The government’s roadmap out of lockdown sets out specific dates for when we’re allowed to travel again.
At the moment, all leisure travel, both domestic and international, is banned; but that hasn’t stopped sun-starved Britons from booking holidays in their thousands, if booking data from travel companies is anything to go by. In the week of the roadmap announcements, tour operator Tui saw a 600 per cent jump in summer holiday bookings, while Ryanair and easyJet revealed similar bounces.
Some destinations will be easier than others to visit this summer, based on their government’s willingness to accept British visitors, including Spain, Greece and Georgia.
International travel can restart no earlier than 17 May, the government has decided. We don’t need to wait until then to get our fix, though. On 29 March, the “stay at home” order turns into “stay local” (although it’s not clear yet exactly how far we’ll be allowed to travel out of our local area); and on 12 April, self-catering accommodation opens in England, in a boon for domestic travel.
So what’s on the agenda for The Independent’s travel desk this summer?
As much as I’ve loved lapping my local parks during lockdowns, I’d like to venture a bit further afield when “stay local” comes into effect. As a southeast London dweller, I’ll be heading to the Sunday food market in the wonderful Horniman Museum gardens, which offer an eye-popping view across London. A bit further away is Crystal Palace Park, decorated with life-size dinosaurs, sure to delight my 11-month-old. For a We’re All Going On A Bear Hunt vibes, I’ll be tramping around Dulwich Woods with a coffee from the park cafe.
Self-catering breaks can resume! I’d really like the chance to see friends and family, so I’ll be booking Airbnbs in Yorkshire, Cheshire and Essex. If the weather cooperates, I’d love to escape to the Kent coast; with a family favourite being Whitstable, with its wind-beaten stone beach and fresh oysters, and handsome market town Faversham.
Center Parcs has announced its intention to open its parks from 12 April. Given I’m an adventure park virgin (and as a parent now firmly fit the intended demographic), I’d love to pedal my son through its forests and let him splash about in the pools.
On home turf, top of my agenda is a road trip between Belfast and Northern Ireland’s second city, Derry, after making a short detour up the coast to Culloden Hotel & Spa.
Then, abroad. Spain is first on my list: specifically, Ibiza. The Balearics – the island group that includes the White Isle, plus Mallorca and Menorca – has signalled it’s ready and waiting to welcome back British visitors, and has put forward plans to be the first place in Spain to trial a vaccine passport scheme. Once upon a time, I’d love to check into party palace Ushuaia, but now I’ll be resting my head at Nobu Hotel Ibiza Bay, which has a super kids’ club (for the baby) and the Japanese chef’s iconic black cod for the adults. On the mainland, Granada and its spectacular Alhambra has long been on my list, which could be a nice drive from nearby Seville.
I’m also dying to go back to Tinos, a tiny, arty island in the northern Cyclades that’s next to Mykonos, which I first visited in September 2019. Looking long-haul, I’m hopeful that a long-planned trip to see friends in Hong Kong and Singapore, followed by a blissful week at a beach resort in Camh Ranh, Vietnam, might go ahead after all later this year.
While we aren’t quite sure what “stay local” even means, the end of the “stay at home” order also coincides with the easing of restrictions around outdoor sports. This means one thing and one thing only for this masochist – a return to open-water swimming.
The temperatures aren’t likely to be soaring, but after a miserable three months stuck inside I can’t wait to hop on my bicycle and pedal off to London’s best spots. I’ll ease myself back into things with a dip in West Reservoir near Finsbury Park, which has a properly marked out swimming course, before wending my way south to the Serpentine, where an early morning dip in Hyde Park is often accompanied by feathery companions in the form of swans and coots.
And then, the piece de resistance: I’ll strike out for the Ladies Pond on Hampstead Heath, which has a more “free-for-all” vibe and gloriously murky water, all surrounded by a protective cocoon of trees. It even has a hot shower in the changing rooms – the ultimate post-swim treat.
Two of the things on track to reopen on 12 April are theme parks and zoos – I am partial to both. Set across a 550-acre site with extensive gardens as attractive as its rides, Alton Towers will likely be high up on my list – especially considering its latest attraction, Gangsta Granny: The Ride (based on the David Walliams books) is set to launch this spring. Sounds like a great way to earn brownie points with my much-missed nieces.
Self-contained accommodation is also set to open up, and I’m very much into the idea of a rural escape to some kind of off-grid hut. Canopy and Stars have masses of glamping options: after a year of staring at screens, I quite like the sound of their Digital Detox Cabin in deepest darkest Essex, where checking in includes locking away your smartphone in a sealed box. Another tempting option is Burghley Mouse, an idyllic shepherd’s hut in Lincolnshire with a sense of fun – inside the hut is a locked treasure chest with a bottle of prosecco inside, and guests must solve a series of clues to find the key.
Unlike my illustrious colleagues, I have given up flying for 2021 – so no nips to the Seychelles for me when the international travel ban lifts.
On the home front, I’m keen for a city break in Coventry, this year’s UK’s Capital of Culture, where a packed cultural programme awaits. And as I do like to be beside the seaside, I fancy checking out Blackpool, a place I’ve somehow never been to, to sample ART B&B. Every room in this new unique boutique has been designed by one of 30 specially commissioned artists.
If I can make it abroad (and that’s a big “if” at this stage), Spain is calling to me. As a wingless traveller I could take the train – but I also rather like the idea of catching the ferry on an epic 23-hour overnight sailing from Portsmouth to Bilbao. From there I could step out on the Comino Norte – one of the routes of the famed Camino de Santiago pilgrimage – and walk 109km over the course of six days to wind up in Santander down the coast. It’s the perfect antidote to lockdown.
“People should continue to minimise travel wherever possible,” the government urges, “and should not be staying away from home overnight at this stage”.
After 12 weeks of going no further than I can walk from my front door in London, I will enjoy the freedom to make a break for the coast. Depending on the wind direction I may cycle to Brighton, the most exotic place in Britain, and smile at the oriental extravaganza that is the Royal Pavilion; or make a pilgrimage beyond Canterbury to beautiful Botany Bay at the far east of Kent. But I may catch a train back with my bike.
All the research I have seen indicates a negligible risk of transmission onboard the rail services that are rattling around empty (at a cost to taxpayers of £30m per day). Trains have to start paying their way or they will be the obvious place to start cutting spending.
The long-awaited windfall for providers of “self-contained accommodation” means that prices are naturally surging, especially for the final week of the Easter holidays – which begins on 12 April for many schools in England and Wales.
So assuming Northern Ireland (where the schools will have returned) has a similar rule, I shall head northwest across the Irish Sea. And choose a beautiful location on the Ards Peninsula looking across to Scotland, and explore the amazing Strangford Lough – officially the largest inlet in the UK, as well as a Marine Conservation Zone.
Before the end of the month, the Youth Hostels Association will at last reopen, starting with small hostels for single households. The South Downs hostel near Lewes looks especially tempting, with a gorgeous location in and around an old farmhouse.
Catch me if you can – but I have little idea where. The government’s tangle of travel restrictions has been extremely difficult to forecast and figure, since some of the measures are demonstrably counter-productive and increase risk of infection.
So I shall be opportunistic, but all else being equal Portugal will be my first destination: it is the country most cruelly (and, in my view, unfairly) vilified by the UK, and I shall return to make the journey along the coast between Lisbon and the far southwest. I might even nip across to the Azores to Sao Jorge and Graciosa, the two isles in this extraordinary archipelago that I have yet to visit.
Then it will be a matter of making up for lost time, probably in the order of cancellation from last year: Ukraine, Armenia and all former Soviet republics to Tajikistan.