Europe’s reopening could come too late for the summer travel season






Europe’s reopening could come too late for the summer travel season





















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Europe’s Most Popular Hotels, According to Experts


With Europe trips on the horizon this summer (finally!), we’re dreaming of the best places to stay—hotels that reflect the destination, like a cliffside former home where breakfast is served overlooking the Amalfi Coast, a Scottish retreat that pairs golf with personalized whisky tastings at the hotel bar, and panoramic suites that overlook the Tuileries Garden in Paris.

But it’s really all about the people, says Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg, co-owner of Valerie Wilson Travel, and a member of AFAR’s Travel Advisory Council. “All of the most popular hotels we book have beautiful accommodations, delicious cuisine, and memorable locations,” she says. “But more importantly, they have exceptional general managers and teams, epitomizing the top 1 percent of hoteliers. A property is only as good as the people leading it, with a genuine desire to serve, care for, and connect with the guests.”

I asked several travel experts and luxury advisors (who can get you perks like upgrades, free breakfast, spa credits, and more) what their favorite and most-booked hotels in Europe are, both prepandemic and as travel starts to ramp up again.

Here’s a list to dream on and use as a guide when planning trips to Europe. 

Italy

ROME
Portrait Roma
Book now or through your travel advisor

“The Lungarno Collection is owned by the Ferragamo family—the hotels have been some of my and my clients’ favorites for nearly 20 years. Each one is different but the top is Portrait Roma, located above the flagship Ferragamo store in Rome. There are just 14 luxury suites—some with terraces—and an amazing rooftop with views of the city. It’s like a private club—there is no signage or flags at the entrance, just a plaque and a doorbell. You never want to take the elevator as the hallways and staircases are filled with the Ferragamo family’s nostalgic personal items, like notes and pictures. My friend Gianluca [Vallerotonda] is the general manager and this property and entire brand is beyond special. It’s like staying in Salvatore Ferragamo’s home.” —Will Kiburz, Coronet Travel 

Hotel Eden
Book now or through your travel advisor

Hotel Eden in Rome feels like a private home in the center of the Eternal City. It has breathtaking views from the rooftop restaurant and bar, and the general manager, Luca Virgilio, and his team are phenomenal.” —Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg, Valerie Wilson Travel 


Hotel de la Ville 
Book now or through your travel advisor

Hotel de la Ville in Rome, Sir Rocco Forte’s 18th-century palazzo, has the best bones of any hotel in Rome. The refurbishment is so beautifully done with incredible attention to detail, especially the sumptuous fabrics. The outdoor terraces and balconies have so much extended space, with a sea of candy-striped umbrellas. It has an extraordinary location as it sits on top of the Spanish Steps—an easy walk to see all the sights of Rome. I love their restaurants and the rooftop terrace for cocktails. The service was top-notch—it is a hotel I will return to, and recommend, often.” —Anne Scully, Embark Beyond

THE DOLOMITES

Rosa Alpina
Book now or through your travel advisor

Rosa Alpina, now an Aman partner hotel, is a family property in San Cassiano in Alta Badia, a region of the Italian Dolomites. It is a perfect merger of Old-World warmth and welcome, outdoor adventures, and modern cosseting, which is why I—and so many of our members—return every year.” —Melissa Biggs Bradley, Indagare Travel

LAKE COMO

Grand Hotel Tremezzo
Book now or through your travel advisor

“Family-owned and operated luxury hotels are harder to find–this is just one reason why our clients are so in love with Grand Hotel Tremezzo and their warm, welcoming team. The property continues to set the standard on Lake Como, and they never stop investing and innovating. We love their beautiful pools and brand new beach. This is the next generation of the Italian grand hotel.” —Jonathan Epstein, Celebrated Experiences

AMALFI COAST


At Palazzo Avino, a dip in the pool comes with one of the best Amalfi Coast views

Palazzo Avino
Book now or through your travel advisor

“Clients return again and again to one of my favorite properties, Palazzo Avino. Ravello is a hilltop village without the crowds of Positano or Amalfi, and the views overlooking the Amalfi Coast are epic. And the property has multiple terraces to enjoy the views from.” —Will Kiburz, Coronet Travel 

