The ability to travel internationally has started to return more significantly in recent months, with an increase in destinations accepting tourists, albeit with various testing or vaccination requirements. Scott Dunn CEO Sonia Davies recently travelled to Portugal. Here, she tells us what it was really like travelling at the moment.
Having taken the opportunity to go to Portugal in early July, once I exited the airport in Faro, I had that holiday feeling. Portugal had closed its borders to tourism for several months, but partially reopened in May, and it saw a steep ramp up in demand. Whilst this was great news, hospitality industries all over the world have been hard hit by the pandemic, making significant lay-offs, and talent has now left the industry. Hotels, restaurants, bars and cafés are all recruiting with now more jobs available than applicants, and with government support schemes in place in many countries, it is proving challenging and taking time to fill roles. This can mean that service levels aren’t quite what you remember from those pre-Covid halcyon vacation days, but your trip can still be memorable.
When we visited, Portugal had been taken off the UK green list, requiring quarantine on return, and also been put on Germany’s amber list. This saw demand plummet and hoteliers and those reliant on tourism were uncertain what the summer would bring. Vaccinations were also slowly ramping up and local cases were rising, bringing in localised restrictions. This is a picture we have all experienced at home, and in many, many countries abroad!
We had a fantastic trip – we explored the hidden side of the Algarve, staying at Grand House, the beautifully restored grand dame on the esplanade in Vila Real de Santo Antonio. Whilst some of the recommended local restaurants weren’t open, we ate fabulous seafood, chatted to restaurant owners over tapas and wine, and strolled along deserted white sand beaches, all accompanied by friendly, knowledgeable and welcoming service from the team at Grand House.
We then headed up to the Serra de Estrela mountains to Casa de Sao Lourenco for walking in clear clean alpine air, fuelled by the wonderful food at the hotel restaurant and its sister hotel (Casa das Penhas Douradas). Typically, when I have visited Portugal, I have heard mainly British, German and American voices, but this time it was the Portuguese and Spanish experiencing the joys of Portugal, and in particular, the beauty of the mountains. Seeing the lichen on the tree trunks meant that I knew the air was clean and fresh, and a dip in a mountain lake after a four-hour walk was just what I needed.
Then onwards to the Douro Valley, where riverboats had been silent for almost a year, but the team at Six Senses Douro Valley welcomed us with a smile and ensured we had a wonderful visit. A trip to Casa do Bom Fin port winery was fascinating, and a private tasting of Portuguese wines back at Six Senses meant we had truly experienced many of the joys of Portugal. We didn’t quite try all 100 different grape varieties grown in Portugal, but found a new favourite, Encruzado, with an order placed even before we left for home.
With the pandemic still taking us through all of its twists and turns, people ask whether it is still worth going abroad for a vacation. For me, I would say unequivocally yes. It isn’t the same as it was, and the hospitality industry in many countries is still recovering, but it is still absolutely worth it.