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How Italy’s tourist hotspots are preparing for summer 2021

As Covid-19 restrictions across Italy ease, how are the nation's most popular destinations gearing up for summer?

How Italy's tourist hotspots are preparing for summer 2021
Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

Italy is loosening some of its restrictions on international travel and says it plans to open up to the world for tourism this summer.

Although the rules on  getting into Italy will vary depending on the country you are travelling from, visitors from some countries can enjoy more relaxed rules.

There’s now no quarantine requirement for travellers from the EU, Britain and Israel, and tourism from the US, Canada, Japan or the UAE, is now allowed on Covid-tested flights.

With the vaccination campaign picking up pace and the planned introduction of a ‘green pass‘ to allow tourism to restart, the industry is awakening from its lockdown slumber and preparing to welcome tourists again.

READ ALSO: What’s the latest on how the EU’s ‘Covid passports’ will work for travellers?

Tourism in Italy is a source of much-needed income after last year’s hefty loss of more than €120 billion for the sector – more than a 60% drop compared to 2019.

According to a study by research agency, Demoskopia, in conjunction with the University of Sannio, over 23 million extra tourists are expected between June and September, compared with the same period last year.
 
The regions of Puglia, Tuscany and Sicily take the top spots for the predicted most-visited destinations.  They’re followed by Emilia-Romagna and Sardinia as the tourist hubs for summer 2021.
 
The regions most visited forecast for 2021, according to estimates. Source: Demoskopia
 
Puglia
 
With Puglia at the top of the list, expecting some four million visitors from within the EU alone, is the region prepared for a summer of tourism?
 
Forming the heel of Italy’s ‘boot’, this region’s stunning coastline and beaches are a huge draw for holidaymakers – and authorities have been busy ensuring those picture perfect seascapes are in top shape, following a study in May deeming the water quality “excellent”.
 
 
Puglia’s beaches amaze and its waters are ranked “excellent” Photo: Massimo Virgilio/Unsplash
 
The Regional Agency for Environmental Prevention and Protection (ARPA) found that the coastline has met the highest quality for bathing standards.
 
The agency’s environmental analyst, Pietro Petruzzelli said, “For the city of Bari, it is hugely satisfying to be able to count on 42 kilometres of coastline that are safe from a health and hygiene point of view – all the more so if the assessment is ‘excellent’ everywhere in terms of water quality.”
 
 
He also expects water sports to feature in people’s Puglia holidays: “Excellent water quality can help give new life to water sports activities that, like all sports, have had to suffer an inevitable slowdown due to the health emergency,” he added.
 
Tuscany
 
“We are ready,” announced the Regional Councillor for Tourism, Leonardo Marras, on Tuscany’s regional newspage.
 
The region that’s famously home to vineyards, renaissance art and breathtaking coastlines is prepared for the influx of tourists, but with “virtuous behaviour and respect for the rules”.
 
Marras added, “It will be a safe holiday in our region. Of course, prudence is a must.”
Florence in Tuscany is holding a plethora of evens this summer. Photo: Mark Tegethoff / Unsplash
 
In Tuscany, 4.1 million tourists are expected this summer season, according to the Demoskopika study. That’s a 13.6% rise on last year’s figures.
 
“Certainly, it will take time to make up for lost ground and this summer will also have its limitations. But we will be able to manage the situation in the best possible way thanks to the professionalism of all the operators in the sector,” said Marras.
 
“The towns are also ready to organise, as far as possible, events that will give tourists the best possible welcome,” he added.
 
Such events include city festivals in Florence, from the Florence Jazz Festival to the ‘Apriti Cinema‘ (Open Cinema).
 
Celebrations linked to Dante’s 700th anniversary are also earmarked to commemorate this famous literary great.
 
Venice

The magical floating city is relaunching itself this month with the opening of the International Architecture Exhibition (Biennale Architettura) on 22nd May and the Venice Boat Show (Salone Nautico) on 29th May.

“We will be the first to resume with events in attendance, but we need clear indications from the government,” said Tourism Councillor Simone Venturini in an interview on the city’s website.

READ ALSO: 16 surprising facts about Venice to mark 16 centuries of the lagoon city

Other scheduled spectacles include the reopening of the art museum Punta della Dogana, and in September the Doge’s Palace will host the 1600th anniversary exhibition “Venice, Birth and Rebirth”.

