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News & views from Europe

Inntravel, 05 June, 2020
From their homes in Portugal, Italy, France and Spain, our overseas team share their thoughts and experiences.
 

We couldn’t do without them: the walkers and cyclists who help us to research and plot new routes, and the local experts who are always on hand to scout out new hotels, taxi drivers and restaurateurs – or check in with existing ones.

Each is based in a different European country and has had their own individual experience of lockdown. Here they share their stories, and tell us where they’re dreaming of travelling when restrictions are lifted.
Jack & Andy Montgomery
Portugal
Living in the small, rural hamlet of Brejos do Assa, in the Setúbal Peninsular in central Portugal, life in lockdown over the past three months has, in some ways, not been too distant from the way it was before it all began. This is a small village. Not much happens and not many people visit. Here, life has gone on much the same way as before – the elderly men still gather outside the café, smoking and putting the world to rights, not a face mask between them – except that Dona Natalía who runs the village supermarket/delicatessen/post office/unofficial community centre has finally agreed to wear a face visor.

The Portuguese are a pragmatic nation and, apart from Dona Natalía, naturally cautious when it comes to health so people were already practising a level of social distancing long before temporary legislation was introduced. We have yet to see any police having to enforce lockdown restrictions in our area, they don't need to, people are simply compliant.

For us, the biggest impact has of course been the cancellation of all our travel plans. Ironically, we had more holidays booked for 2020 than in any year since we left the UK way back in 2003 and to date, we've had to cancel two work trips and postpone three holidays. On the up side, we live on a small farm next door to extensive meadows and cork forest so we can go walking every day and are enjoying the wild flower displays; the storks that nest on the roof of a nearby farm; and the egrets that ride the backs of sheep and follow the plough in their search for insects. Unfortunately, the terrain is completely flat so our legs are in for something of a shock once we can travel and get back to serious walking again!

Where’s first on your list? Depending when and where restrictions are lifted, we are hoping to visit the Norwegian fjords by boat; we were due to travel there earlier this year to celebrate our Pearl Wedding Anniversary.
Stéphan Bosc
France
Initially, coronavirus came as a shock to everyone in France: for a time, we were completely dazed. When the pandemic was at its peak, the media spoke of nothing else and statistics were frightening – and not just to those of us inside the country – there were so many victims, and the numbers were increasing daily.

On a more personal level, it was difficult not being able to leave the house without permission. We had to carry a document stating the reason for our movements – for example, to go food shopping or help the elderly. Each time we received an updated document, I put it on the inside of my car window so that it was easily visible for the police checks.

At this time, I was also receiving call after call from our partners – hoteliers, taxi drivers and car hire companies – all devastated by the situation and by the torrent of cancellations we were having to send them. Certain hotels, however, have since shared some more positive stories: they tell me how they have used this time to complete small-scale renovation projects and to put safeguards in place for when visitors return.

The country is now in a much better place than it was even a month ago. We are still not allowed to kiss one another on greeting – most of us are wearing masks, anyway! – but since 11 May, we’ve not needed permission to leave the house and, on 2 June, many hotels were given the green light to re-open and the 100-kilometre domestic travel restriction was also lifted. Before that, it was a postcode lottery as to what landscapes were available to you – residents of Bordeaux rushed to visit nearby Arcachon Bay but beaches remained off-limits to Parisians.

Where’s first on your list? I plan to go walking in Brittany – I haven’t been to France’s Atlantic coast since last year and I miss being beside the ocean.
Mariana Mier y Teran
Spain
For the first two weeks after the government declared a ‘state of alarm’ on 14 March, there was widespread shock among the Spanish population. Generally speaking, though, the official social distancing recommendations have been followed, with most of us refraining from leaving our homes and not seeing friends and family.
 
The two months of house confinement were strict – we could only go out for essential grocery shopping or pharmacy trips, with no other services open. It was hard not being able to take part in our usual outdoor leisure and sports activities, so we turned instead to TV sports and YouTube videos – I have now mastered the art of Zumba dancing! We have also taken advantage of the extra time indoors to learn new skills like playing the piano, to deepen our knowledge of interesting subjects or to just enjoy some family games.
 
The Government has recently decreed different phases of de-escalation for different parts of the country, depending on the virus’ evolution in each area. We are now able to go out and exercise at set times of the day, and another great piece of news is that a percentage of the population has gone back to work, so shops, cafés and bars have re-opened. Drinking that first ‘proper’ coffee or cool draft beer on a terrace is no longer a dream! We are fast recovering and getting back to normal in Spain, so while this period lasts, strolling in my safe and quieter-than-ever home town of Barcelona is a privilege.
 
Where’s first on your list? When confinement is lifted, I will drive a couple of hours north to the Catalan Pyrenees, a region where I always find the warmest welcome, beautiful scenery and delicious food; an ideal place for getting back to basics and regaining touch with nature.
Paul Rickard
Italy
It’s difficult to summarise how Italy as a whole has been affected, as the virus has hit the different regions at very different levels. I am resident in Lombardy, which has been at the epicentre and where the situation has been quite drastic as reported in the media. Some (but not all) of the other Italian regions seem to have thankfully contained the spread of the virus with fewer casualties.

As you’ll no doubt be aware, there has been a lengthy and strict lockdown in place, initially in the north then nationwide. Throughout, the message has been very much ‘Stay at Home’ – when making any essential trips, we had to carry a signed document to declare what we were up to; this was policed quite strongly with hefty fines issued. For walking or exercise, we were only allowed to stray 200 metres from our place of residence, so it felt quite severe. Working from home has been the norm, although the last few weeks have seen many business and shops re-opening, providing social distancing and sanitary protocols are enforced.       

As restrictions lift, so does the national mood. Bars and restaurants are trading once more – albeit at reduced capacity – and since 3 June we have been able to travel between regions and across our international borders.

Where’s first on your list? After travelling to see family and friends, I’d like to visit western Sicily. I’ve been helping put together a new hotel-to-hotel walking holiday here and I need to return to apply the finishing touches to the route notes. We’ve been on the lookout for a new Sicilian walk for a long time, so I’m pleased we have finally found the perfect formula – watch this space!
 
 

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Norwegian Highlights
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More about our tour of the Norwegian fjords >

Granite Coast of Brittany
We love Brittany for its secluded sandy bays, distinctive Celtic culture and mouthwatering haute cuisine.
More about our walking holidays in Brittany >

Catalan Pyrenees
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More about our walking holidays in the Pyrenees >
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