Covid-19: Omicron was in Europe before southern Africa travel bans


The knee-jerk response followed the news that the variant had an unusually high number of mutations, which scientists feared could make it more transmissible and result in immune evasion.

Much is still unknown about Omicron, including its origin, severity and its transmissibility. Researchers are also racing to discover if it could displace existing variants and become dominant, as Delta has.

Early “indications” show that people who have received the coronavirus vaccine booster are “protected” against the new variant, Israeli Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said Tuesday.

This comes after anecdotal reports from South Africa suggested that most cases of the Omicron variant have been mild so far. But those South African cases were “mostly [among] young people anyway. So, I would say we just don’t know [if the new variant causes more serious illness than previous strains],” Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told CNN on Sunday.

Scientists say it will take weeks to unearth how dangerous the new variant is. But we do know that Omicron has been found in Europe, with cases of community transmission identified in earlier Covid-19 samples before the travel bans came into place.

Dutch health officials said Tuesday that Omicron was present in the Netherlands a week before two flights arrived from South Africa carrying the virus. At least one of the cases is thought to have been contracted in the Netherlands, RIVM virologist Chantal Reusken told national broadcaster NOS.

Nine cases of Omicron were linked to a private event on November 20 in Scotland, days before South Africa announced the existence of the variant. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told Scottish Parliament Tuesday that none of the individuals had a recent travel history or known links to others who had traveled from southern Africa.

These cases have prompted some to question the need for the cascading travel restrictions, which has triggered a wave of resentment on the African continent. Many view the bans as another example of Africans bearing the brunt of hasty pandemic policymaking, which has seen rich countries hoarding vaccine doses and resources to the detriment of poorer nations.

“Excellent science should be applauded and not punished,” South Africa’s Foreign Ministry said Saturday, adding that the restrictions were “akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker.”

“Putting in place travel bans that target Africa attacks global solidarity,” the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti said the following day. “Covid-19 constantly exploits our divisions. We will only get the better of the virus if we work together for solutions.”

YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED.

Q: What raised alarms for scientists about Omicron, compared to other variants? 

A: In the case of Omicron, what initially raised alarms for doctors and scientists in South Africa was the rapid rate of spread of this new variant, according to CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen. 

“It appears to be outcompeting Delta in speed, but whether it will force out Delta and become dominant remains to be seen,” she said. 

“In addition, the large number of this variant’s mutations — over 50 in all — raises the question of immune escape, both to vaccines and treatments like monoclonal antibodies. These are types of information that we will need to obtain through further scientific studies,” she added. 

Send your questions here. Are you a health care worker fighting Covid-19? Message us on WhatsApp about the challenges you’re facing: +1 347-322-0415.

READS OF THE WEEK

Scientists say it will take weeks to tell how dangerous Omicron really is. Here’s why 

As soon as South Africa announced the spread of a new and troubling variant last week, scientists went to work. By the time WHO had named the new lineage Omicron, multiple teams of researchers had already duplicated the work from South Africa and mapped out the genetic changes that made Omicron the new bad actor of the coronavirus family, Maggie Fox reports. 

Although many of those mutations were familiar from other variants, scientists were still unsure whether they make Omicron substantially different from previous variants — especially the super-dominant Delta variant. 

But it will take weeks of testing to tell what added superpowers, if any, these mutations give Omicron. Researchers must look at what’s happening in the real world by testing samples taken from patients, sequencing their genomes to see if it’s Omicron causing the infections, and see if more samples turn out to be Omicron. 

They’ll also explore whether Omicron infections lead to more severe disease and if fully vaccinated people end up more likely to become infected with the Omicron variant as opposed to other strains. 

Making Covid-19 vaccines mandatory was once unthinkable. European countries are showing it can work 

Earlier this month, Austria took a step once unimaginable for a Western democracy: It announced that Covid-19 vaccinations would become compulsory for its entire population. 

Up until then, governments around the world had rejected the idea of a universal coronavirus vaccine mandate, opting instead for incentives and other “nudges” to motivate people to get shots. Even in authoritarian states, like China, it is not mandatory. 

Now, other European countries are starting to consider similarly drastic measures to persuade more people to be inoculated, despite criticisms that low vaccination rates made them unrealistic and would deprive millions from earning a livelihood, Eliza Mackintosh reports. 

FDA advisers vote to recommend authorization of Merck pill to treat Covid-19

As fears about the Omicron variant mount, advisers to the US Food and Drug Administration voted to recommend emergency use authorization of a pill made by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics to help treat Covid-19.

The narrow 13-10 vote endorsed the treatment, called molnupiravir, although members of the committee expressed worries about risks to pregnant women and several said they hoped Merck would be asked to continue gathering safety data on the pill.

If authorization is granted, the drug would be the first oral antiviral treatment to fight Covid-19. It can reduce the relative risk someone will progress to severe disease or death by about 30%. The pills must be taken within five days of the start of symptoms to do much good, and people must take four pills twice a day for five days.

TOP TIP

There’s a new variant circulating. Here’s what you can do to stay safe

As the world waits to learn more about the Omicron variant, it’s easy to get caught up in the unknowns. Instead, health officials are reminding us of the simple yet effective tools we all have to combat the virus.

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

Czech President Milos Zeman formally appointed Petr Fiala as the country's new Prime Minister on Sunday while sat in an acrylic glass box after testing positive for the coronavirus earlier last week.

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How do you treat a disease where the cause is unknown and each patient’s symptoms are unique? CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta talks to pain expert Dr. Carmen Green about what causes chronic pain, how it can be treated, and which patients are more likely to get care. Listen Now.



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Omicron variant spreads in Europe with at least 13 cases identified in the Netherland


As more cases are identified and governments around the world mobilize to respond to Omicron, an urgent meeting of G7 health ministers will be convened on Monday, the UK said. It also announced on Sunday new domestic public health rules requiring face coverings in shops and on public transport starting this week.

Omicron was first identified by scientists in South Africa, who raised alarm over its unusually high number of mutations on Thursday. Since then, at least dozen other have confirmed cases of the new strain, with several other reporting suspected cases.

Apart from South Africa, the variant has been found in Botswana, Belgium, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Denmark, United Kingdom, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Czech Republic and Hong Kong.

Biostatistician Professor Sheila Bird said the test results from Amsterdam were concerning, but that more data was needed. “There may be household clusters among the 13 Omicron positives or clustering may have been induced by where passengers were seated on the flight from South Africa,” she told the Science Media Centre, adding that the vaccination status and age distribution of those infected will also need to be considered before any conclusions are made about the variant.

