Local lockdowns, curfews and shuttered pubs and restaurants. A UK-based half-term sounds about as appealing as living next door to snitch-on-your-neighbours Priti Patel. But, with the list of quarantine-free countries changing daily, it’s hard to keep track of where we’re allowed to escape to.
Traditional late summer destinations such as Spain, France and Portugal are off the cards but there are still plenty of sun-drenched options for families.
Jo McClintock, brand director for Skyscanner, says this October half-term is proving a particularly popular time to get away. “With both Spain and Portugal currently on the restricted travel lists, we’ve seen Brits adapt their travel plans and destinations in Turkey, Italy and Cyprus have risen to the top ten searches list,” she says.
Specifically, Skyscanner has seen an uptick in bookings for Milan and Rome in Italy, Paphos and Larnaca in Cyprus and Istanbul and Antalya in Turkey.
Maybe, just maybe, there could even be the chance of a long-haul trip next month. Nicky Kelvin, director of content at The Points Guy, says airlines are “ramping up” schedules and routes as we reach the tail end of 2020, and there is talk of a transatlantic air bridge opening between London and New York City. “The most important thing for people wanting book holidays and other travel is to ensure they are fully covered by insurance, and have bookings that are fully flexible or refundable should the rules change,” Kelvin says.
For those willing to venture out of the UK, uncrowded travel awaits. “Airports are empty, planes are empty, as are the hotels, restaurants and museums,” says Hugh Graham-Watson, managing director at The Hotel Guru. Read on for your half-term wishlist.
Last of the summer sun… Paphos, Cyprus
Cyprus is a firm favourite for Brits — pre-pandemic, one million of us would travel there each year. You’ll have to provide a recent negative Covid test on arrival, but the tourist-free streets and temperatures of 26C will make it well worth it. And, it’s currently got one of the lowest Covid rates in Europe.
What to do: a patchwork of ancient cities and postcard-perfect beaches, the coastal city of Paphos has something for every traveller. Romance is in the air here, thanks to its association with Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, whose mythical birthplace was the Old Town of Kouklia.
Where to stay: neatly placed on the north-west coast of the island, Anassa is a slick and minimalist escape geared towards everyone — both families and couples are welcome but mum and dad will want to make time for the exceptional spa.
Doubles from £426 per night, anassa.com
For postcard-perfect beaches… Naxos, Greece
A short ferry trip from Athens will land you on Naxos, the largest of the Cyclades. Make the most of the shoulder season, lapping up near-empty stretches of golden beaches and dining out at restaurants you’ll have largely to yourself.
What to do: besides the endless beaches, rent a car and explore the island’s biggest peak, Mount Zas. For older kids, spend a day on the water with a trip to Rina Cave and the southern Cyclades with Actionseaze (actionseaze.com) before getting your gyros fix at Lefto’s Souvlaki Kebab House on the shorefront of the island’s most popular beach, Agios Prokopios.
Where to stay: socially distance in a luxury villa with its own private pool at Naxian Collection.
From £177 per night, hotel.naxiancollection.com
For an off-grid escape… Luleå, Sweden
Hugging the border of Finland in Swedish Lapland, Luleå is a city for adventure seekers. With SAS planning to launch a direct flight from London to Luleå in December, get there before the crowds arrive.
What to do: the city itself offers plenty of Scandi delights, like the 14th century stone Nederluleå Church in the Gammelstad Church Town and history buffs should make a beeline for Norrbottens Museum. Elsewhere, there are 1,000 islands in the Bay of Bothnia to explore but the real draw here is the Lapland gateway, spot the Northern Lights by night and forage the forests by day.
Where to stay: among the pine forest at the famed Treehotel — the Bird’s Nest room is our pick for kids.
From £454 per night, treehotel.se
For your cultural fix… Sicily, Italy
Despite being the first European country to be stung by the pandemic, Italy has emerged on the other side with Rome’s Fiumicino Airport being the first in the world to be awarded Skytrax’s Covid-19 5-Star Airport Rating. This half-term, we’re heading to the islands, namely Sicily, for a truly relaxing break.
What to do: a melting pot of historical sights, from buildings with baroque details to Norman architecture and ancient Greek temples, there’s plenty to see. Waters are still warm in October and the beaches are primed for days by the sea. When you need to let off steam, tackle one of the many hikes around the island.
Where to stay: with room for eight, Villa Elimi is plonked near cultural sites like the Greek temple of Segesta and the salt pans of Morzia
From £4,090 for seven nights, merrioncharles.com
To fly and flop … Bodrum, Turkey
With an infection rate currently much lower than the UK’s, Turkey could be the safest bet for a half-term break this year. Temperatures here hover around the mid-20s in October as those left in the UK quietly switch out their summer garb for cosy jumpers.
What to do: beach hop along the Bodrum peninsula, the beaches in Yalikavak are nice and shallow for kids. Curious souls will love Bodrum castle, the ruins of Halicarnassus and the ancient city of Ephesus.
Where to stay: go all-inclusive with Vogue Hotel Supreme Bodrum. The water park and kid’s club will keep young ones occupied while you enjoy on the hotel’s beach
From £164 per night, voguehotelsupreme.com
To get away from it all… Cayo Coco, Cuba
With no quarantine at either end and no requirement to provide a negative Covid test, Cuba could be a fantastic left-of-field option this October. The catch? International visitors have to fly into one of five specified destinations: Cayo Coco, Cayo Cruz, Cayo Guillermo, Cayo Santa Maria or Cayo Largo del Sur.
What to do: spot the native colony of pink flamingos that dot the azure shores and snorkel among the coral reefs. For those not so confident in the water, clamber onto a glass-bottomed boat to spot the colourful fish below.
Where to stay: book a private bungalow at the all-inclusive Meliá Jardines Del Rey on the shores of Flamenco Beach.
From £96 per night, melia.com