news finally broke that France had been placed on the ‘red’ list of countries that are unsafe to travel to. The timing – late at night and with barely 36 hours notice until D Day – couldn't have been worse. It is sheer insanity to force 400,000 British holidaymakers to choose between cutting their holiday short with a lemming-like last-minute flight across the Channel or enduring yet more time stuck at a home you're already sick of the sight of. My Scottish grandmother and Polish-Jewish grandfather fled the continent in 1939. They'd been living in Paris and ran for the border, getting the last boat out of Belgium before the Nazis arrived. I'm not saying this is the same. But it is a heavy-handed, illogical, sweeping and outrageous way to treat your citizens. Forcing us all to make hurried, panicky, expensive and stressful choices without knowing their repercussions. At this moment, I’m supposed to be on a Eurotunnel train to Calais with my husband and daughter in the car. My brother-in-law, two teenage nieces and large rescue greyhound, were supposed to be joining us en route. We were going to drive down to the Loire and stay the night in a cheap and cheerful hotel in Chartres. Then we were going to carry on for another six hours to join my parents, my sister and my 12-year-old son in our small farmhouse perched on a hill in deepest, darkest Aveyron. A safe place to be since there are currently a grand total of four people hospitalised with Covid-19 in the whole region. It was going to be a welcome, blissful break from the stress of London. Not any more. At 10pm last night our calm preparations exploded into chaos. First off, we considered going all the same and enduring the quarantine when we returned on the bank-holiday weekend. But my son begins at a new school that week and sending him in two weeks after term starts, having done a dollop of homeschooling, was clearly going to send us all spiralling into madness. My husband’s been worrying about this since the threat of a French quarantine loomed, so he’d already booked flights home on British Airways for himself and our son on August 20 meaning they could isolate for two weeks in London before term started. Never mind if the poor husband only got five days on the continent. At least it would have been a holiday of sorts. Then my brother-in-law and nieces announced that they weren’t going to leave the UK - the idea of self-isolation on return was too much for a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old. So that meant my own 14-year-old daughter didn’t want to go to France either. Two weeks with exactly the people she’s been hunkered down with since February and no chance to socialise when she got home felt a bit much. I sympathised. My own craving for a hammock, a glass of Gaillac and a battered old Jilly Cooper in the sunshine would have to give way. But a huge problem loomed. How to get my son home. Obviously, getting the son home was the top priority. I flew him out last weekend to spend a week with friends locally as he loves it down there as much as I do. He’s not bothered by the crappy wi-fi and lack of teenage kicks like the girls are. We flew to Toulouse and he and I had a couple of nights in our cottage, a quick swim in the river, a duck breast, and a spot of star gazing after sunset. Then I dropped him at the friends’ house and hared back to London to start work on Monday. It was easy-breezy. Getting him home has been the opposite. When my brother-in-law announced he wasn’t driving himself, his daughters and the dog down to the house, my sister bought herself a flight home today, swerving quarantine. But adding my son to her Easyjet booking could only be done by phone and she couldn’t get through. Would I or my husband have time to set off last night to drive to the farmhouse and back before 4am on Saturday when quarantine struck? Not a chance - even if we didn’t crash along the way. Booking new flights back was impossible with Easyjet and BA websites crashing with the overload of panicking holiday makers trying to get back before the guillotine fell. Could one of us fly out (easy enough - who’s booking tickets from London to Toulouse today?) and get the TGV from Toulouse to Paris and then the Eurostar to London? The timings were horribly tight. And the trains from Paris to London currently cost over £300 - and rising. We opened a bottle of wine and took a deep breath. Maybe our son should just stay in France for good? I’m told the French education system is a fine one. Eventually, he was rescued by our friends who managed to get through to Easyjet at 11pm and got him onto their booking home late on Sunday night. Yes, he’ll have to quarantine, but at least he’ll get to school on time. And now I’ll spend the next few hours on hold to the AA, BA, the Chartres hotel and Eurotunnel trying to claw back some of the £1,000 we’ve spent so far on a holiday that is not to be.
Another peaceful community has succumbed to Covid chaos. Shell-shocked residents tweet that their beloved town has disintegrated into “a war zone”: a “hell”, where they are “too scared” to risk venturing onto the streets. “We need police presence before someone get [sic] really hurt!!!”.
"There are no tourists in Thailand, which elephant tourism relies on to feed elephants at camps and sanctuaries. A high percentage of the elephants are going hungry, many are chained most of the day, with some camps on the verge of closure," said Louise Rogerson, the Project Director at Tree Tops Elephant Reserve in Phuket. On a regular day, Tree Tops would welcome about 40 visitors a day, each spending £70 to enjoy a hands-off ethically-led experience with elephants rescued from riding camps and the illegal logging industry. But with Thailand's borders closed since 25 March and the tourist tap turned off, funds have dried up. "It is very worrying for us here at Tree Tops with seven elephants to feed and mahout salaries to pay. We need 200,000 (£5000) just to feed our seven elephants each month," says Rogerson. Veterinary costs would come on top of that. Previously working in fashion, Rogerson has launched a series of fundraising initiatives including opening an online clothes store, wildandgrey.com, and collaborating on graffiti elephant designs with artist and musician Goldie, who lives in Phuket. Tree Tops is one of a small number of ethical camps in Thailand but for every do-gooder there are dozens of less scrupulous elephant riding camps, where the situation is far bleaker. As their businesses fold, elephants are being sold into the black market or, if the elephants are lucky, taken to rescue organisations which still have some funds. But, with between 2,500 and 4,000 captive elephants in Thailand even the largest charities are going to struggle to care for more elephants than they already have. "The future seems to be very uncertain,' said Rogerson. "The reality is that tourism won’t return to the way it was for a long time. We were hoping that tourists would be coming back in time for Christmas, but this doesn’t seem likely. We just have to sit this out and do the very best we can to care for our elephants and fund ourselves until a new normal is established." To make a donation to Tree Tops visit treetopselephantreserve.com. Elsewhere, The World Elephant Foundation has launched a 'Help the Starving Elephants' campaign to support elephants across South East Asia.
