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TOURISM

What does UK’s new travel advice for Europe’s ‘amber’ countries mean?

As borders around Europe gradually open, travellers from the UK find themselves in the odd position of being allowed to travel but officially advised against it by the government. Here's what that means for people with family in different countries, second-home owners and tourists.

What does UK's new travel advice for Europe's 'amber' countries mean?
Can Britons travel to "amber" countries in Europe or not? (Photo by Niklas HALLE'N / AFP)

Who does this affect?

This covers all non-essential travel. Often couched in terms of tourists and holiday-makers, non-essential travel also includes visits by second-home owners and non-emergency visits to family and friends. People with family abroad who haven’t seen them for over a year might feel that their trip is pretty vital, but unfortunately not by the government definition.

Travel for essential reasons including work related motives, medical treatment or compassionate reasons is still allowed on the same terms as before.

The UK government’s rules concern England, so if you are travelling from or to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, check out the rules in place from the devolved governments.

What has changed?

On May 17th, the UK government lifted its ban on all non-essential travel abroad and replaced it with the traffic light system, where countries were awarded a ranking of red, amber or green based on a number of factors including their Covid rates and vaccination coverage.

For green countries travel is now allowed for any reason, but there aren’t many countries on this list and many of them are largely inaccessible (looking at you, South Sandwich islands). Portugal is currently the only European country on the green list.

EXPLAINED: The European countries on the UK’s ‘amber list’ for travel

What about amber countries?

Most of Europe including the nine countries covered by The Local is designated as amber and arrivals into the UK from amber countries (including UK nationals/residents returning from a trip to an amber country) face a host of rules.

  • A negative Covid test taken within the previous 72 hours. UK rules allow either a PCR test or an antigen test of more than 97 percent specificity and 80 percent sensitivity – the rapid-result antigen tests available at pharmacies or testing centres around Europe meet this specification but most home-testing kits do not. France has announced that tourists and visitors can access free tests this summer, but in most countries you will need to pay for a pre-travel test.
  • A contact locator form – this form must be filled in before you arrive at the border and you will need the order code from your travel testing kit (see below) – find the form HERE.
  • Quarantine – The quarantine period is 10 days long, but can be done at a location of your choosing including the home of family or friends. There is also an option to pay for an extra test on day 5 and, if it is negative, leave quarantine early.
  • Travel test package – you need to order this home-test kit in advance and take further Covid tests on day 2 and day 8 of your quarantine. These tests are compulsory (you will need the order code to complete your contact locator form) and cost on average an eye-watering £200 per person – you can find the list of approved providers HERE.

At present the rules around testing and quarantine are the same even for fully vaccinated people.

Find further information on UK travel rules HERE.

What about this new advice?

The UK government officially advises against non-essential travel to all amber list countries, with a spokesman for British PM Boris Johnson saying: “Our advice is that no one should be travelling to amber list countries, in the interests of public health.

“However there may be unavoidable, essential reasons for people to travel to amber list countries.”

However the Environment Secretary George Eustice, then said: “We don’t want to stop travel altogether”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The reason we have the amber list is there will be reasons why people feel they need to travel – either to visit family or indeed to visit friends.

“They can travel to those countries but they then have to observe quarantine when they return and have two tests after returning.”

“So people can travel to those areas, yes, but they then have to subject themselves to quarantine requirements on their return.”

Asked if this was confusing he said: “Because we want to give people that clarity we are taking things a step at a time.”

But that’s just advice?

Yes, the government is not legally preventing people from travelling abroad, as was the case before May 17th and people are free to ignore the advice, which minister or government spokesman you are listening to.

In the UK travel agencies are still selling holidays to amber list countries including France, Spain and Italy.

However, there is one important consequence of this type of official advice and that relates to insurance.

The UK government’s official travel page states that the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office position is “you should not travel to amber list countries” and this official advice will likely invalidate most travel insurance – despite what George Eustice said – so check your policy carefully.

Invalid travel insurance means you won’t be covered for things like cancellation costs but also, potentially more seriously, for health costs in case you become ill or have an accident while you are away.