The watery ways of Italy’s floating city have been unusually quiet during Covid-19 restrictions. It’s now ready to welcome back tourists. Photo by Rebe Adelaida on Unsplash

Sardinia

This island in the Mediterranean has fluctuated during the pandemic, being at one time Italy’s only lowest-risk white zone, before plunging into the harshest red-zone restrictions.

Along with the rest of the country now, however, Sardinia is easing its restrictions and preparing for the tourists to arrive.

READ ALSO: Reader question: What kind of coronavirus test do I need to take for travel to Italy?

€1 million are being pumped into the coastal towns to ensure the beaches are of a high standard to attract potential travellers.

And the island is going ahead with more than just gorgeous beaches for people to relax on.

The tourism board is also planning the Rally Italia Sardegna, a car-racing event that “contributes to promoting tourism and the image of the island nationally and internationally”, said Gianni Chessa, Regional Councillor for Tourism, during a video meeting with the event organisers on Friday.

Sardinia’s sparkling seas aren’t the only thing open for summer 2021. Photo by Ivan Ragozin on Unsplash

Italy’s ‘Covid-free islands’

Dozens of small islands around Italy are gearing up for tourists with complete vaccination rollouts.

Procida, in the Bay of Naples, became the first such island to administer shots to all its residents earlier in May.

Mass vaccinations are also underway at other islands close by, including Ischia and Capri, and at various islands off the coast of the country, such as the Pontine islands in Lazio, the Tremiti in Puglia, Capraia and Giglio in Tuscany, and the Maddalena archipelago off Sardinia.

READ ALSO: How Italy’s ‘Covid-free islands’ vaccine plan hopes to save summer travel

It isn’t just a move to encourage tourists to visit. Procida’s mayor Dino Ambrosino said, “Small islands in Italy are fragile territories that often have limited health services.”

The port of the volcanic island of Ischia (front) and the island of Procida (back) are pictured in the Bay of Naples, off Italy’s western coast on the Tyrrhenian Sea. (Photo by Laurent EMMANUEL / AFP)

As Italy reopens as a whole, the plan is to “relaunch Italian tourism”, according to the president of Demoskopika, Raffaele Rio.

 “They are encouraging estimates for the recovery but we need to play in advance with a recovery plan for 2022-2023… which fuels the restart and stimulates domestic and international demand for Italy,” he added.

Stay up to date with Italy’s travel rules by following The Local’s travel section and checking the Italian Health Ministry’s website (in English).

Member comments

  1. Hi – I have a question that I cannot seem to find the answer for. When it says “There’s now no quarantine requirement for travellers from the EU, Britain and Israel…” does that mean anyone, from any country, can have no quarantine even though I am a US passport holder coming to Italy as part of an ongoing vacation? Or does it mean, as a US passport holder, even though I am entering from UK, I have to follow rules as if I’d arrived from the US? If anyone has a definitive answer that would be very helpful. Thanks.

    1. You need to follow rules as a US citizen. It matters the country of your passport and where you originated from on trip.

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TRAIN TRAVEL

Yes, train travel across Europe is far better than flying – even with kids

Hoping to do his bit for the planet, perhaps save some money and avoid spending any time in airports, The Local's Ben McPartland decided to travel 2,000km with his family across Europe by train - not plane. Here's how he got on on and would he recommend it?

Yes, train travel across Europe is far better than flying - even with kids

Summer 2022 has seen the return of people travelling across Europe en masse whether for holidays or to see family, or both.

But it’s also seen chaos in airports, airline strikes and more questions than ever about whether we should be flying at all as Europe bakes under consecutive heatwaves caused by the climate crisis.

But are there really viable alternatives to travelling 2,000 km across Europe in a short space of time – with young kids?

The predicament

We needed to get from Paris to Portugal, or to be more precise the western edge of the Algarve in southern Portugal, for a week-long family holiday.

We didn’t have that much time to spend travelling there and back so the dilemma was how could we get there, fairly quickly?

“We” in this case being a family of four including two children aged 5 and 7, one fairly easygoing mum and a dad (me) who increasingly comes out in a rash when he goes near an airport.

Normally we’d have flown – as we did when we went to the same region of Portugal in October – but the stories of airport chaos, delays, cancellations, strikes and never-ending queues around Europe at the start of the summer made the prospect of taking the plane far less appealing.