The situation should be seen with “alert rather than alarm until more is known,” she said.

Canadian health officials also confirmed the country’s first two Omicron cases in Ottawa on Sunday. Both individuals carrying the variant had recently traveled from Nigeria, according to a joint statement by Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore.

“We continue to urge the federal government to take the necessary steps to mandate point-of-arrival testing for all travelers irrespective of where they’re coming from to further protect against the spread of this new variant,” the joint statement also said.

Variant of concern

The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated the Omicron variant, originally referred to as B.1.1.529, a “variant of concern.”

WHO said on Friday that early evidence suggest the Omicron variant, first identified in South Africa, could pose an increased risk of reinfection and said that some of the mutations detected on the variant were concerning.

World is put on high alert over the Omicron coronavirus variant

But WHO stressed that more research is needed to determine whether the variant is more contagious, whether it causes more severe disease, and whether it could evade vaccines.

“This variant has a large number of mutations and some of these mutations have some worrying characteristics,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead for Covid-19, said in a statement on Friday.

“Right now there are many studies that are underway … so far there’s little information but those studies are underway so we need researchers to have the time to carry those out and WHO will inform the public and our partners and our member states as soon as we have more information,” she added.

Health workers of the Red Cross transport passengers infected with coronavirus returning to the Netherlands from South Africa, to a hotel quarantine.

Travel bans and new quarantine requirements

The variant’s discovery and fast spread across the world is an uncomfortable reminder that the pandemic is far from over.

A number of countries have slammed their borders shut to travelers from southern Africa, with the European Union, Japan, Australia, the United States, Canada, Rwanda and many others banning travelers from countries including South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.

But South Africa and some of the other countries hit by the travel bans are pushing back. Speaking in Pretoria on Sunday, South African president Cyril Ramaphosa described the bans as baseless discrimination.

“These restrictions are unjustified and unfairly discriminate against our country and our Southern African sister countries. The prohibition of travel is not informed by science, nor will it be effective in preventing the spread of this variant. The only thing the prohibition on travel will do is to further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond to, and recover from, the pandemic,” he said.

South Africa’s Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation has said the country was being punished for its transparency. “Excellent science should be applauded and not punished. The global community needs collaboration and partnerships in the management of the Covid-19 pandemic,” the ministry said in a statement.

“A combination of South Africa’s capacity to test and its ramped-up vaccination programme, backed up by world class scientific community, should give our global partners the comfort that we are doing as well as they are in managing the pandemic. South Africa follows and enforces globally recognized Covid-19 health protocols on travel. No infected individuals are permitted to leave the country,” it added.

The new Omicron variant is a pandemic gut check

Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera also criticized the travel bans, saying they were “uncalled for.” “Covid measures must be based on science, not Afrophobia,” he said on his official Facebook page.

Many experts said South African scientists deserved credit for their ability to quickly identify the risks stemming from the new variant.

The move to impose bans has also sparked criticism from WHO. “We’ve seen in the past, the minute there’s any kind of mention of any kind of variation and everyone is closing borders and restricting travel. It’s really important that we remain open, and stay focused,” WHO’s Head of Emergencies Dr. Michael Ryan said Saturday.

“South Africa has very, very good genomic sequencing capacity and capability … certainly South Africa and any other countries should not be stigmatized for reporting it and doing the right thing,” Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, told CNN in a phone interview.

However, Head said that travel bans, if used correctly, could play a role in controlling the outbreak.

“It’s difficult scenario. It can buy you a bit of time. So if countries are imposing a ban and using that time, which will be at the moment a few weeks, to increase the pace of vaccination rollouts to make sure that any new antiviral drugs are available within the country, to increase testing, genomic surveillance at airports, that sort of thing, that’s something you can usefully do with a travel ban,” he said.

“If you just implement a travel ban and say ‘right, job done’ then that’s no good to anyone. And if you do, as it were, punish countries for reporting new variants, we should really look to support them as well, whether it’s infrastructure or funding or vaccine doses whatever might be appropriate.”

CNN’s Larry Madowo in Paris contributed reporting.



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Asian Stock Markets Sink as Traders Watch Europe Virus Cases | Business News


By JOE McDONALD, AP Business Writer

BEIJING (AP) — Asian stock markets sank Friday after some European countries tightened curbs on travel and business following a surge in coronavirus infections and South Africa reported a new variant.

Shanghai, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Sydney declined. U.S. markets were closed Thursday for a holiday.

Austria imposed a nationwide 10-day lockdown after its daily virus deaths tripled, while Italy imposed curbs on activity by unvaccinated people. The U.S. government advised Americans to avoid Germany and Denmark. Scientists in South Africa said a new variant was spreading among young people in its most populous province.

“Investors are likely to shoot first and ask questions later until more is known,” Jeffrey Halley of Oanda said in a report.

Political Cartoons

The Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.5% to 3,566.18 and the Nikkei 225 in Tokyo plunged by an unusually wide 2.6% margin to 28,746.20. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong tumbled 2.1% to 24,213.55.

The Kospi in Seoul lost 1.3% to 2,941.81 and Sydney’s S&P-ASX 200 fell 1.7% to 7,282.50.

India’s Sensex opened down 1.8% at 57,752.68. New Zealand and Southeast Asian markets also declined.

Wall Street’s benchmark S&P 500 closed up 0.2% on Wednesday. U.S. markets are due to reopen Friday for a shortened trading session.

Investors already were more cautious after Federal Reserve officials said in notes from their October meeting released this week they foresaw the possibility of responding to higher inflation by raising rates sooner than previously planned.

Financial markets had been encouraged by strong U.S. corporate earnings and signs the global economy was rebounding from last year’s history-making decline in activity due to the pandemic. Stock prices have been boosted by easy credit and other measures rolled out by the Fed and other central banks.

Investors worry central bankers might feel pressure to withdraw stimulus earlier than planned due to stronger-than-expected inflation. The Fed said earlier it foresaw keeping rates low until late next year.

In energy markets, benchmark U.S. crude fell $2.22 to $76.17 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, the price basis for international oils, shed $1.84 to $79.08 per barrel in London.

