Oh we do like to be beside the seaside. And while only a few weeks ago, the prospect of any sort of family travel this summer – let alone to a suitably sandy beach – looked decidedly remote, suddenly, borders are reopening, and a great escape is on. Race you to the airport.
Well, sort of. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. While many parts of the planet are starting to emerge from their Covid bunkers, planning a holiday for July or August still requires a little tiptoeing around regulations and pitfalls. On July 3, the Government unveiled a list of countries and destinations to which Britons would be allowed to travel from English airports without needing to enter quarantine on return. But that’s just half of it. There is no guarantee that everywhere on the list will be willing to stamp your passport. New Zealand and Mauritius, both included in the list, certainly won’t – and may not for a while.
It looks as if short-haul is a safe bet for a successful summer. Not that you have much choice in this. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) continues to advise against travel to the US (where the infection rate is still high), restrictions remain in place on many Caribbean islands (something of a moot point, with hurricane season just starting), and the UAE – including Dubai – is not on the list (and is very, very hot in July anyway).
Europe it is, then – although, even here, there are caveats. Portugal – amid considerable controversy – is not (yet) on the FCO list; Scandinavia is tricky, with borders still largely closed in Finland, and Sweden joining Portugal in being deemed a viral hotspot. However, other parts of our home continent are open to visitors – including all the countries in this article. A family holiday amid the turbulence of 2020? Pinch yourself. Dreams come true.
The requirement for British visitors to quarantine on arrival in France has now been dropped, and our nearest continental neighbour beckons as a travel option – perhaps via the sort of getaway by car that was a cornerstone of summer family holidays prior to the budget-flight boom. If you want a nostalgia trip as well as a road trip, a campsite in Normandy should prove a fabulous throwback. Eurocamp (01606 787125; eurocamp.co.uk) offers breaks at La Vallée, a five-star oasis at Houlgate that has its own water park. A seven-night stay for a family of four in a three-bedroom “Comfort” chalet, arriving on Aug 15, costs from £1,523, including Portsmouth-Caen ferry crossings.
2. The Dordogne
Should you want to go further afield, the rocky vistas and painted caves of the Dordogne are always a wonderful context for a week of idling. Sawdays still has availability at a range of properties in the region (0117 204 7810; sawdays.co.uk/france/aquitaine/dordogne; ). If you fancy gathering a large group of friends for a grand reunion, Chartreuse de Montfort sleeps 14 in seven bedrooms, and has a pool deck overlooking the river at Carsac-Aillac. It can be hired in August for €4,970 (£4,450) per week. By contrast, Jovelle La Chartreuse – a two-bedroom conversion of a 14th-century house (with pool), at Léguillac de Cercles – is ideal for a family. It, too, is on offer in August, for £1,200 a week.
It is a long drive to the south of France, but that rarely worried coffee-fuelled dads in the 1980s, and should not prevent similar dashes in 2020. Not least when you can pull up at Chateau St Pierre de Serjac (0033 4 6793 1234; serjac.com). This five-star idyll sits 15 miles north of Béziers, and 20 miles from the sea at Valras-Plage. And while it delivers sophistication in its spa and winery, it also offers kids’ clubs, bikes and a huge pool. A week’s stay for a family of four in the L’Ecurie suite, checking in on Aug 22, costs €4,508.
Spain reopened to Britons on June 21, but unfenced the biggest of the Balearics earlier – greeting German tourists on June 15 as a trial run for the abridged season. All of which means the island should be in full flow in August. You can still book a villa via Mallorca Farmhouses (0800 121 8992; mallorca.co.uk). The three-bedroom Tia Catalina has a pool, and, set in Pollenca, is near enough to the (north-east) coast for the beach, yet far enough inland for privacy. It is available in the week beginning Aug 8 for £3,140; flights extra.
It is a brave airline that launches a new route during a pandemic that has grounded most planes, but Wizz Air (0330 977 0444; wizzair.com) sees a sure thing in Fuerteventura – and on July 3 began a twice-weekly service (Mondays and Fridays) from Luton to the second-biggest Canary Island. Return flights for a family of four, heading out on Aug 7, start at £745 in total – including checked bags for each passenger. A corresponding seven-night stay (arranged via the Wizz website and Booking.com) in a junior suite at the five-star Gran Hotel Bahia Real in lovely north-coast Corralejo starts at £1,677 with breakfast.
Italy pulled back its barriers as long ago as June 3 – and while its Covid-19 woes have been widely reported, it will be as big a staple of the summer as ever. Better still, there are quiet corners where you can enjoy gelati and good weather without encountering vast crowds. Puglia is a case in point. A week’s stay for a family of four at the Rosa Marina Resort, a four-star by the beach near Ostuni – flying from Gatwick on Aug 16 – starts at £4,789 in total via Citalia (01293 765055; citalia.com), and should provide just the right amount of sunny isolation.
An even more splendid semi-solitude awaits on Italy’s second-biggest island – especially on the rugged east coast of Sardinia, where few tourists venture. Make the trip around to Cardedu, though, and you find Perdepera Beach Resort – a homely hideaway on a broad beach that is part of the Mark Warner (020 7361 8880; markwarner.co.uk) stable. A seven-night stay for a family of four, flying from Stansted on Aug 8, costs from £5,896 in total – including transfers, plus access to kids’ clubs and all watersports activities.
