What is it like to travel to Tuscany, Italy?
Useful updates on the Coronavirus situation
Italy opened its borders, after being in severe lockdown since the 12th of March, on the 3rd of June. The UK will relax its quarantine rules for returning travellers on the 10th July.
We are getting a lot of questions about the rules around travel and staying in a villa as Europe gradually comes out of lockdown. I have tried to answer the most common ones below - if there is something I haven't addressed please just ask.
A note of caution and a disclaimer: With rules changing so often please don't take these as gospel but remember to double-check, particularly if something is crucial. I have used published National Guidelines as well as legal advice to write these rules but they may have changed by the time you travel.
When can I travel to Italy again?
From the 3rd of June Italy opened up internal travel between regions as well as its external borders. There is no requirement to self-isolate for 14 days for travellers from all EU states and, crucially, the UK.
Travel is allowed from the following countries: all EU Member States (in addition to Italy, the following are EU Member States: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the Czech Republic); Schengen Area Countries (the non-EU States that are members of the Schengen Agreement are: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland); United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; Andorra, Principality of Monaco; Republic of San Marino and Vatican City State.
The only exception is in the case of previous travel to a different country, for example if you were flying to Italy from London but had returned from the US less than 14 days previously.
Travel from any country other than those listed above is still restricted. For more information see the Italian Foreign Ministry Travel Page.
Why are they taking my temperature?
Body temperature can be taken before you are allowed access to flights, car rentals, villas and hotels. Entrance will be refused to those with a temperature over 37.5.
Face masks must be worn in public and social distancing of at least a metre is enforced.
What about the UK rules on quarantine upon return?
From the 10th of July the UK no longer requires visitors to Italy to quarantine upon return. The UK had required all travellers entering or returning to the UK to self-isolate for fourteen days. This was a controversial measure and we're glad to see it go. Foreign office advice should change tomorrow (4 July 2020).
Here is the Foreign Office Advice of Entering the UK.
Is flying safe?
Yesterday (Tuesday 23 June) I listened to a talk by Roy Stratford of EasyJet on their new flying procedures and was quite reassured. They're clearly keen, like all airlines, to get their planes in the air again. You can read about the changes they're implementing here: Easy Jet Covid-19 Flying Procedures - the headlines are: The planes are deep-cleaned every 24 hours, passengers must wear face-masks and use hand-sanitiser regularly, there is no inflight service and their air-filtering service is the same as those used in hospitals.
Easyjet say: "Our aircraft are already fitted with HEPA filters, the same as those used in hospitals, replacing cabin air every three to four minutes. The cabin is thoroughly disinfected daily, which provides surface protection from viruses that lasts for at least 24 hours."
How can I drive down?
Driving down can be an attractive option and driving through France is fine now. For more details see: Driving down to Italy.
Is it safe to hire a car?
We have a long-standing relationship with Europcar so I looked to them to see how they're dealing with the new situation. You can see the details on this page: Europcar COVID-19 Car Hire Procedure.
The main guidelines are an attention to social distancing on pickup and dropoff, and a strict cleaning procedure followed by the car being locked, stickered and the keys being cleaned and placed in an envelope.
How many people may travel together in a car?
At the moment the distancing rules still apply when travelling by car. In practical terms this means that, unless you all live together, no more than 3 people could travel in a normal sedan: the driver alone ahead, and two passengers in the rear seats at opposite sides. Masks must be worn inside the car.
If you normally share living quarters - the obvious example might be parents and 2 children, but any group that live together normally, you can use a car customarily.
But in the case of, for example, 10 friends going on holiday together, you could not hire 2 cars and all pile in - you would need to hire 4.
Who can rent a villa?
We recently had an interesting question from a client regarding who can stay in a villa together. Obviously a family that has been in the same household can do so, but what about two families who decide to holiday together? Or a group of friends?
The official guidance states: "Interpersonal distancing does not apply to members of the same family or cohabiting group nor to people staying in the same room nor to people not covered by current interpersonal distancing regulations with this latter being the personal responsibility of those involved."
So it seems that if you rent a large villa as a group it is up to you to make the decision regarding distancing. I would assume that if you have decided to holiday together than you have measured the risks and decided they are acceptable. It may be, for example, that you've all been working from home and self-isolating strictly so feel that you're a low-risk group.