The dollar fell to 114.74 yen from Thursday’s 115.36 yen. The euro held stead at $1.1221.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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Europe is facing another 700,000 Covid-19 deaths by March, WHO warns


More than 1.5 million people in Europe have already died from Covid during the pandemic. WHO’s latest projections suggest that number will rise to 2.2 million over the winter months, with “high or extreme stress” set to hit intensive care units in 49 of the 53 nations in the region.

But the agency’s statement on Tuesday also insisted that mask-wearing could prevent many of those deaths. If 95% of people wore masks, WHO estimated that more than 160,000 fatalities would be avoided by spring.

“In order to live with this virus and continue our daily lives, we need to take a ‘vaccine plus’ approach,” said Hans Kluge, WHO’s regional director for Europe. That means mask-wearing, social distancing, ventilating indoor spaces and washing hands.

“All of us have the opportunity and responsibility to help avert unnecessary tragedy and loss of life, and limit further disruption to society and businesses over this winter season,” Kluge added.

Europe has been crippled by a surge in Delta cases in recent weeks. Infection records have been broken several times over in Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ireland, Russia and beyond, and several countries are resorting to drastic measures to counter the wave.

Austria plans to become the first country in the region to make vaccinations mandatory by February, and leaders around the European Union have been making their frustrations known at those who haven’t yet received a shot.

Angry anti-lockdown protests took place in the Austrian capital Vienna over the weekend, as well as in the Netherlands and Belgium, but tight new restrictions remain in place around the continent as Christmas approaches.

And that may be key in preventing this wave, and keeping future surges at bay, experts say, until enough people have been inoculated.

“It’s too late to prevent another wave, because the vaccination coverage is too low. So we have to focus on keeping mortality down,” Kluge told CNN on Tuesday.

“To focus only on vaccinations is not going to help us. We need to do it all.”

YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED.

Q: How can we prepare for a potential Covid surge this winter?

A: Winter is almost here and with colder weather and an increase in indoor gatherings, the risk of Covid transmission is higher.

However, unlike last year, we have vaccines that add an important layer of protection, and other tools, like testing, that can help. So while there may be increased risks, we don’t need to be resigned to a winter surge. CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen shares her tips on how to prepare and get through this period safely.

  • Anyone eligible to be vaccinated should do so, including children aged 5 to 11 years old and those who are now eligible to receive their booster shots.
  • Get the flu vaccine, to prevent the possibility of a “twin-demic” of the flu and Covid-19.
  • Stock up on rapid tests. In the United States, these are available for purchase over the counter at your local pharmacy.
  • High-quality masks (N95, KN95, KF94) should be worn indoors and in crowded areas.
  • Many medical appointments have been delayed due to Covid-19. Now is the time to get on top of your other medical issues.
  • Opt for outside gatherings where possible and continue to exercise caution.
Send your questions here. Are you a health care worker fighting Covid-19? Message us on WhatsApp about the challenges you’re facing: +1 347-322-0415.

READS OF THE WEEK

Romania is battling its worst Covid-19 wave yet as bodies pile up outside a morgue

At the morgue of the Bucharest University Hospital, a medic hammered a nail into a wooden coffin. A colleague sprayed the coffin with disinfectant.

“It’s relentless — relentless,” sighed nurse Claudiu Ionita, standing in front of a line of gurneys in the hospital’s mortuary. On each gurney lay a body inside a black plastic bag.

The morgue has a capacity for 15 bodies, but on the day CNN visited, it had received 41, with excess bodies filling the corridor outside.

Bucharest University Hospital is the Romanian capital’s largest medical facility treating Covid-19 patients and is struggling through the country’s fourth wave, its worst yet, Cristiana Moisescu and Ben Wedeman report.

Romania has one of Europe’s lowest vaccination rates, with under 36% of the population vaccinated. Medical workers and officials have attributed it to a variety of factors, including suspicion of authorities, deeply held religious beliefs, and a flood of misinformation surging through social media.

Europe is learning a crucial lesson — vaccines work, but they won’t stop Covid alone

As Western Europe’s vaccination rollout gained strength in the early part of 2021, many of the region’s leaders touted the shots as their immediate route out of the pandemic. But nations are now reckoning with the gradually waning immunity of those doses, Rob Picheta writes.

Even a relatively strong vaccination rate is not enough alone to stop the spread of Covid-19 — and warning signs from Germany and Austria — where infections have skyrocketed in recent weeks — show the dangers of complacency.

Restrictions differ from country to country, and adherence to them can differ wildly too. “The vaccine is controlling deaths — but what we’re seeing is a virus that has established itself as endemic, and in some countries, it’s made greater progress than others because there have been less rigid controls,” said David Heymann, a former executive director of WHO’s Communicable Diseases Cluster and a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

What the world can learn from Israel’s booster rollout

When it comes to Covid-19, it seems where Israel leads, the rest of the world follows. For almost a year, the country has offered other nations a glimpse into the pandemic’s future.

At the end of July, the country began offering boosters to those over the age of 60; since late August, boosters have been available to anyone over the age of 16, five months after their second dose of the vaccine.

Now, a person is not considered fully vaccinated in Israel until they have received a third dose of the vaccine, once they are eligible for it.

More than three months on, Israeli health officials say the data is clear: Booster shots helped bring down the fourth wave of the virus that swept the country in August and September, Hadas Gold writes.

The data highlights stark differences between those with the vaccine — and the booster — and those without: On many days over the past month, more than 75% of positive cases were among the unvaccinated, according to health ministry data.

TOP TIP

Get ready for Thanksgiving

While many of us look forward to reuniting with loved ones and celebrating the holidays, we need to stay Covid safe.

“Get yourself vaccinated and you can continue to enjoy interactions with your family and others.” Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious-disease expert, told CNN. He added that if you and your family members are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, it’s OK to ditch the masks when you are around each other this holiday season.

“And if you’re not [vaccinated], please be careful,” Fauci said. “Get tested … when you’re getting together.”

CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen has some more tips on how to travel and celebrate safely over the holidays, whether those around you are fully vaccinated or not.

TODAY’S PODCAST

For many of us, Thanksgiving means reuniting with friends or family we haven’t seen in a while. But before you gather around the dinner table, CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta has tips to share for keeping loved ones safe from Covid-19. Plus, Dr. Gupta invites us into his home where he and his daughters prepare a special family recipe that’s sure to warm up any holiday gathering. Listen here.