Le Sirenuse
Book now or through your travel advisor

“For anyone who loves luxury travel, Le Sirenuse in Positano is most probably on their bucket list, if they haven’t stayed. It feels as if you are vacationing in a relative’s holiday home, which is no surprise given it has been owned and run by the Sersale family since they opened their former summer home as a hotel in 1951.” —Tania Swasbrook, Travelworld International Group

FLORENCE AND TUSCANY

COMO Castello del Nero
Book now or through your travel advisor

“To break through in a region with so many excellent hotels, you must be doing something right! I have been so impressed by the massive investment into COMO Castello del Nero, a beautiful Tuscan resort, since it was purchased by COMO in 2019. The castle dates to the 12th century, yet the updates make the hotel fresher and brighter, while feeling 100 percent Tuscan. The new spa is one of the finest in Europe, and just like the vibrant dining and bar scene, the wellness rituals incorporate an authentic sense of place by using local products. After a long hiatus, the team is ready to share their pent-up Tuscan hospitality.” —Jonathan Epstein, Celebrated Experiences 

The Place Firenze
Book now or through your travel advisor

The Place Firenze is the chicest home away from home you’ll find, located in the heart of Florence on the Piazza Santa Maria Novella. This jewel box of a hotel is filled with local treasures from all over the region. Sip your espresso from the gorgeous Ginori ceramics while cozying up at the terrace wrapped up in cashmere sourced from a producer in the Tuscan region. But it must be said that the best part of the Place is your host, general manager Claudio Meli, because no one knows Florence better than Claudio!” —Erina Pindar, SmartFlyer 

Iceland


Deplar Farm is owned by adventure travel company Eleven Experience.

Deplar Farm by Eleven Experiences
Book now or through your travel advisor

“Thirteen-room Deplar Farm by Eleven Experience is tucked into the Narnia-like wilderness of northern Iceland on the Troll Peninsula and has some of the world’s best guides for outdoor adventuring.” —Melissa Biggs Bradley, Indagare Travel  

Switzerland

The Dolder Grand in Zurich
Book now or through your travel advisor

“The Dolder Grand in Zurich is an incredibly romantic hotel. I remember being in the hot tub overlooking a beautiful mountain as it was snowing. The juxtaposition of the old, classic hotel with the new, more modern wings gives clients the best of both worlds. It has been said ‘the lady has a new scarf’ in describing the refurbishment. I think it has one of the most incredible spas in Europe for both wellness and indulgence with their incredible spa suites. The dining options, from fine dining to a weekend brunch, give guests great choice.” —Anne Scully, Embark Beyond 

Ireland

Ashford Castle
Book now or through your travel advisor

“Fairy tales do come true at Ashford Castle in Ireland. While I love the activities, unforgettable design, and iconic setting on Lough Corrib beside the charming village of Cong, it is the people who steal the show at Ashford Castle. Falconry, boat trips, and horseback riding may get all the love on Instagram, but each team member is singularly focused on making dreams come true.” —Jonathan Epstein, Celebrated Experiences 

Spain

Finca Cortesin
Book now or through your travel advisor

Finca Cortesin in the heart of Andalucia is another favorite with its spacious suites, excellent golf, and fine cuisine. I enjoy dining under the stars, and Rene and Javier are the most gracious hosts.” —Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg, Valerie Wilson Travel   [Read more in Finca Cortesin in Spain Is the Perfect Post-Lockdown Hotel.]

Scotland

Gleneagles
Book now or through your travel advisor

Gleneagles is a majestic hotel and there is something for everyone to do there. They are known for their great golf courses but also have the nine-hole Wee Course where you can enjoy an easier round of golf and still say you played at Gleneagles. Among the other highlights: incredibly designed rooms and suites to satisfy the most discerning guests; great food and wine options, like whisky tasting and a wine cellar; horse and carriage stables; an over-the-top spa; fly fishing or a four-wheel drive adventure. You can also visit Stirling Castle [nearby].” —Anne Scully, Embark Beyond. Jonathan Epstein of Celebrated Experiences says Gleneagles boasts the longest average length of stay of any of their hotels in the U.K. 


The Balmoral, Edinburgh
Book now or through your travel advisor

“Visit Edinburgh to start or end your trip to Scotland and stay at the Balmoral, another outstanding property. You must stay in the Harry Potter Suite, where the author wrote one of her famous novels. Enjoy the best of Scotland with these two properties—they also happen to have two of the best general managers in the luxury market, Conor O’Leary at Gleneagles and Richard Cooke at the Balmoral.” —Anne Scully, Embark Beyond

Greece


Have dinner overlooking the Acropolis at Hotel Grande Bretagne.