The EHIC card, or its replacement GHIC, covers only some emergency medical care while travelling and there are many things that it does not cover, including repatriation costs if this is required. People who have travelled abroad against government advice could therefore be faced with a large bill for medical costs if they fall ill or have an accident while abroad.

There are some travel insurance companies that offer policies for travel against government advice (at a hefty price).

Is this likely to change?

The UK government has said it will review the designations every three weeks. If a country makes it onto the green list then travel is allowed and no quarantine is required on arrival in the UK.

Case numbers in most European countries are falling at present but the UK government has not published a definitive guide to the formula it uses to classify countries.

What about Brits living abroad?

The UK government’s advice is around travel from the UK, if you are British and live in another European country there is nothing to stop you travelling to the UK, as long as you follow the rules on testing and quarantine.

You are then free to return to your country of residence.

However, you also need to check your home country’s rules on travel from the UK. Concerns over the Indian variant of Covid currently circling within the UK could lead to countries imposing extra restrictions on arrivals from the UK and Germany has already reclassified the UK as a risk area for this reason.

Your travel insurance situation will depend on which country you bought the policy in, its policy on government travel advice, and the official position of the country that you live in on travel.

Member comments

  1. I don’t quite agree with the analysis. If you own a ‘holiday home’ in Switzerland and do not have full residency rights, you still pay Swiss taxes and have legal and maintenance responsibilities. If a visit to Switzerland is necessary to meet these obligations, it is surely legitimate to make the journey, providing you can meet Swiss border entry requirements.

  2. This whole covid malarky is a money making farse! How is it that the UK charges an “eye watering” £200 for a covid test and France does it for free?

  3. Typical of a government in the UK that can’t wean itself off the control teat. 75% of adults with at least one vaccine isn’t enough for this lot to allow me to see my kids even though I’ll be fully vaccinated long before I want to travel.
    Yesterday’s report that Pfizer and AZ both produce very strong antibody responses after two doses in almost 100% of cases in all age groups has also been loudly ignored.

  4. Irrespective of what the UK recommends, it is my understanding that Germany’s not currently open to UK tourists? Or have I missed something?

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HIKING

Eight of the best hikes in Catalonia

Long-term Catalonia resident and hiking enthusiast Esme Fox shares her tips and knowledge of some of the best routes in the northeastern region, with stunning waterfalls, volcanoes and lakes on the itinerary. 

Eight of the best hikes in Catalonia

Almost every region in Spain offers a great array of hiking routes, but perhaps some of the best and most diverse can be found in the northeastern region of Catalonia, where you have the Pyrenees in the north, the coast to the east and countless natural parks in the interior. 

Camí de Ronda
The longest and most picturesque of all the routes in Catalonia is the Camí de Ronda or Camino de Ronda. It runs all the way along the coast from the border with France down to the border with the Valencia region. Passing through quaint coastal villages, along clifftops and even through tunnels, the route was originally created by smugglers who used to take their loot from one bay to the next. Later, these routes were joined together to form one long one by the civil guard, in order to control and catch the criminals.

The trail runs for a whopping 583km throughout the whole region, but the most spectacular and well-known sections of the hike lie within the Costa Brava, which starts from Blanes and runs all the way up to Portbou on the French border. This part is around 220km long and can be done in 12 stages, taking a total of 12 days. It’s not necessary to do the whole route, however, you could easily take a single stage and make a day trip out of it. It’s best done in early summer before the crowds arrive or in September when it’s still warm enough to swim along the way, but all the holidaymakers have gone home.  

The Camino de Ronda takes you right along the coast. Photo: Esme Fox
 

Mont-Rebei Gorge
The Congost de Mont-Rebei gorge is one of the most striking in the whole of Catalonia, where incredible aquamarine waters run between dramatic ravines and lofty cliff tops and vultures soar overhead. It’s a popular route and is moderately challenging with several ascents and dips walking along narrow pathways or staircases clinging to the edge of the rock. It’s situated approximately a three-hour drive west of Barcelona on the border with Aragón. You can choose to hike longer or shorter sections of the route, but the main and most popular part is around 12km there and back.