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Europe travel restrictions: 7 countries that have tightened rules on Americans


“We have to accept that we are still living through the reality of this ongoing pandemic and will not return to ‘normal’ straight away with some setbacks on our way to recovery,” Luís Araújo, president of the European Travel Commission, said in an email. “However, we believe that with current vaccination rates and safety protocols in place, safe international travel is possible. And this summer has proven it well.”



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Pandemic travel news: US borders open as more of Europe is rated ‘very high’ risk


Francesca Street, CNN

After nearly 20 months of closed borders, the US finally opened to vaccinated international visitors on Monday, November 8.

But transatlantic travel remains an ever changing landscape, with this week also seeing more European destinations added to the CDC’s highest risk travel category.

And as European Covid cases continue to climb, one central European country is considering a lockdown for its unvaccinated population.

Here’s what you need to know about pandemic travel this week:

1. The US opened to vaccinated international travelers

It’s been a long time coming. Almost 20 months since the US banned many international visitors back in March 2020, fully vaccinated travelers from all over the world are finally able to return to the US.

That includes travelers coming from previously banned countries including the UK, as well as EU destinations.

To mark the occasion, Monday morning saw British Airways and Virgin Atlantic join forces to coordinate a historic dual airplane take-off.

The rival transatlantic airlines scheduled two A350 aircraft to depart London Heathrow at the same time, with BA christening its flight BA001, a number usually reserved for the historic Concorde.

Check out our guide to the new US travel rules here.

2. Thanksgiving travel is expected to rebound

For many, the return of international travel to the US means long-awaited family reunions, and some travelers will be timing their trip with Thanksgiving on November 25.

While Thanksgiving 2020 involved hunkering down at home, the American Automobile Association (AAA) predicts 2021 travel will rebound close to pre-pandemic levels. Some 53.4 million Americans are expected to travel for the holiday — a 13% increase from last year.

Kathleen Bangs, a former airline pilot and spokesperson for airplane tracker company Flight Aware, shared her tips for ensuring holiday travel goes smoothly, including booking flights that depart early in the day to avoid a cascading effect of delays and cancellations, and even booking a back-up flight for extra peace of mind.

See more tips here from Bangs and other experts about smooth and safe pandemic holiday travel.

3. The Netherlands has moved to the CDC’s highest-risk category

While transatlantic travel might be back on the table, it’s not without its complications.

This week the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added two northwestern European countries to its list of “very high” risk travel destinations.

The Netherlands and Luxembourg were joined by two archipelagos in this week’s update to the CDC’s “Covid-19 Very High” Level 4 category. On Friday the Dutch government announced a three-week partial lockdown from Saturday, limiting access to shops, cafes, restaurants and hotels.

Countries are designated Level 4 if they have had more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days. The CDC recommends people avoid traveling to Level 4 countries, and advises that anyone who must travel should be fully vaccinated first.

There’s been a surge of cases across Europe recently, which a WHO official said is “of grave concern.”

4. Austria considers implementing a lockdown for unvaccinated people

Austria, another European country on the CDC’s Level 4 list of “very high” risk travel destinations, is considering a lockdown for its unvaccinated population.

Unvaccinated people in Austria are already banned from certain public places, including entertainment venues, restaurants and hairdressers.

According to Johns Hopkins data, 64.3% of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated. On Thursday November 11, the Austrian chancellor Alexander Schallenberg called the vaccination rate “shamefully low.”

“A lockdown for the unvaccinated means one cannot leave one’s home unless one is going to work, shopping for essentials, stretching one’s legs — namely exactly what we all had to suffer through in 2020,” he said.

Schallenberg is pushing for this measure to be put in place ASAP.

5. Haunting image of coastal erosion wins Environmental Photographer of the Year 2021

This week, the winners of this year’s Environmental Photographer of the Year awards were announced at the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow.

Taking the top spot was a haunting image by Spanish photographer Antonio Aragón Renuncio of a child sleeping in the ruins of a home eroded by rising sea levels on a beach in Togo, in West Africa.

“I’m very happy. It’s a huge honor to win such an important prize,” Aragón told CNN. “Especially one that’s related to the environment, which is a topic I’ve been working on for several years and which I’m very worried about.”

6. Myanmar plans to reopen to tourists, raising one big question

The Southeast Asian country of Myanmar plans to welcome back international tourists from early 2022, amid a complex domestic situation.

In addition to navigating the pandemic, Myanmar is also dealing with the aftereffects of a February 2021 coup in which a military junta overthrew the country’s democratically elected government.

“We are planning to reopen tourism for vaccinated tourists if plans are well-prepared for safe and convenient travel,” Zeyar Htun, deputy director of the Public Relations and Information Department at the military-run Ministry of Hotels & Tourism, confirmed to CNN Travel.

The US State Department currently has two Level Four “do not visit” alerts for Burma, as it refers to Myanmar: one for its high number of Covid cases, and one for the ongoing political situation.

All this raises one big question for Myanmar tourism.

7. Some travelers are turning their back on airplanes

And as discussions about tackling the climate crisis wrap up at COP26, some eco-conscious travelers are turning their backs on air travel.

Anna Hughes is the director of Flight Free UK, a campaign group that promotes alternative forms of travel beyond aviation.

As the group starts to encourage people to sign a pledge to remain flight free for 2022, there are “two distinct camps” of travelers, according to Hughes.

Find out which camp you fall in.

The-CNN-Wire
™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Marnie Hunter, Joseph Ataman, Chris Liakos, Anna Cooban, Chris Isidore, Geneva Sands, Julia Buckley, Forrest Brown, Rob Picheta, Sharon Braithwaite, Tara John, Nadine Schmidt, Lilit Marcus and Jeevan Ravindran contributed reporting



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Pandemic travel news: US borders open as more of Europe is rated ‘very high’ risk


(CNN) — After nearly 20 months of closed borders, the US finally opened to vaccinated international visitors on Monday, November 8.

But transatlantic travel remains an ever changing landscape, with this week also seeing more European destinations added to the CDC’s highest risk travel category.

And as European Covid cases continue to climb, one central European country is considering a lockdown for its unvaccinated population.

Here’s what you need to know about pandemic travel this week:

1. The US opened to vaccinated international travelers

The United States opened its borders to vaccinated international travelers after nearly 20 months. CNN spent the day in three US airports talking to travelers and their families about what it’s like to be able to see one another again.

It’s been a long time coming. Almost 20 months since the US banned many international visitors back in March 2020, fully vaccinated travelers from all over the world are finally able to return to the US.