Then throw in the climate crisis and the growing feeling that we, as a family, need to make an effort for the cause.

So the thought of flying, during what forecasters say was one of the hottest Julys on record in Europe and as rivers dried up and wildfires burn, just didn’t feel like an acceptable option – to me anyway – when there are alternatives.

There was the option of driving from France to Portugal, as many French and Portuguese nationals living in France do every summer. But driving nearly 2,000 km there and back for just a week’s holiday with two kids strapped in the back for hours on end would have been asking for trouble – either a breakdown or lots of meltdowns.

So that left taking the train. But would it be viable?  Would something go wrong as my colleague Richard Orange had warned on his own rail trip across Europe with kids this summer?

READ ALSO: What I learned taking the train through Europe with two kids

Planning the route

With the help of some really knowledgeable European rail experts like Jon Worth and information from the excellent The Man in Seat Sixty-One website we looked at the various rail routes through France and Spain to southern Portugal.

One problem was the line from southern Spain to the Algarve no longer runs which meant the best we could do was get to Seville and then hire a car.

At one point the best option looked like a night train (fairly cheap with a whole cabin reserved for the family) down to the Pyrenees (Latour-de-Carol) and then a local train to Barcelona before onwards travel to Portugal.

But in the end we settled on the direct train from Paris to Barcelona, spend the night in the Catalan city before taking the train the next day to Seville and picking up the car.

READ ALSO 6 European cities less than 7 hours from Paris by train

It would be mean Paris to Portugal in two days – or to be precise 7 hours to Barcelona, one night in a hotel, before a five-and-half-hour train journey to Seville and a three-hour car journey. It was the quickest way without flying, as far as we could see.

We were about to book the tickets when friend who was travelling by rail through Europe mentioned the Interrail option.

I did Interrailing as an 18-year- old and it was a great way to spend a month travelling around Europe (and Morocco) but had never thought it could be an option for a quickish trip to Portugal and back.

But Interrail has changed a bit since 1996 and indeed since 1972 when it was first launched for under 21s.

Now it offers passes that can be used for 4, 5 or 7 days a month – perfect for travel to a few destinations in a short space of time.

And, this was the clincher – Interrail passes for under 11s are free if they are with an adult.

Well almost free, because in certain countries like France and Spain you still need to pay for seat reservations for anyone travelling.

But the cost of the passes for two adults, plus seat reservations were cheaper than just booking direct trains and much cheaper than flying (more on costs below).

The high-speed train from Barcelona to Seville. Photo: The Local

The Upsides

Let’s start with not having to wake up at 4am and arrive at the train station three hours before the train leaves just to check in a bag and then spend the next three hours queuing in various lines – bags, passport, security, boarding etc..

We arrived at Gare de Lyon around 30 minutes before the train left and boarded without queuing and the train departed on time.

Compare this with having to get a taxi or the RER train to Charles de Gaulle airport and then still find yourself in Paris three hours later as you queue to board. (I know this is not always the case but this summer the advice was to arrive three hours before your flight to check in bags.)

Plus there was no luggage limits on the train and no having to empty your bags at security because you left an old roll-on deodorant at the bottom of your bag.

Although rail stations in Spain do have airport style x-ray machines to check all luggage, they were very rapid and didn’t result in any long queues.

Add to this comfortable seats with leg room, a bar you can walk to and spend hours watching the beautiful French and Spanish landscape whizz by.

You arrive in the centre of town – in our case Barcelona – so there’s no need to get public transport or taxis to and from out of town airports. 

Spending a night in Barcelona was a great way to break the journey – albeit a bit expensive (see below).

And it all ran pretty much on time. Over five train journeys in four days we had 15 minutes of delay. Spain’s high-speed trains were fantastic.

To sum it up: when flying your holiday only really begins when you arrive at your final destination because these days the day spent travelling is one big headache, but with the train the holiday begins as soon as you leave the station.

It’s just far, far more relaxing.

heading back to Barcelona Sants station after a night in the Catalan capital. Photo: The Local.

The Downsides

But what about the kids, you say?

Yep this can be an issue. Travelling for 7 hours on a train is not easy with two young kids but if you come prepared and can think of 75 different ways to occupy them from drawing and playing cards to I-spy and “count my freckles slowly” then it’s possible the journey will be tantrum free. (Playing hide and seek on a train with 12 carriages isn’t advisable.)

