As my best laid plans to elucidate, the world has become much smaller, consisting of my local park, the supermarket and the house. Protecting the NHS and the health of loved ones was all that mattered, and the thoughts of the return trip on Route 1 or climbing Table Mountain seemed as exotic as space NASA of launch seen on TV, that the journey took a little mythical in quality.
In late May, as the UK slowly began to ease the locking of measures, I began to feel renewed optimism as the seeds of change began to take root. Provisionally, I followed the new lifting borders across Europe, but with quarantine implemented in the UK arriving from June 8, and reciprocal measures from the French, it seemed to me that my new enthusiasm could be lost.
However, determined to make the most of his working time and a place to stay in the South of France, where I have visited every summer since I was a child, I decided to go ahead with a great escape. With “work at home” the new normal, my boyfriend gave permission to work from abroad and with speculation, the mounting of EU borders would be largely lifted for non-essential travel to from June 15, six weeks on the French Riviera began to feel a little less than a dream pipe.
With the auspicious June 15 date fast approaching, there is little through official confirmation that the UK / French borders would be truly open, the flights were still intermittent and we wanted to avoid all associated risks, so rather stupid feeling, we put the car away and book a Eurotunnel the day in advance, hoping for the best, but half expecting the worst.
Armed with laminated directions to cross the whole of France (from my mother who is suspicious of SatNav), gloves and masks (only on public transport in France), enough snacks and a printed and signed declaration that we had had no symptoms of coronavirus in the past 48 hours (a requirement to enter the country, everything is done by the travelers themselves from an official link) were fixed to us.
On arrival at Folkestone we swept the UK border controls with no queues, with the more delicate issue of France ahead. But it’s the smooth sailing from here, with just the common questions of where we were visiting and for how long, asked. We canceled Eurotunnel later, we were speeding across the Canal, the euphoria in France 35 minutes later with a feeling of freedom.
With the highways completely devoid of traffic, we have made rapid progress, stopping only for petrol, twice, where the stations conveniently allow you to pay with a card at the pump, avoiding the need for interact with staff. Arriving at our destination, near Le Lavandou, on the South Coast, felt surreal. The scent of mimosa and pine trees, the sound of the sea, a taste of freshly baked baguette and sip of local wine, the felt of another world. Having taken traveling a bit for granted over the past few years, it has been with a new perspective that we have embarked on this journey, determined to make the most of every moment, to slow down and enjoy the simple things.
The reciprocal two-week French quarantine for UK travelers is entirely voluntary (unless you display all the symptoms of coronavirus) and not enforceable by French law, no fines or home inspection. Travelers from the UK are invited by the French interior ministry to “demonstrate good citizenship and a sense of responsibility in order to implement this health precaution”.
With a meter rule rather than the UK two, there is a greater sense of normality inside restaurants and beach bars, where social distance is respected, without compromising on the buzzy atmosphere. The beaches are quieter than usual at this time of year, but all the best for it, the sea has never looked more crystal clear and friendly. The locals paint a picture of life slowly bringing it back, with safety always paramount.
We hear that the weekly market is open for business as usual with a maximum capacity of 500 people and with merchants donning masks. At a favorite beach bar, the La Pinède hotel, lounge chairs and tables are spaced apart to allow for social distancing, but otherwise nothing seems out of the ordinary – noon sees swell tables with grilled fish and cups of rosé, garnished with ice, known as a ‘pool’.
A short drive along the coast of Saint-Tropez, grand dame hotels on the French Riviera, including Cheval Blanc St Tropez and La Réserve Ramatuelle, have reopened their shutters with the rise of precautions put in place, while the Hotel du Cap Eden Roc will follow, on July 1, when guests will still have access to the emblematic seawater swimming pool, perched above the Mediterranean.
It’s a reassuring picture that seemed almost impossible a few weeks ago. With the pressure on the UK government to ‘quarantine’ due to the economic impact on tourism and the hotel industry, it may even be easier to escape to the Continent when measures are taken. reviewed, June 29. A reflection on our brief but happy experience so far, the journey and the freedom it implies has never felt like a privilege; long life to the latter.