It’s tempting to abandon the UK for a foreign country. Ideally one that’s safe, and without a quarantine upon your return. Not that this strange nation is a bad place to staycation. Indeed, there’s much to be proud of. We’ve the best countryside in the world. We Brits can smile through horizontal rain while eating fish and chips in a crumbling seaside resort. And, more importantly, we’ve the strange ability to recount the entire first verse and chorus of Natasha Bedingfield’s ‘Unwritten’ with an absolute stranger on the train - a feat made all the more impressive by the sheer volume of wine so often involved in these such matters. Drool Britannia.
But for all the ludicrous quirks of this country, we’re not quite European: not cafe culture, eat outside, soak in the sun and cathedral bells European. One year without travel makes our differences all the starker. But as the world slowly opens up, so too have our options. We can go abroad. We can drink three euro rosé. We can also enjoy the last of the summer sun – providing that the country has an established ‘air corridor’ with the UK. Government legislation currently allows free passage to nations with a relatively low Covid-19 infection rate. Travel outside this ever-changing list, though, and you’re subjected to a two week self-quarantine upon your return. And yes, they do check.
So that limits your options. But standing air corridors offer plenty of destinations for a weekend break in places that aren’t likely to find themselves on the naughty list. This can change at a moment’s notice, naturally. That means you keep your trips short, ideally in-between Thursdays (the traditional weekly time at which ministers meet to discuss new restrictions) and stick to one of the below. It’ll be much more fun than that Airbnb in Bognor. Honest.
Mariah Carey has a house in Capri and her own G4 according to the seminal 2005 classic that is ‘Get Your Number’ (ask Alexa right now). And if it’s good enough for the world’s most profligate chanteuse, it’s good enough for you, with the insanely bougie island just a short ferry from Naples.
Head to the Piazza Umberto to watch luxury Russians swan around in white linen, grab seafood by the waterfront at Lo Zodiaco and head up to the highest point of the island to take in the view and feel insignificant/at peace/both.
Capri is notoriously expensive, but there are cheaper Airbnb options that have all the rustic charm you’d expect from an Italian island. That said, if you want to sink the cash you saved up during lockdown, the Villa Marina Capri is a laid back way to go luxury with just the right amount of Donatella Versace.
Capri is just a short 40 minute ferry from Naples, or an even shorter voyage from Sorrento. And don’t get excited by the word ‘voyage’. There are very bog standard ferries.
There’s a reason Athenians leave the Greek capital for the summer and that’s because it’s hotter than the sun. But, as the temperature cools on the climb to October, Athens is open for business as long as you’re open to new things. This is no olde worlde European city. Instead, the city has reimagined itself as an arty, counter-culture destination following the 2008 crash, affording Athens that most elusive of adjectives: cool.
Visit the Acropolis, the Parthenon and the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and then slowly turn around gasping as if you’re in a 90s teen flick about a small town girl discovering the world and obnoxiously confident European men. Also, head to the up-and-coming neighbourhoods of Koukaki and Makrygianni for drinks and dinner.
As the Greek economy still rebuilds itself, Athens offers pretty great hotels at a competitive price. On the affluent Dionysiou Areopagitou Street sits AthensWas, a boutique establishment with views of the city, while 18 Micon Str. offers contemporary warehouse conversions for an even lower price point.
All London airports are offering relatively frequent flights to Athens for less than £100.
Under the hardline conservative regime of president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey has undergone much change. But it isn’t unrecognisable. The capital – a surprisingly huge metropolis that is almost double the size of London and New York – is still a liberal destination for tourists based on the swelling Bosphorus waterway. It even has a Soho House, and they don’t just build those overpriced soulless members clubs anywhere y’know.
Well don’t get lost, because it really is massive. So with Google Maps to hand, check out the Dolmabahçe Palace and pay your respects (emphasis on ‘respect’ here) at the Ottoman-era Sultan Ahmed Mosque. It’s huge. Other than that, flit between the Old City and the student hotspot of Besiktas: which means cheap booze and a laid back atmosphere, but thankfully without 19-year-old Dylan from Portsmouth telling you he’s ‘into older birds’.
Georges Hotel Galata can be found in the European Quarter, and offers the sort of bright and breezy interiors travellers want without forgetting the heritage of its 19th century home. If you want a pool and a trusted brand, there’s the Four Seasons which has been carved into an old Ottoman palace. Or you can just go to Soho House. We won’t judge.
Again, flights are proving to be quite regular from all major London Airports. Just be aware that Turkish customs subject all arrivals to a medical evaluation for symptoms of Covid-19 that can lead to a swab or saliva test.
The comatose cruise industry has seen a quieter Venice. There’s actually a visible bottom to the once murky canals, and grand squares like the Campo San Pol and the Piazza San Marco aren’t full to the brim with a boatload of pensioners. That makes for a safer, calmer way to enjoy a city that’s been historically marred by the amount of tourists passing through.
Look, there’s no shame in a gondola ride, but try keep the longing stare into the eyes of your long term (or short term) lover off Instagram. Instead, pepper regular tourist traps like the Doge’s Palace and Saint Mark’s Basilica with a visit to the once forbidden (and incredibly eerie) island of Poveglia, and enjoy several drinks at the younger, slightly-less-bait Margaret Duchamp cocktail bar.
The dip in tourists means a dip in hotel prices, too. The welcoming Residenza De L'Osmarin bed and breakfast is an authentic glimpse into proper Italian living, while upscale venues like the Grand Hotel dei Dogi and the Gritti Palace can really drown you in that lavish, heavy red drapes-red velvet combo that you imagine from Venice.
Despite being one of the worst countries hit by coronavirus, Italy should be applauded for its low rate of subsequent infections and travelling there shouldn’t be a problem. A short two-hour flight from Stansted is still well below the £100 mark.