That includes travelers coming from previously banned countries including the UK, as well as EU destinations.

To mark the occasion, Monday morning saw British Airways and Virgin Atlantic join forces to coordinate a historic dual airplane take-off.

The rival transatlantic airlines scheduled two A350 aircraft to depart London Heathrow at the same time, with BA christening its flight BA001, a number usually reserved for the historic Concorde.

Check out our guide to the new US travel rules here.

2. Thanksgiving travel is expected to rebound

Many families are coming together this holiday season for the first time in a long time. CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta shares these tips on how to protect your loved ones from getting Covid-19.

For many, the return of international travel to the US means long-awaited family reunions, and some travelers will be timing their trip with Thanksgiving on November 25.

While Thanksgiving 2020 involved hunkering down at home, the American Automobile Association (AAA) predicts 2021 travel will rebound close to pre-pandemic levels. Some 53.4 million Americans are expected to travel for the holiday — a 13% increase from last year.

Kathleen Bangs, a former airline pilot and spokesperson for airplane tracker company Flight Aware, shared her tips for ensuring holiday travel goes smoothly, including booking flights that depart early in the day to avoid a cascading effect of delays and cancellations, and even booking a back-up flight for extra peace of mind.

3. The Netherlands has moved to the CDC’s highest-risk category

The Netherlands landed in the CDC's highest risk category for travel this week.

The Netherlands landed in the CDC’s highest risk category for travel this week.

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

While transatlantic travel might be back on the table, it’s not without its complications.

This week the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added two northwestern European countries to its list of “very high” risk travel destinations.

Countries are designated Level 4 if they have had more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days. The CDC recommends people avoid traveling to Level 4 countries, and advises that anyone who must travel should be fully vaccinated first.

There’s been a surge of cases across Europe recently, which a WHO official said is “of grave concern.”

4. Austria considers implementing a lockdown for unvaccinated people

Austria is days away from ordering millions of unvaccinated people to stay at home, its chancellor has said, in a rare move that underscores the increasing exasperation of European leaders towards those who have not yet been inoculated against Covid-19. CNN’s Scott McLean reports.

Unvaccinated people in Austria are already banned from certain public places, including entertainment venues, restaurants and hairdressers.

According to Johns Hopkins data, 64.3% of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated. On Thursday November 11, the Austrian chancellor Alexander Schallenberg called the vaccination rate “shamefully low.”

People walk among Christmas lights on November 12, 2021, near Stephanplatz in Vienna, Austria.

People walk among Christmas lights on November 12, 2021, near Stephanplatz in Vienna, Austria.

Georg Hochmuth/AFP via Getty Images

“A lockdown for the unvaccinated means one cannot leave one’s home unless one is going to work, shopping for essentials, stretching one’s legs — namely exactly what we all had to suffer through in 2020,” he said.

Schallenberg is pushing for this measure to be put in place ASAP.

5. Haunting image of coastal erosion wins Environmental Photographer of the Year 2021

This week, the winners of this year’s Environmental Photographer of the Year awards were announced at the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow.

“I’m very happy. It’s a huge honor to win such an important prize,” Aragón told CNN. “Especially one that’s related to the environment, which is a topic I’ve been working on for several years and which I’m very worried about.”

6. Myanmar plans to reopen to tourists, raising one big question

Myanmar is dealing with the pandemic and the aftereffects of a coup.

Myanmar is dealing with the pandemic and the aftereffects of a coup.

Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images

The Southeast Asian country of Myanmar plans to welcome back international tourists from early 2022, amid a complex domestic situation.

In addition to navigating the pandemic, Myanmar is also dealing with the aftereffects of a February 2021 coup in which a military junta overthrew the country’s democratically elected government.

“We are planning to reopen tourism for vaccinated tourists if plans are well-prepared for safe and convenient travel,” Zeyar Htun, deputy director of the Public Relations and Information Department at the military-run Ministry of Hotels & Tourism, confirmed to CNN Travel.

The US State Department currently has two Level Four “do not visit” alerts for Burma, as it refers to Myanmar: one for its high number of Covid cases, and one for the ongoing political situation.

7. Some travelers are turning their back on airplanes

Anna Hughes is the director of Flight Free UK, a campaign group that promotes alternative forms of travel beyond aviation.

As the group starts to encourage people to sign a pledge to remain flight free for 2022, there are “two distinct camps” of travelers, according to Hughes.

CNN’s Marnie Hunter, Joseph Ataman, Chris Liakos, Anna Cooban, Chris Isidore, Geneva Sands, Julia Buckley, Forrest Brown, Rob Picheta, Sharon Braithwaite, Tara John, Nadine Schmidt, Lilit Marcus and Jeevan Ravindran contributed reporting



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New Europe hotel chain debuts: Travel Weekly


The new British hotel chain Quartz Inn Hotels & Resorts was unveiled at the WTM trade show in London on Nov. 3.

The chain is made up of independent and sustainable hotels, owned and operated by their owners, according to managing director Ignacio Merino.

The idea is to facilitate access to the latest hotel technology for those independent hotels that do not have sufficient means to compete with the large hotel chains, he said.

The brand will also formalize the standards of service, safety, hygiene and sustainability, while preserving the character of each establishment.

“The expansion plans of our company are to end 2022 with over 100 affiliated hotels throughout Europe,” Merino said.

“We want to promote direct sales for our hotels and contribute to creating a more sustainable tourism industry, maintaining the local cultures, reducing energy and water use and eliminating single-use plastic in the rooms.”

Unlike other franchise models, properties do not pay entrance or monthly fees. Quartz Inn Hotels handles all sales, marketing, online reputation and sustainability standards for a minimum percentage of the sales.



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Eye on Europe: Get to Know Czech Republic’s Travel Offerings


Did you know that Czech wine is winning awards? Or that if you’re visiting on November 11th, you might be treated to a traditional feast of roasted goose?

Whether you’re a travel advisor or travel lover (or both!), you’re bound to learn a few new things about this Central European country in this interview with Michaela Claudino, Director of CzechTourism USA & Canada. We cover lots of different aspects of travel in the Czech Republic, a celebrated-yet-still-underrated destination that should be on everyone’s European trip radar.

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Scott Hartbeck (SH): What is the one thing someone should know about the Czech Republic before they visit?