Arriving in our Villa
Staying in a self-catering villa is a great choice compared to hotels as most of the regulations revolve around keeping shared spaces sanitised - with no shared spaces the key points to address with a villa rental are accurate cleaning and sanitising before your arrival and social distancing when welcoming you. As in Car Rental procedures, the house should be locked after cleaning and the keys sanitised and left for pickup rather than handed to you.
Our villas are ready for the new rules and ready to welcome you back to Tuscany and Italy. This is a photo from Ponte Romano sent yesterday (Tuesday 23 June) to show me how beautiful the pool area is looking:
For more information, see the Italian Tourist Board Guidance
Restaurants have re-opened and people have been delighted to finally be able to go out to eat again. The experience when eating outside will be very similar to what we're used to - and might even be more pleasant as there has to plenty of room between tables.
What's changed: Restaurants will prefer bookings over drop-ins - and they will have to keep you details for at least 14 days.
Dining inside is allowed, but masks must be used - so you really will want to find restaurants with outside dining space.
When dining outside, the diners will need to leave space for the waiters to approach without encroaching on the one-metre distance rule.
Contactless payment methods are preferred and all tills, counters, etc will have perspex barriers to shield the restaurant and cafe workers from the clients.
Eating at your villa is always a good option, expecially when you have an outdoor kitchen, pergola and pool like this one at Docciole:
For all the rules, see the Italian Tourist Board Guidance on Restaurants
Some museums are open again - masks must be worn at all times, alcohol gel must be available for regular hand-cleaning, numbers will be limited and booking will be necessary.
Audio guides must be disinfected between each use so we can expect the museums to encourage visitors to use their own devices, perhaps with a museum app to hear the guided tour.
Timings vary and will be shorter. From a look around the internet, the Pinacoteca in Siena appears to still be closed, while the Uffizi in Florence is open Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 14:00 to 18:30 and on Saturday and Sunday from 9:00 to 18:30
The Museo dell'Opera in Siena is open every day from 10:30 to 18:00, while the Cathedral is open from Monday to Saturday from 10:30 to 18:00 and on Sunday from 13:30 to 18:00. Entrance is free until the end of July.
The MuseoItalia Website is a good resource for finding timetables and details for museums all over Italy.
I've booked a holiday villa in Italy - what should I do?
This paragraph was written when the pandemic started. Our advice now is to that travel is allowed again, and safety procedures are in place, so feel free to plan and book your holidays.
We are working with our owners to make sure we can re-book or re-schedule your holidays if you can't travel on your planned dates. However we're also trying to help our owners: Villa Bookings are not like Cruises or large hotel chains - your booking is often with one family who owns one villa, not with a conglomerate that can take sweeping decisions. Losing half a year's bookings or more will be devastating for them - these are often people we've known for over 30 years who welcome our clients like friends, bringing round fresh home-grown vegetables and their own red-wine as gifts.
The picture on Travel Insurance is emerging at the moment. The advice from ABI (The Association of British Insurers) can be roughly condensed as:
1.If you travel against government advice you invalidate your insurance (i.e. you come to Italy when the government is advising against it).
2.If you don't go on holiday out of anxiety but there is no official advice against it this is classed as ‘disinclination to travel’ and your insurance won't cover you.
But if there is an official ban against travel you should be covered and they will re-imburse you.
However, any insurance booked after the recent announcements may well exclude pandemics - always talk to an insurance broker to make sure you're getting the most suitable policy.
I has now been classed as a pandemic, with cases found all over the globe - with cases growing in the US, UK, Canada and Italy - and the race is on to produce an effective vaccine. It's worth remembering that most people recover from the illness (as described by WHO above) and it is far less deadly than SARS. But older patients, and those with respiratory difficulties (our parents and our children with asthma, for example) are at risk - so the sooner the UK and the US take action, the better.
The WHO mythbusters page is a good place to start. After which you should remeber the precautions you can take, wherever you are:
1. Wash your hands in soap and water often - or use gel sanitiser
2. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (elbow) when you cough or sneeze
3. Put used tissues in the bin immediately
4. Try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell
Center for Disease Control Covid-19 updates. This is a great resource and has plenty of sections on global updates and how to protect yourself.
European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. another good site for regular update - and for facts rather than hype. The have a useful live situation update running on the page, with location and number of cases.
NHS page on Coronavirus - advice from the British National Health Service, together with some travel advice too.
Italian Government COVID-19 page - in Italian. There is a link to an English version with slightly different information Protezione Civile. There is a phone number for up to date information: 1500 -also in Italian.
As borders open we can all look forward to some time away - and there are few places more beautiful in the world than a villa in Tuscany!