A socially distanced reintroduction to travel
Updated: May 21, 2020
Not a very catchy title I know; but essentially this blog entry contains three ideas on where you could go on your first foray back into travel, once Coronavirus related travel restrictions are lifted. To start with you may not automatically want to go somewhere crowded i.e. mixing, eating and socialising with lots of different people. While operators like cruise-lines and all-inclusive resorts will no doubt be making massive efforts to ensure guest health and hygiene, if you did ever want to take that alternative ‘get away’ trip, perhaps this would be the time to look into it.
A word of caution first; these are not recommendations to stay as a refuge from the current Coronavirus restrictions. They are places to consider and feel comfortable going to, once the countries mentioned start to welcome back travellers. As always, I would say don’t go away without adequate insurance or against government advice.
1. Picos de Europa
A national park and mountain range, the Picos are in the North of Spain, well within sight of the coast. They are spread over a relatively compact 646 square km, the highest peak rising to the 2,649m.
Think of renting a remote cottage or mountain chalet near the numerous hiking trails. You should be able to enjoy some stunning scenery, fresh air, exercise and nature in this ‘pocket sized’ Alpine-like region. Here are some links to a local tourism site and a YouTube clip to give you a flavour of the area.
The other advantage is not being that far from the beaches of the ‘Green Spain’ coast just to the North. While some areas can get relatively crowded in the Summer, with a car and a bit of planning you can park up and be out on some of the remoter beach locations, whilst still affording plenty of room to observe your social distancing. It should be a reasonably short distance back to your 'mountain retreat' to enjoy a glass of the renown local Asturian Cider and watch the sunset.
Pick your walks carefully, some of the walking trails, which under normal conditions would be a ‘must-do’; will not leave you room to pass people with sufficient distance. For example, the famous path through the Cares Gorge is partially cut into the rock face and very narrow at points, to the side are some huge sheer drops, it simply would not be possible to pass people 2m apart!
From the UK, the Picos are easily accessible with flights into Santander (or Bilbao a slightly longer drive away) taking about 2 hours. Another option could be to take one of the overnight Brittany Ferries from either Plymouth or Portsmouth to Santander, the crossing takes about 18 – 24 hours. While this may at first not seem an obvious choice, you can in fact drive straight onto the ferry in your car, go to a pre-booked en-suite cabin and mainly spend your time there. From experience using this route, the ferry can get crowded in specific locations, for example around bars and self-service restaurants at meal times. However, you can normally find some quieter parts on deck to walk and relax. Think about planning an overnight bag to bring up from the car deck to your cabin so you are comfortable to spend the majority of your time there.
In fairness no form of transport is going to be totally risk free from Coronavirus and each will have its pros and cons. However, a ferry trip planned out like this could mean less contact with others compared to a busy airport and then a full flight. It really depends what you feel is right for you.
2. Lozère, Southern France
Image by pixabay christels-3741991
What if you wanted to get away somewhere even more remote and empty? Although France has a population similar to the UK of about 66M, it is over twice as big and given a large proportion of this population is concentrated in urban areas; all this means some areas of rural France are incredibly sparsely populated by Western European standards. None more so than the départment of Lozère in South central France. With a population of about 76,000 in an area the size of Norfolk (the English county), it has a population density of just 15 people per square km. To give some kind of comparison, the population density of Norfolk, which itself is below the UK average, is a huge 155 per square km. For population density, Lozère is far more like Mongolia, the least population dense nation on earth, which has about 2 people per square kilometre. However, enough with the numbers, you get the idea, it is very empty.
You should be able to stock up with food, drink and rent a Gîte or other holiday home, many will have Wi-Fi and some will even have a pool. In the Summer you are probably looking at average daily highs in the mid 20’s Celsius and plenty of sunshine. As for the landscape of Lozère think mountains, high Limestone plateaus, forests, spectacular gorges, picturesque small settlements, it also covers part of the Cevennes National Park. Tourism is an important part of the local economy and the area is well set up to welcome visitors. I have put some links below so you can get a better idea of the place.
Visiting from the UK, you could drive and take the Channel Tunnel without leaving your car, except for a refuel and the odd comfort break. You are talking about a 9-hour drive from Calais, so just about doable in a day if you live in SE England and you share the driving, but maybe more comfortable with an overnight stop at some point on the way down. You could also fly to Limoges (LIG) about two hours North of Lozère and hire a car (the flight should be about 1 ½ hours), Ryanair fly from London all year and a number of regional airports during the Summer. Limoges is very much a smaller airport, with relatively few flights. If you are thinking about somewhere in Western Europe which is reasonably accessible, suitable for a holiday and yet very remote, then Lozère is hard to beat.
3. Newfoundland, Canada
Only part of the country since 1948, the Island of Newfoundland is one half of Newfoundland and Labrador, the most Westerly province of Canada. Newfoundland is situated 'only' about 3,700 km from London; to put this is perspective you could travel on another 5,000 km West to Vancouver without leaving Canada. The Island is large and sparsely populated with a population of around 500,000, giving a population density of approximately 4 people per square kilometre. Mallorca has about the same population, but is 1/30th the size. When you consider that about 40% of Newfoundland’s population are also clustered in the capital St Johns, then the rest of the Island is very empty indeed.
While hardly tropical, the climate in the Summer is certainly not unpleasant for getting outdoors, the higher latitude (about the same as the UK) also means lighter Summer evenings. Being about 500km across, you are probably going to want to settle mainly in one area. i.e. don’t plan on driving to the other side of the island on a day trip! I might suggest going from the airport across the Island, on the Trans Canadian Highway to the West Coast and staying somewhere in or around the spectacular Gros Morne National Park.
On the Island you can expect a range of outdoor activities from the more standard kayaking and hiking to whale watching or seasonal iceberg watching, plus many other historical and wildlife sites. It is now generally accepted the Vikings had an outpost here several hundred years before Columbus arrived in the Caribbean. You can visit the L’Anse aux Meadows historic site to look at the associated archaeological remains.
The Pulitzer prize winning book “The Shipping News” by Annie Proulx, is set on the island and will give you a good feel for the place and its people, it was also made into a reasonably good film, but as in most cases, the book is better.
The other reason for considering Newfoundland, as mentioned before, is its relative proximity to Europe. A 5-hour direct flight will get you there from Heathrow with Air Canada or Lufthansa. Some indirect flights which involve flying further into Canada, changing and then flying back East again, are actually a bit cheaper. However, not flying direct seems to miss out on the advantage of the location. The time difference is only 3 ½ hours, yes there is a time zone with an odd half an hour! All this means the jet lag is going to be pretty manageable. While a 2 week or 10-day trip would be preferable, it is certainly doable in a week if that is what you have.
So, there we go a few ideas to get you started; are you considering any of these locations, or are there others you think readers should also be looking into? As always it would be great to hear from you; until then stay safe until you can travel safe.