Michaela Claudino (MC): Czech Republic is incredibly diverse given the size of the country (roughly the size of South Carolina). We have 16 UNESCO World Heritage sites, more than 2,000 castles and chateaux, over 30 spa towns but also great outdoors – with more than 25,000 miles of hiking and biking trails. But you asked me about one thing only, right? Then don’t say “Czechoslovakia” and don’t call us Eastern Europe anymore 🙂 !

SH: What is new in the Czech Republic that we should know about?

MC: There are some new hotel developments mainly in Prague. During the pandemic, many hotels invested their time and money into refurbishing their properties.

Marriott Hotel Prague’s refurbishment and expansion has added 123 new rooms and suites to the hotel, taking the total number up to 416. Many of the new rooms feature balconies and terraces allowing guests to enjoy views of the old town spires. Marriott’s transformation also includes a new signature restaurant: The Artisan – a modern, sustainable Czech culinary experience using high-quality local produce and fresh seasonal ingredients including herbs grown in the restaurant’s own “urban cultivator” and an open plan “theatre kitchen”.

There will be also a few new five-star hotels opening such as the Hyatt’s Andaz Hotel Prague which is accepting reservations from March 2022. A luxury lifestyle hotel, Andaz Prague is located on Senovázné Square, in the heart of the historical center of Prague. There are only four Andaz Hotels by Hyatt in Europe – in Vienna, Munich, London and Amsterdam. Prague will be the fifth.

W Hotels Worldwide also plans to open in Prague in the former Art Nouveau Grand Europa Hotel on Wenceslas Square. The opening has been delayed because of the pandemic, but most likely in the second half of 2022.

And last but not least, the former Intercontinental Hotel in Prague is undergoing a complete gut renovation and will become the new Golden Prague Hotel managed by Fairmont. The renovations are planned until the
end of 2022.

Some new additions in 2023 might include the Hotel Alaman, Ritz Carlton, or Hard Rock Hotel in Letna.


Czech Wine, Moravia, Czech Republic
Czech Vineyard in autumn. (Photo via CzechTourism)

SH: As this is autumn, is there anywhere in the Czech Republic that is especially well known for having pretty fall foliage?

MC: Many people don’t realize it, but Prague is one of the greenest cities in Europe and even in the world. Grassy and wooded areas make up 56 percent of the city’s area so you can easily visit one of the many parks and see the foliage right in the city. The most popular parks include Petrín, Letná, Divoká šárka, and Stromovka.

As mentioned before, Czechs are avid hikers and the Czech Republic has over 25,000 miles of color-coded, marked trails. If you want to stay closer to Prague, visit the area of Bohemian Switzerland – just one hour north of Prague. If you have more time head to the Eastern part of the Czech Republic, called Moravia and explore some of the renowned vineyards.

Another great way of enjoying the fall foliage and panoramic views would be climbing up some of the treetop walkways in Krkonose mountains, South Bohemia or Central Moravia.

SH: The Czech Republic is famous for its sensational beer, but Czech wine is also worth checking out, isn’t it? Is there one variety/vineyard you would recommend to a first-time Czech wine drinker?

MC: The Czech Republic has two wine regions – Bohemia and Moravia. Bohemia is an area nearer to Prague, and only produces 5-10% of the country’s wine.

Moravia is in the southeastern part of the country, bordering Austria, and produces 90-95% of the wines from Czech Republic. Moravian wines are considered a national treasure and have been recognized with silver and gold medals by wine judges from all over the world. Just recently the Moravian Pinot Noir won the world’s best title at the prestigious international competition “Mondial des Pinots”. Generally speaking – white wine is gaining more recognition than red ones. Among the top grapes are:art Muller-Thurgau, Gruner Veltliner, Welschriesling, (Rhine) Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc, & Chardonnay. We also produce less than we drink, so the only way you can sample the delicious wines of Moravia might be a trip to visit the region personally!


Czech Republic, Bohemian Switzerland
The scenery in the Czech Republic’s Bohemian Switzerland. (Photo via CzechTourism)

SH: If I want the best experience in the Czech great outdoors, where am I going and why?

MC: Are you a biker or hiker or both? Do you like mountains or rather rolling hills and ponds? Czech countryside is very picturesque. you can explore caves and rock cities, climb to the tops of mountains and observation points! Places you will never forget and where you will always be happy to go back to – such as the fairy-tale landscape of the Bohemian Switzerland National Park, the gorges of the Adršpach Rock City or Punkevní Cave in the Moravian Karst. The cold northern character is exuded from the shadows of Boubín Forest in šumava, while you will be surprised by the warm, almost Mediterranean character of the landscape in the Palava Bio Reserve. Czech Republic has more than 25,000 miles of marked hiking trails so take your pick!

SH: For travelers who enjoy timing their trips with festivals and special events, what would be a Czech festival event that everyone should experience once in their lifetime?

MC: That is a tough question… it really depends on your personal preference and interest, but generally speaking I would say anything related to music.

Every year, Prague hosts a world-known international classical music festival – Prague Spring which takes place in one of the most beautiful Art Nouveau buildings in Prague (the Municipal House), but we also have a festival called Colors of Ostrava – a multi-genre music festival, one of the largest in Central Europe. The festival takes place in the very unique setting of Dolní Vítkovice – a place that served as a center of black coal mining and production of raw steel between the years 1828 and 1998.

We have some traditional folkloric festivals such as the Ride of the Kings in Moravia – a 200-year-old tradition that is included in the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage list. This parade is a colorful, ceremonious horseback procession of boys in traditional folk costumes and takes place in May in a small village called Vlcnov in Moravia.

For those who are not into traditions & folklore and are looking for something more contemporary, I would recommend visiting a festival that introduces young designers and artists, called Design Blok. The Prague International Design Festival is the biggest selective festival of design and fashion in Central Europe. Designblok showcases the work of designers and manufacturers with an emphasis on Central Europe and presents new products from prestigious Czech brands as well as prototypes from young designers and design studios.


Prague, Czech Republic. Christmas Market in Stare Mesto old square, Tyn Church, Bohemia.
Prague, Czech Republic. Christmas Market in Stare Mesto old square, Tyn Church, Bohemia. (Photo via emicristea / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

SH: The last time I was in the Czech Republic, I visited at Christmas and I absolutely loved it. What do you think is the best thing about winter and offseason travel in the Czech Republic?

MC: The simple answer is fewer crowds (although that is relative now), off-season prices and although you might not be to spend so much time outside due to colder weather, you can take in all the cultural offerings.