And kids adapt, so the following day’s five and half hour journey from Barcelona to Seville was a breeze because they settled into the pace of life and by that point had worked out the code to get into my mobile phone.

One complaint was how long the TGV train took to get along the southern French coast. Does it really need to stop at Nimes, Montpellier, Beziers, Agde, Sete and Perpignan? Can’t local trains serve these stations and the TGV just head straight to Spain?

Another little gripe was the train food. Whilst buffet cars on SNCF and Renfe trains are great for a coffee or a beer they don’t really offer a selection of healthy meals, so you need to come prepared. We weren’t and spent a lot of money on crap food and drink during the trips.

But if you know this in advance you can bring whatever you like onto the train, with no nonsense about 100ml limits on liquid.

Cost comparison

Working out cost comparisons are hard and anyone looking to do a similar trip will need a calculator at hand. 

It’s hard to do a direct comparison between flying and taking the train because so much depends on what the prices are when you book, the route you want to take and how quickly you want to travel and whether to go first class or standard.

But for us at the time of booking (roughly two months in advance) flights from Paris to Faro were about €1,500 for four people, train tickets booked directly with SNCF and Renfe (not interrail) for four people were around €1,200 (this probably could have been much cheaper further in advance), whilst the Interrail option – 4 day passes plus seat reservations was around €810.

So on the face of it travelling by train, especially using Interrail passes, was cheaper – but then add on the cost of two nights in hotels in central Barcelona and there was no real financial benefit of going by train.

But then it was never all about money – what price on not having to spend three hours at Charles de Gaulle airport?

How easy is it to Interrail?

Interrail proved a great option for us, even though it was only a relatively short trip. It’s more suited to those looking to do multiple journeys through various countries, perhaps at a slower pace. But the kids being free was crucial for us, so other families should definitely explore the option.

The one downside to Interrailing through France and Spain is the requirement to book seat reservations for the high-speed trains.

Whilst this sounds fairly straightforward we couldn’t do it through the Interrail app or website so had to be done with Renfe directly. For most countries you can reserve seats through the Interrail app (more on this below).

With SNCF it required a lengthy phone call because we reserved the seats to make sure there were some available before getting the Interrail passes.

For Paris to Barcelona the reservations cost €34 for standard class seats or €48 for first class.

With Renfe it was more complicated although much cheaper (Around €10 to €12 a seat). We were told on the phone that to reserve seats with Interrail you have to do it either at a Spanish train station or by phone but only if you can pick up and pay for the reservations at a Spanish train station within a certain amount of time.

Neither of these were possible when booking from Paris back in May/June. But the helpful website Man at Seat 61 recommended going via the man behind the AndyBTravels website, who charges a small fee. A few emails were exchanged and our reservations for Barcelona to Seville arrived in the post a few days later. 

Renfe and SNCF could make it easier for Interrail passengers.

The Interrail mobile pass on the the Rail Planner app was very easy to use. It was just a case of adding the days when we were travelling and then adding the specific journeys.

This brought up a QR code for each trip but the ticket controllers were always more concerned about the seat reservations we had on paper.

But all went to plan.

 

Conclusion

Those days spent sitting drinking coffee, orange and beer (in separate cups) starring out of train windows at fields, hills, mountains, villages, beach and train platforms were part of the holiday.

I’d say that if you have a day or two to spare then travelling across Europe by train instead of plane is well worth it – yes, even with two young kids.

They might even thank you for it one day if we all help avert a climate disaster. 

Advice

It’s hard to give advice because each person has different requirements that need to be taken into account – whether number of passengers, time needed for travelling, destinations, cost etc.

But plan ahead and do the research to see what’s possible.

One bit of advice if you need to travel quickly is try keep connections to a minimum or give yourself plenty of time to make them.

My colleague Richard Orange had problems on his trip from Sweden to the UK via Denmark, Germany and Belgium because of delays and missed connections.

Useful links and extra info

You can explore Interrail pass options and prices by visiting the Interrail site here. The site offers plenty of info to help you plan your trip and reserve seats on trains if necessary.

The fantastic Man in Seat 61 guide to train travel across Europe is a must-read for anyone planning a trip. It has pages and pages of useful up to date info and can be viewed here.

It also has loads of information on how to use an Interrail pass and calculations to see whether it’s the best option – if you need help with the maths. The page can be viewed here.

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