Ahh, remember those days before jetting off on holiday abroad? How we moaned about having to take off our shoes while crossing airside and having our 100ml bottles of shampoo confiscated from our luggage because they might be some kind of bomb device. Honestly.
Now we can look back on all the minor inconveniences of post 9/11 travel as pretty much the halcyon days because in 2021 we are lucky to get away at all.
Well that was until recently. The rules are a little more lenient, the weather here in the UK is already slipping into autumn and summer holidays are coming to an end. So why not take advantage of all the offers that are around and book a trip abroad?
It helps if you’re double vaxxed, have the kind of flexibility where you could, if pushed, quarantine for at least five days and don’t mind paying extra for Covid tests on your return but having recently returned from three weeks on the Greek island of Crete, I want to say just do it.
After all, why pay upwards of £1,000 for a three-night stay in a North Wales static caravan when you can be lounging on a balcony overlooking a sun-soaked deep blue sea for as little as £50 a night?
As luck would have it, Greece’s amber status didn’t turn into amber plus when we departed mid July, which would have meant quarantining for 10 days and at least two Covid tests on our return home. In fact the amber status changed so that as double vaxxers we didn’t have to quarantine on return and only needed a test for day two.
On the surface jetting away seems complicated and it didn’t help that the government website hadn’t updated its info on its main pages. But after finding the relevant update link, we had everything worked out.
So here we go…
For Greece (at the time of writing) we could fly without a test if we were double vaxxed however if you weren’t then you needed a PCR test to board the aircraft. You also need to fill in something called a Passenger Locator Form, basically contact details and info about where you will be during your stay.
Once we arrived at Chania airport everyone underwent a lateral flow test to ensure we were all Covid free.
Before boarding a return flight we had to fill in another Passenger Locator form and also have either a PCR test or a lateral flow antigen test. Both of these were acceptable. The lateral flow test which was £20 and the PCR test was £60
Three days before we were due to fly home we needed to book a day two test and have proof of the order on your mobile phone. I chose a company which was included on the government’s website to make sure we’d cover all bases as failure to book a PCR test will incur a £500 fine.
All of which was a bit of a faff, but not as much hassle as it sounds especially as at the Greek end of things everyone is so helpful. If you don’t know where to go for your pre-flight test back to the UK just ask at your hotel as everyone is pretty much clued up on everything by now.
And the holiday itself was the perfect way to satisfy our wanderlust.
A taxi from the airport to our favourite Stavros beach a few miles outside Chania cost around £15 if booked in advance on Booking.com otherwise it’s around £20-£25.
Stavros is where they filmed Zorba the Greek and don’t you just know it. There’s a big picture of Anthony Quinn and Alan Bates at the ‘entrance’ to a cluster of sun loungers on the beach which everyone in the know avoids as they cost a pricey 25 euros.
Instead, locals pile out of their cars dragging towels, picnics, chairs and sun shades if pitching there for the day.
Stavros is a pretty, quiet beach surrounded by a few tavernas and dominated by a huge hill/mountain. It is also the location of one of my favourite restaurants on the island Almyriki which serves fresh seafood, beautiful salads and specialities like stuffed courgette flowers and crisp white local wines.
It is distinguished from other restaurants by its windmill but aside from the excellent food it also has a prime people-watching position almost on the beach. Blue Beach Villas about a 20-minute walk along the beach from Almyriki is where we stayed for a few days, a small, affordable family-friendly self-catering resort that’s the perfect place to unwind poolside.
There are several buses a day to Chania, the capital, but as we love this city so much we spent a few days there shopping and sightseeing.
The taxi driver who relocated us to our new base, the charming 100-year-old family-run Vilelmine Hotel told us that before the EU pumped millions of pounds into the city in the 1990s it was a no-go area full of ‘rats, cats and old mamas waiting to die’. You wouldn’t know it now.
The gloriously-restored Venetian harbour is a sight to behold and the restaurants and bars which fringe the sea are the perfect place to soak up these dramatic views.
My favourite restaurant here, however, is the brilliant Tamam and it’s not on the seafront but on one of the cobbled winding charming streets behind the harbour front.
I absolutely adore this place and would eat here every day if I could. The Tamam salad is sublime (for anyone who wants fresh raw stuff) but try their seafood and perfectly cooked lamb chops accompanied by a good helping of crisp ‘real’ chips.
Travelling around Crete by bus is a great budget option too. They are clean, comfortable and have loads of space for all your luggage underneath. Plus they all seemed to be bang on time.
We visited bustling Rethymnon staying at the immaculate very smart Barbara Studios (where the excellent hosts filled up a carafe with rakki every evening) and then headed over to Chora Sfakia to take a boat to the stunning harbour of Loutro.
It’s an area of the coast inaccessible by car which means you have to take a boat or the ferry to explore beautiful coves and beaches along the awesome coastline but it is a stunning place to relax.
Everyone who hasn’t returned to Chora Sfakion on the last ferry comes out to dine in the evening at beachside tavernas or drink raki in the local blues bar while watching the sun go down.
This is a location that looks as expensive and classy as anything offered in Santorini or Mykonos but appearances can be deceptive. Some rooms were being advertised for as little as £30 a night.
Don’t expect the luxury of power showers and hot tubs though. This is like stepping back into a Greece of 40 years ago, a time when when we were just grateful to leave the grey shores of Britain and head into the deep blue. Actually, exactly as I felt before we took the plunge and went away!
Recent reports have revealed that the test situation in the UK is in disarray and we found that was the case. Before flying back from Crete we had to show airport staff that we’d ordered our day 2 tests (costing £130 plus £20 postage for the two).
They duly arrived, we did them and I posted them both at the same time. Mine was returned about a day later – a negative result, but my partner didn’t receive his result until 11 days later rendering a pretty pointless exercise.
However, nothing about getting away was diminished. It was the perfect route to getting back the feeling that we weren’t just sailing into the sunset but we were also returning to a more normal kind of life.