The FCO travel advice to avoid all unnecessary journeys is changing. According to Radio Four and The Times (sorry – very establishment of me) we should expect that from July 6 we’ll be able to travel to certain European countries, for which the quarantine restrictions will have been dropped. No need to self-isolate when you get there or when you get back.
In other words: we’re all going on a summer holiday… Perhaps.
It’s news that couldn’t have come at a better time. The most exciting things that have happened recently have been getting a salad spinner and painting my garden fence. I need to get back on the road before I lose the plot completely.
Of course, I don’t believe a tour this summer will be quite like any tour in previous years. For one thing, I don’t believe everyone will welcome British tourists quite so warmly as in the past.
I’m expecting this partly because we’re approaching the prickliest parts of the Brexit withdrawal and some of our European former-brethren will resent Brits, remainer and leaver alike. Mostly it’ll be because our handling of C-19 hasn’t covered us in glory (how can an island, which got it last, have the worst stats in Europe?) and I suspect a good few folk will be wary of welcoming anyone from the UK.
This year’s trips will inevitably feel different because of Covid. I anticipate that, unlike Bournemouth beach, we’ll find there is still something like social distancing in a lot of Europe. Especially near the beaches. I don’t tend to go to the seaside on biking trips, but I wonder if that will push more people inland? To the quieter, hilly places us bikers selfishly like to keep for ourselves? Maybe.
I’m also anticipating a greater appetite for mask-wearing on the Continent. If I’m on the bike, I do just tend to pull the Buff up – which is far more than most of the bare-faced splutterers round here, but I don’t know if a proper mask will be more appropriate in Europe. I don’t want to wear one while riding (very sweaty under the lid) so that would be more faff at every stop.
"Focus on the fun bit - where to go"
I’ll put up with any amount of extra faff, though. I’m desperate to get out there. I’m sure you are too. So rather than dwelling on the possible catches and negatives, I’m trying to focus on the fun bit: where to go.
I’m desperate to get my mountain fix for the year. Do I just go to the French Alps – base myself in Guillestre or Barcelonette and ride my favourite roads? I’ve always felt totally at home there, I know much of the area like the back of my hand and love the riding there… but is it the “safe” option?
Perhaps I should get a bit more ambitious and push on to Corsica. I’ve been wanting to get back there for ages. And if I get that far, why not hop the Straits of Bonifacio and ride the amazing roads of Sardinia as well? It’s been about six years since I was last there and that feels too long...
But then again, if I head to Switzerland I could stay with my aunt and then move on to stay with other friends on the way to the Dolomites – probably with a cheeky Stelvio side-trip on the way. Then maybe I could come back over Grossglockner and even throw in a detour to Slovenia along the way.
"You can't beat a bit of the Picos"
Then again, the Brittany Ferries routes to Northern Spain are resuming and you can’t beat a bit of the Picos – though it’s a shame that Portugal appears to be off-limits according to the proposed list of safe-to-visit countries. (NB: It’s important to follow the FCO advice on where to go and when, or travel insurance is likely to be invalid).
Even without Portugal there’s enough amazing riding in Spain to make the ferry look appealing. Not just along the north coast but also in Extremadura and in the sierras around Madrid, or along the Pyrenees and into Catalonia – maybe even dipping down to Andalusia if I can afford a two-week trip.
Then I look at my budget – still reeling from last year’s big trip and setting up home back in the UK – and I get real again. This year needs to be a shoe-string trip. I’ll dust off the big tent to keep costs down and avoid the overnight ferries to Corsica or Santander. I’ll also wait until September or even early October – partly to let the initial wave of trip-hungry tourists die down, partly to wait until the heat’s less severe, and partly to save up a bit more.
It also means a bit more time to plan, to dream, to anticipate… Besides, working out a route knowing that, finally, it’s time to go touring again will make it all the sweeter – and the trip will be all the better when it happens.
So if you’ve been dreaming of touring Europe, that can be a reality after July 6. If you’re not sure where to go, check out my off-the-peg self-guided tours or get in touch for a bespoke tour tailored to the kind of riding you like. However you choose to go, have a great time preparing for – and then riding – this summer’s European tour.