Fall is usually a great time to visit as you can still catch some of the wine festivals in September. In October it gets a bit cooler, but it is still a great time to see some of the foliage we talked about before and take in some culture – such as the Signal Festival – video mapping throughout the city of Prague. In November, the Czech Republic celebrates St. Martin’s Day. According to Czech folklore, St. Martin arrives in early November on a white horse, signifying the first snowfall of the year. Celebrations include the sampling of young wines and a traditional feast of roasted goose, which is served in most Czech restaurants with a side of red cabbage and dumplings.

By mid-November, winter begins to creep in and according to traditional Czech lore, it is bad luck if the mountains haven’t gotten their first snowfall by November 11th, St. Martin’s Day. If you don’t mind the cold, December may be the most beautiful, and best time of year to visit Prague. Christmas in Prague is magical!

The most popular and largest markets are traditionally held on Old Town Square, which becomes the main center of pre-Christmas celebrations. Dominated by a huge Christmas tree selected each year from a different
region of the Czech Republic, the market is visited by thousands of people every winter. Mulled wine, excellent sausages, and bratwurst. In addition, they can admire a display of traditional arts and crafts, such as sword making, or enjoy the extensive additional program while listening to the sound of Christmas carols. This year, the markets will officially be open to the public on Wenceslas Square and Old Town Square from Saturday, November 27th to Thursday, January 6th.

SH: Whenever you return to the Czech Republic, what is the one meal you have right away?

MC: I have a sweet tooth and love Czech pastry, so my first steps always lead to a good bakery.

I love kolace – Czech pastries made of a yeast dough and usually filled with fruit, but sometimes cheese with toppings such as poppy seed (my favorite), apricot or prune. By the way – did you know that the Czech Republic is one of the world’s largest producers of poppy seeds in the world?

I also like fruit dumplings, especially in the summer. Speaking of dumplings – there are many different types and varieties and they are mostly savory and served with traditional dishes such as the roasted duck with sauerkraut or svickova – the beef sirloin with creamy sauce. But I still prefer the sweet ones – filled with seasonal fruit such as strawberries or apricots and powdered sugar on top, touch of melted butter, and a sprinkle of cinnamon or grated gingerbread.


Czech Republic, Karlovy Vary
Czech Spa town of Karlovy Vary. (Photo via CzechTourism)

SH: Obviously, historic and pretty Prague needs no introduction, and more and more Americans are realizing that Cesky Krumlov is about as a romantic of a medieval town as there is in Europe. So what is the next up-and-coming destination we will fall in love with next?

MC: Yes, Prague and Cesky Krumlov are already on most people’s itineraries. So what is next? Depending on how many days you have, you can either stay in Bohemia only and explore for instance Pilsen – most likely the most American town in the Czech Republic (liberated by the American army during World War II), home of the Pilsner Urquell Brewery and also a town with the third largest synagogue in Europe. You can drive a little further West and visit one of the three spa towns that have recently been added to the UNESCO World Heritage list – Karlovy Vary, Marianske Lazne or Frantiskovy Lazne.

Should you have more time – head to the Eastern part of the Czech Republic called Moravia and visit a few picturesque towns along the way – such as Telc or Trebic. Once you arrive in Moravia, don’t miss Brno or Olomouc. The second-largest city in the Czech Republic, Brno is the young-and-trendy cultural sister to Prague home to the one-of-a-kind Villa Tugendhat – a masterpiece of modernism, designed by German-American architect Ludwig van der Rohe.

But a real hidden gem might be the town of Olomouc which is located in Central Moravia and I personally call it the “little Prague.” The city is lined with cobblestoned streets, majestic cathedrals, and grand palaces and it is a masterpiece of medieval architecture. There even is an Astrological clock – just like in Prague – only much newer.

SH: Last but not least, what is the one phrase someone should learn in Czech before they visit?

MC: I am tempted to say “jedno pivo, prosim ” which means one beer please, but you should really know how to say:

Thank you – Dekuji (dye-ku-yi)
Please/ your welcome – Prosim (pro-seem)
Hello – very informal – Ahoj (Ahoy)
And perhaps “I don’t speak Czech” – Nemluvim Cesky (nem-loo-veem-chehs-kee)

For the latest insight on travel to around the world, check out this interactive guide:



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Most beautiful towns in Europe


(CNN) — Paris, Rome, Barcelona… Europe’s cities are bucket list destinations, and rightly so. But the continent’s small towns are a dream, too, with all the beautiful architecture and much of the culture you’ll find in the big hitters, only with fewer crowds to share them with.

Here are some of the prettiest small towns across Europe, from humble fishing towns to hilltop medieval power bases.

Giethoorn, Netherlands

Giethoorn is often called the Dutch answer to Venice.

Giethoorn is often called the Dutch answer to Venice.

Adobe Stock

They call it the Dutch answer to Venice, but Giethoorn lacks one crucial thing that the Italian city has in spades: overtourism. As in Venice, life revolves around the water, here — there are no cars in the center so the only way to get around is on foot or on the water.

Take a boat tour around the thatched houses sitting on peat-filled islands. Hungry? Stop at the Michelin-starred restaurant Hollands-Venetië.

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Guimarães, Portugal

Guimarães is sleepy today, but it was Portugal's first capital.

Guimarães is sleepy today, but it was Portugal’s first capital.

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Guimarães is crucial to Portugal’s history — it was named the country’s first capital in the 12th century, and its medieval core remains largely intact, full of convents, grand old palaces and a crumbling castle, perched on top of a bluff.

Like everywhere in Portugal, local bakeries make a mean pastel de nata, but here you should try the local speciality: torta di Guimarães — a pastry filled with squash and ground almonds.

Roscoff, France

Roscoff is one of the cutest port towns in France.

Roscoff is one of the cutest port towns in France.

Adobe Stock

Port towns can be grubby. Not lovely little Roscoff, though, in France’s Brittany region, which built its fortune on maritime trade, including exporting its famous pink onions to the UK.

Today, it’s a center of thalassotherapy, using seawater to treat medical conditions, as well as a beautiful Breton town. Tiny fishing boats bob in the small harbor — with a larger one, where ferries leave for Plymouth in the UK, further out.

Anghiari, Italy

Anghiari's streets were designed for Renaissance-era warriors.

Anghiari’s streets were designed for Renaissance-era warriors.

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Hovering on a hillside near the Tuscan-Umbrian border, Anghiari is a delight — a tiny walled town curling round itself as it clings to the landscape.