Viking Cruises have cancelled all voyages for the rest of 2020 as the cruise industry continues to find its restart a challenge.
‘It’s known as the ecology of fear,” Our guide, Laurie, grins. “The sense something might leap out from behind a tree and eat you.” In truth, I’m not expecting a lion or a leopard to leap out in front of me, but I am enjoying the frisson of walking through an emerging wilderness that just 20 years ago was a monoculture of grain fields and dairy herds.
You can always rely on Ernest Hemingway for a travel reference. Especially in difficult times. In his 1929 book A Farewell To Arms – loosely based on his own experiences as an ambulance driver on the Alpine Front in 1918 – the American novelist has his protagonist Frederic Henry flee military police and charges of desertion by rowing his pregnant girlfriend Catherine up the middle of Lake Maggiore in the night – swapping wanted status in Italy for safety in Switzerland.
Silver linings have become familiar commodities in this strangest of years – straws that we are all happy to clutch as normality falls apart around us. They have appeared in the middle of clouds of various sizes – as the fall in air pollution that (initially) accompanied lockdown; in the enforced extra time with families and children as Covid raged; in the commuting-free hours suddenly available for Netflix binges. True, the rainy skies are still above us, but when life gives you lemons – as the cliche goes – you construct an elaborate metaphor about owning a citrus garden in Tuscany, and spend the afternoon daydreaming.
I went to an all-night party on Botany Bay a couple of summers ago, when such things were still allowed. Despite it being the good sort of party where everyone cleaned up at the end, it proved that I’m not the all-night type – I skipped off home before midnight as the tide was coming up and our little cove would be cut off from the outside world until dawn.
Tour operators are reporting a huge demand for gap year travel despite the coronavirus closing international borders and bringing existing trips to an abrupt halt. With A-level results released today, operators report that – rather than being put off travelling – students are pursuing potential projects while keeping an open mind about which country they may end up in.
Wizz Air is launching a new base in Doncaster Sheffield Airport and seven additional destinations, including Spain and Portugal, as demand has proved ‘extremely strong’ despite the pandemic. Speaking exclusively to Telegraph Travel, Owain Jones, managing director of Wizz Air UK said that since being the first carrier in Europe to relaunch flights post-lockdown, its routes to Spain and Portugal have proved “a runaway success”. After the Foreign Office (FCO) dropped Spain from its ‘green list’ of quarantine-exempt countries, demand did go down, Jones says, but it still continues to maintain fairly steady numbers for trips to the country. Wizz Air plans to fly at 80 per cent capacity by the end of the year; a higher number than any other European airline has announced. The Hungarian-owned airline has switched its focus chiefly to the Greek islands as Britons flock there due to low numbers of local infections. Its first direct service to Santorini took off this week and the flight was close to full. Bookings to Greece have been “extremely strong,” Jones confirms. Not that trips to the country have been without problems. As we’ve reported, Greece’s requirement that passengers submit a PLF (passenger landing form) and obtain a QR code at least 24 hours before travel hasn’t been reaching all customers, leading to some being turned away from boarding. “One of the challenges has been the completely unjoined up approach we’re seeing to policy across Europe,” Jones states, adding that Wizz Air customers are warned about Greece’s requirement five and three days before travel. With the creation of a new base at Doncaster Sheffield Airport, Wizz Air will launch new connections for October half term to destinations including the Spanish cities of Alicante and Malaga, Larnaca in Cyprus, Faro in Portugal, Lublin in Poland, Kosice in Slovakia and Suceava in Romania – with one-way fares starting at £17.99. The airline will allocate one Airbus A320 aircraft to the Yorkshire airport, and increase the annual capacity by 150,000 seats to more than one million. “The creation of our second base in the UK is a major milestone for Wizz Air UK, and testament to both our long term commitment to serving the UK market and the strength of the Wizz Air business model, as we continue to expand our footprint during this challenging time for the industry,” Jones said today. Robert Hough, Chairman of Doncaster Sheffield Airport states: “With strong performance there is now a real possibility for the base to grow from one aircraft initially to a multi aircraft base further broadening the range of routes available. “There is no doubt that the aviation sector faces its greatest challenge in modern day history at this time. It is essential that the UK Government acknowledges and supports airlines and airports that bring much needed investment into the UK economy. Doncaster Sheffield Airport contributes over £60 million to the Sheffield city region and offers job security for thousands of people.”
The plan was simple. Ten Bordeaux châteaux, three days and two nights: tasting wine on the premises. All this was pre-lockdown, of course. In wine there is truth. But there are other things as well.
New Zealand recorded its first four community-transmitted cases of Covid-19 for 102 days on Tuesday. In response, it locked down the city of Auckland (where the cases where detected) and placed the rest of the country under tighter restrictions.
The economic catastrophe unleashed by lockdown came into sharp focus today as it was revealed that the UK is officially in the largest recession on record. One of the hardest hit sectors is, of course, the tourism industry and many UK attractions are facing an uncertain future after three-month closures were followed by tepid reopenings.
Returning from Spain to the United Kingdom was very strange. Having written in these pages about the idiosyncrasies of the Spanish reaction to the coronavirus, I was reminded that the British are peculiar in their own, distinct way.