Hike along the sides of a gorge at Mont Rebei. Photo: Ramon Perucho / Pixabay

Ruta dels 7 Gorgs
Near the small village of Campdevánol​​​ in the province of Girona, close to the foothills of the Pyrenees, you’ll find one of the most thrilling hikes on our list – the route of the seven waterfalls. It’s exactly like it sounds, a hiking route between seven different waterfalls. It’s best to go in summer as you can swim in each of the falls, letting the icy water from the Pyrenees cool you down on those hot Spanish days. It’s a circular route of just 10km, with an extra 6km if you’re walking from Campdevánol​​​ train station, but it could end up taking all day if you plan on swimming in each. The route is relatively easy, but there are some tricky steep parts getting down and up again from some of the waterfalls. Because it’s so popular, the number of people allowed in per day is limited and you must pay an eco-tax fee of €5 per person from June to November.

Take a dip in the Campdevánol waterfalls to cool down. Photo: Alberto-g-rovi / WikiCommons
 

Camí del Vi
Catalonia’s wine route lies within the Penedès, an area known for producing excellent wines and cavas and home to some of the best wineries in the region. It starts in the town of Vilafranca del Penedès, the capital of the wine region and runs for 3.5km, taking around three hours to complete in total, there and back. From the tourist office, you’ll walk through the town and then out into the vineyards themselves. Along the way are eight different stations where you will learn about wine production and the life cycle of the vine, as well as the different varieties of grapes that grow in the area. There are plenty of bodegas (wineries) near by where you can stop for a drink too. 

Hike the wine route in Catalonia. Photo: Esme Fox

Ruta de los 7 Lagos del Circ de Colomers
Between the National Park of Aigüestortes and the Vall d’Aran, just went of Andorra in the high Pyrenees lies the route of the seven lakes. It’s a total of 15km, but there are taxis that can take you from the car park to the beginning of the route and back, taking it down to just 7km. One of the most spectacularly beautiful hiking routes, as the name suggests, it passes seven glassy mountain lakes hemmed in by towering peaks and verdant forests. It’s of medium difficulty level, meaning it’s best if you have a bit of experience with hiking in the mountains.  

This hiking route takes you past seven mountain lakes. Photo: rodolfo7 / Pixabay

Ruta por los volcanes de la Garrotxa
Just north of Girona lies La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park, which offers one of the best examples of volcanic landscapes on the Iberian Peninsula, featuring 40 ancient volcanic cones and around 20 old lava flows. One of the best ways to explore it is via the various hiking routes throughout the park. The best is the circular hike from La Fageda d’en Jordà to the Santa Margarida volcano and on to El Croscat volcano, which is 12km and takes just over four hours complete.

Hike through the land of ancient volcanoes in La Garrotxa. Photo: Carquinyol / WikiCommons

Subida al Pedraforca
The most challenging hike on our list is the ascent of Mount Pedraforca, located in the high Pyrenees, just below Andorra. It’s one of Catalonia’s most iconic-looking mountains – resembling a pitchfork with a small dip in between two soaring pointed peaks, one measuring 2444m and the other 2506m. The starting points generally begin at the Mirador de Gersolet viewpoint, but there are several routes to reach the top. It takes between five and seven hours to complete, depending on your experience but is best avoided in winter and early spring from December to April when the snow can make it even more difficult.

Challenge yourself with the ascent of Pedraforca. Photo: Josep Monter Martinez / Pixabay

Ruta de Carros de Foc
Another hike within the mighty National Park of Aigüestortes is the grand Carros de Foc or Chariots of Fire. It’s a circular route of 65km and takes between five to seven days to complete between nine different mountain refuges, where you can stay the night. The route is characterised by high mountains and large granite boulders, as well as several sparkling mountain lakes. You’ll need some experience and stamina to complete this one. 

Hike the Ruta de Carros de Foc. Photo: Ferran Ventura / Unsplash
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