It’s a pedestrianized warren of alleyways and roller-coastering streets, packed full of grand palazzi which were built by the mysterious, mercenary “men of arms” who lived here in the Renaissance period.

Find out more about them at the Museo della Battaglia di Anghiari, which traces the history of a momentous medieval battle which took place on the plain outside town.

Nafplio, Greece

Nafplio was modern Greece's first capital.

Nafplio was modern Greece’s first capital.

Suzanne Plunkett

Gorgeous Nafplio straddles the Aegean Sea in the Peloponnese, with its Venetian-built castle thrusting into the water (in fact, there are three castles to visit here) and a pretty Old Town spooling out behind the old walls.

This was the first capital of modern Greece, so there are things to do in spades. There’s a lido, if you want to take a safe dip in the sea, and if history’s more your thing, the archeological museum contains items dating back to the Mycenean age.

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzigovina

Mostar's bridge draws visitors from all over the region.

Mostar’s bridge draws visitors from all over the region.

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Mostar’s Stari Most, or “Old Bridge,” built by the Ottomans in the 16th century, was long considered one of the finest examples of Balkan Islamic architecture.

Arcing high across the Neretva river, it’s one of the most famous sights in the Balkans, and traditionally locals dive from the bridge — today it’s a stop on the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series.

The bridge was destroyed in November 1993 by Croat forces during the Balkan wars. A reconstructed bridge was built in 2004, and today, Mostar is a beloved destination in Bosnia and Herzigovina, and a popular day trip from Dubrovnik, over the border in Croatia.

Mazara del Vallo, Sicily

Mazara del Vallo is one of Sicily's prettiest fishing towns.

Mazara del Vallo is one of Sicily’s prettiest fishing towns.

Ulrike Leone/Alamy

Sicily is a melting pot, and Mazara del Vallo typifies that. Founded by the Phoenicians nearly 3,000 years ago, it’s seen myriad cultures flow throungh the island — its Kasbah area is similar to a north African medina, there’s a strong Tunisia community, and you’ll be more likely to find couscous on the menu than pasta.

Its stand out attraction is the Satiro Danzante, or dancing satyr — an ancient bronze statue fished out of the sea in 1998.

Clovelly, UK

Donkeys used to be the only way to get around cute Clovelly.

Donkeys used to be the only way to get around cute Clovelly.

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Donkeys used to be the only way to get up and down the steep streets of Clovelly, a pretty fishing village in Devon, southwest England.

Today, they still haven’t managed to bring cars in — it sits at the bottom of a 400-foot cliff. Instead, goods are transported by man-powered sledges — and if tourists can’t face the walk back up to the car park, they can grab a ride in a Land Rover instead.

Dinkelsbühl, Germany

Dinkelsbühl sits on Germany's 'romantic road.'

Dinkelsbühl sits on Germany’s ‘romantic road.’

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A cute historic center, timbered houses and stout towers — Dinkelsbühl has it all. It sits plum on Germany’s “Romantic Road” — a route known for its ravishing towns.

Wrapped by medieval walls with a vast Gothic church, St George’s Minster, it was the setting for Werner Herzog’s film “The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser.”

Korčula, Croatia

Korčula sits on a peninsula danging off the island of the same name.

Korčula sits on a peninsula danging off the island of the same name.

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When an island sitting peacefully in the Adriatic Sea just isn’t enough, there’s Korčula, striking out from the island of the same name on a tiny peninsula.

Locals say adventurer Marco Polo was born here; Venetians dispute that. Either way, it’s a world-class town, with gleaming white streets and buildings hewn from local stone, water almost all the way round, and beautiful buildings left by the Venetians, who ruled here for centuries.

Kenmare, Ireland

Kenmare's one of Ireland's big foodie destinations.

Kenmare’s one of Ireland’s big foodie destinations.

Justin Hannaford/Alamy

On the southwestern tip of Ireland, the land melts into the ocean in County Kerry. Kenmare dandles on the bay of the same name, where the Roughty River slides into the sea.

This is in the middle of some of Ireland’s best loved ares — it’s on the Wild Atlantic Way, between the Ring of Kerry and the Ring of Beara. Kenmare is known for its food, and for its views — with grand mountains rearing up behind the pristine bay.

Piran, Slovenia

Piran makes the most of Slovenia's sliver of Adriatic coastline.

Piran makes the most of Slovenia’s sliver of Adriatic coastline.

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Slovenia only has a sliver of coastline, located on the top of the wedge-shaped Istrian peninsula, hanging in the Adriatic Sea.

Though small, this stretch of coast, sandwiched between Italy and Croatia, is home to several beautiful towns, including Piran. Developed by the Venetians, who conquered it in 1283, it’s a beautiful mini Venice, with a stout belltower, frothy architecture, and fishing boats docked in the tiny harbor.

Reine, Norway

Reine is Norway at its most picture perfect.

Reine is Norway at its most picture perfect.

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You want: a cute Norwegian town — remote, tiny, and waterside.You need: Reine, the joy of the Lofoten Islands, whose pretty red cabins sit at the base of craggy mountain peaks that make this a cross between the Dolomites and Ha Long Bay.

This is one of the most spectacular spots in the Lofoten archipelago — with a jawdropping viewpoint of the islands and the village, Reinebringen, just outside.

Regencos, Spain

Regencos sits peacefully inland from the Coast Brava beaches.

Regencos sits peacefully inland from the Coast Brava beaches.

Wikimedia Commons

As far as Spain’s tourist-filled coastlines go, the Costa Brava, in Catalonia, is relatively quiet — but it doesn’t hold a candle to peaceful Regencos, just 10 minutes inland. Just south of the “Dali Triangle,” the area where the surrealist artist lived and worked, it’s a mountain-fringed area of quiet medieval villages.

Regencos, slightly larger, has remnants of its medieval walls, a pretty church, and traditional stone houses whirling out from the center.

Tarnów, Poland

Tarnów is a city, but still has a small-town feel.

Tarnów is a city, but still has a small-town feel.

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First things first — this is a city. But wander the Old Town and you’ll find it still has that small-town feel, with pretty medieval buildings that give a feel of how nearby Krakow was before mass tourism arrived.

The Old Town square is a glorious mix of architectural styles, there’s a beautiful gothic church and a lot of Jewish heritage — though the community was more or less wiped out during the Second World War.

Top image: Nafplio, Greece. Credit: Adobe Stock



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