This week, Brittany Ferries announced that its advance bookings for 2019 are 4 to 5 per cent down because of uncertainty about how Brexit might affect crossings from the UK to France and Spain. It cited concern among its regular customers on issues such as rules about travelling with pets, health insurance and the validity of driving licences. And I suppose it isn’t surprising that a significant number of risk-averse travellers want to keep their powder dry in case things don’t work out in time for the deadline.
Personally, I think that, whatever the Brexit deal (or no deal), there will long-term downsides for travellers in Europe. But I am confident that the basic practicalities will be sorted out reasonably quickly. At least I’m confident enough to be planning plenty of European travel for later in 2019 and to advise early booking for summer peak weeks.
As things stand, I am holding off booking travel to Europe during the weeks immediately after March 29 – if only to avoid getting caught up in potential teething problems at the borders and the stress of any last-minute dramas in the negotiations.
So what should you do if you have similar doubts, yet you are keen to arrange an overseas holiday at Easter (April 21)? Perhaps consider destinations that fall outside EU borders, but don’t involve a long-haul flight.
There are, of course, very few options in geographical Europe itself. A glance at the map shows that only Iceland and Norway (which are not at their best in April), Switzerland and a small clutch of countries in the Balkans and the far-eastern side of the continent remain outside the EU. But there are some interesting options a little further afield. Here are some suggestions – places that you can reach on a flight of five hours or less. All, apart from the last, offer good value at the moment. Flights might be relatively expensive, but your pound will go a lot further than in most EU countries.
My number one choice for next Easter is Istanbul. There are very few cities in the world that combine such a deep and complex history, such a fascinating food culture, and a shopping experience to match the Grand Bazaar. Tourist numbers have been well down for the past couple of years and, while Turkey’s political problems are not over, the situation is much more stable now. Alternatively, Marrakech is lovely in the spring sunshine and just over three hours’ flight away. St Petersburg is one of Europe’s great cultural centres, rates highly in our readers’ surveys and is an alluring introduction to Russia. It won’t be warm – expect temperatures peaking at about 46F (8C), but so many treasures are in its palaces and museums that the weather is unlikely to spoil your break.
Options for reliable short-haul sun in April are always limited. Cyprus and the Canaries are the safest choices and I’m sure they will do their best to make life easy for UK tourists after Brexit. But to avoid the EU, I might be tempted by the beaches and Kasbah of Essaouira on the west coast of Morocco. It won’t be scorching, but should top about 68F (20C) most days. For real heat, one of the Egyptian Red Sea resorts would work. Or, if you are happy with a pool, a Nile-side break in Luxor or Aswan is a great option – the climate is wonderfully hot and dry. A more offbeat option is the Israeli Red Sea resort of Eilat; Wizz Air (wizzair.com) started direct flights there from Luton a couple of weeks ago.
The obvious destination for skiers at Easter is Switzerland. It’s expensive, but you can’t argue with the quality of the skiing, nor the variety of resorts. In April, however, you would want to head for one of the more snow-sure options. Zermatt would be an excellent choice and, since it is linked to Cervinia, it gives you the option of skiing down into Italy for lunch: passport checks, at what is essentially an open border, are very rare.