8. Neapolitan Riviera
If your children are craving company of their own age and you don’t mind mingling with a group, spaces are available on the eight-day Pompeii & Pizza Family Holiday that Exodus (020 8772 3936; exodus.co.uk) has scheduled for Aug 22-29. Aimed at kids aged nine to 16, this genial jaunt will take in Mount Vesuvius and the city it most famously destroyed – while also kayaking along parts of the Amalfi Coast and hiking a section of the clifftop Path of the Gods. Prices are set at £1,599 per adult and £1,199 per child, including flights from London and most meals. Maximum group size is 18.
The land of Zeus has been keeping British tourists at arm’s length – and, wary of our higher infection rate, will not allow direct flights from the UK until July 15. For the foreseeable future, visitors must also submit an online passenger locator form (travel.gov.gr) 48 hours before they land, detailing their planned whereabouts. Still, as of Wednesday, the isles of the Aegean can be reached – and need no introduction. A week’s stay for a family of four at the simple yet comfy Manos Studios in Paleochora, in the quiet south-west of Crete, flying from Heathrow on Aug 1, costs from £3,153 in total, through Sunvil (020 8568 4499; sunvil.co.uk).
Kefalonia is a delight; a place of pine-forest fragrance and rare tranquillity. CV Villas (020 3504 3923; cvvillas.com) taps into this with Villa Artemis, a refuge from it all close to Skala, at the south-east corner of the island. It sleeps five in three bedrooms, and has an infinity pool that looks out on the Ionian Sea from its hillside groove. The property is available for the week of Aug 1-8 for £2,838, flights extra.
Malta is also insisting that British tourists hold off until Wednesday – when its airport will usher in all visitors (having reopened to selected nations on July 1). Little has changed in a country that always offers excellent value. For example, a seven-night stay for a family of four at Villa Palma (a two-bedroom oasis with pool in the village of San Lawrenz on Gozo), arriving on Aug 11, costs £2,116 in total with James Villas (0808 301 1655; jamesvillas.co.uk), including flights from Gatwick.
12. Dubrovnik Riviera
Croatia reopened to the world on July 1. The world is glad, having fallen in love with the country’s Adriatic shore in the past 20 years. Sovereign (01293 839 137; sovereign.com) offers breaks to Sun Gardens Dubrovnik – a five-star resort six miles up the coast from the most famous city in the Balkans. Game of Thrones-related exploration may call, but there will be as much appeal in staying put amid a host of kids’ clubs and pools. A week’s stay for a family of four, flying from Manchester on Aug 8, costs from £4,756 in total.
13. Bodrum Peninsula
Friendly of exchange rate and affable of climate, Turkey (which reopened its airports on June 12) has long been a port in a storm for British travellers. With its private beach and kids’ clubs, the five-star Voyage Turkbuku resort is a happy option for an unhurried escape with children. A seven-night all-inclusive stay for a family of four in a two-bedroom “bungalow room”, flying from Manchester on Aug 1, costs from £4,266 in total, via Destinology (01204 874238; destinology.co.uk).
Denmark’s borders opened to Britons on June 27. However, visitors must remain in the country for at least six nights. This fits nicely with Denmark’s Largest Island, an eight-day self-guided cycling holiday offered by Freedom Treks (01273 224066; freedomtreks.co.uk). Ideal for families with older children, the itinerary sends tourists on a 205-mile cycle-path loop around Zealand – starting and ending in Copenhagen, but halting in pretty coastal towns such as Koge. A departure on Aug 22 costs from £3,356 in total for a family of four – including bike hire, bag transfers and hotels (but not flights).
Iceland’s borders are open – but, as it stands, visitors must undergo (and pass) a Covid-19 test on arrival (9,000 króna/£53 if booked in advance; covid.is). It is worth leaping over this hurdle, as the country offers a take on summer that could not be more removed from the claustrophobia of recent months – all wide skies and sea breezes (see page 6 for more inspiration). Discover the World (01737 886105; discover-the-world.com) serves up breaks at Glacier Lodge on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, north of Reykjavik. A three-night package costs from £733 per person with flights, and can be arranged as a longer holiday.
16. Bernese Oberland
Switzerland – which put the “welcome” mat back on its doorstep on June 15 – delivers a similar type of fresh-air escapism, swapping the Atlantic for altitude and alpine meadows. Inghams (01483 494816; inghams.co.uk) has long understood this. A week’s half-board break for a family of four at the four-star Hotel Caprice in Wengen, flying from Heathrow on Aug 14, costs £4,055 in total, with train transfers from Geneva. The ride on the rails can continue. Hotel Caprice gazes along the Lauterbrunnen Valley at the Jungfrau – the mountain whose high places can be thrillingly reached on the Jungfraubahn (jungfrau.ch).
Keep your distance
Travel during a pandemic will always have an element of risk, but there are ways – other than the obvious precautions of face masks and social distancing – to keep your anxiety levels in check. One is to swap the plane for the sealed sanctuary of your own car, and go on an old-fashioned road trip into mainland Europe. The relevant transport companies are certainly expecting extra demand – and are adapting accordingly. Brittany Ferries (0330 159 7000; brittany-ferries.co.uk) has introduced a staggered boarding process to help passengers reach their cabins without bumping shoulders in stairwells; Eurotunnel (0344 335 3535; eurotunnel.com) is now delivering coffees, snacks and groceries directly to your vehicle – drivers can order via a smartphone app without having to leave their seat.
Villas are also likely to be popular, as they allow holidaymakers to retreat into their own bubbles and avoid unnecessary interaction with others.
“A villa holiday is ideal for a post-Covid family trip,” says Tristan Symondson, of CV Villas – which has properties in Greece, Italy, Spain, France, Portugal, Turkey and Croatia.
“They provide a home away from home – and peace of mind. Guests don’t need to leave the site, if they prefer not to.”