Hotel Grande Bretagne
Book now or through your travel advisor

“With every trip to Greece, we make sure to include at least two nights in Athens at the best hotel in the city, Hotel Grande Bretagne, due to its location in the city center, service, and prestige. It’s a true landmark and a constant hit with all of our luxury clients.” —Tania Swasbrook, Travelworld International Group

Canaves Oia
Book now or through your travel advisor

Canaves Oia on Santorini is a collection of family-owned properties. It started with just one property in the town of Oia but in the last years they’ve added special properties sprinkled around the island, like Canaves Oia Sunday Suites, Canaves Oia Epitome, and several private villas. With the addition of Amanzoe to the mainland [2.5 hours from Athens], Greece has luxury options that take tourism to a whole new level.” —Will Kiburz, Coronet Travel 

Montenegro 

Aman Sveti Stefan
Book now or through your travel advisor

“Montenegro has all the charm and history of its neighbor Croatia but without the crowds. Aman Sveti Stefan, like all Aman properties, always takes things to the highest possible level when it comes to rooms, service, public spaces, and dining.” —Will Kiburz, Coronet Travel 

France

PARIS

Le Meurice
Book now or through your travel advisor

Le Meurice in Paris is one of the original Parisian palace properties overlooking the Tuileries Gardens. The people there are truly incredible, starting with Franka Holtmann, the general manager, and her dedicated team. I always feel very at home, pampered, and special when I stay there.” —Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg, Valerie Wilson Travel 

Le Bristol
Book now or through your travel advisor

“There is no better perch on Rue du Faubourg St.-Honoré, or the heart of Paris, then Le Bristol, which blends Parisian elegance and cozy charm. The only staff member who may have a hint of a Parisian pout is Fa-Raon, the hotel’s Burmese pet cat.” —Melissa Biggs Bradley, Indagare Travel 

Four Seasons George V
Book now or through your travel advisor

“There are only a handful of truly iconic hotels in the world, and Four Seasons George V is certainly one of them. This art deco landmark is classic and grand with the right modern touches, but never stuffy. The newly reopened 8,000-square-foot spa is stunning and the perfect place to retreat when you need a break from exploring the City of Lights right before cocktails at Le Bar and a dinner at the buzzy Le George.” —Erina Pindar, SmartFlyer 

FRENCH RIVIERA


The gardens at Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc overlook the Mediterranean.

Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc
Book now or through your travel advisor

“On the tip of Cap d’Antibes, Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc is the quintessential Riviera retreat with its storied past and spectacular saltwater pool, complete with swings and ladders for nimble exhibitionists.” Melissa Biggs Bradley, Indagare Travel  

BORDEAUX

Les Sources de Caudalie Bordeaux
Book now or through your travel advisor

Les Sources de Caudalie Bordeaux is one of my personal favorites as it has it all, with incredible history and beauty. It’s a family-run, five-star hotel set among the vineyards of Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, focusing on wine, food, and its spa. The owner is Alice Tourbier, and her sister Mathilde Thomas—inspired by the grapes—started the Caudalie brand of organic skincare, now well known around the world. It is an absolute hit for clients.” —Tania Swasbrook, Travelworld International Group

The Netherlands


The Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam sits on one of the city’s main canals.

The Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam
Book now or through your travel advisor

The Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam spans six 17th- and 18th-century palaces and is located right on the UNESCO heritage canal Herengracht, considered to be one of the most important canals in the city (where the richest merchants and most influential politicians called home). The hotel is filled with history, from the grand staircase that greets you on arrival built by Daniel Marot, Louis XIV’s architect, to the Vault bar where you can find the original vault of the MeesPierson bank.” —Erina Pindar, SmartFlyer



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Europe’s signal of open borders buoys world leaders at WTTC: Travel Weekly


CANCUN — The opening session of the World Travel and Tourism Council’s (WTTC) first post-pandemic global summit featured a video of children from around the world talking about how much they missed sharing their cultures with visitors. It ended with a young boy saying, “Everything is going to be all right.”

Indeed, that seemed to be the overwhelming consensus among the more than 600 people who gathered here for the three-day conference this week, the first major in-person gathering of travel and tourism leaders since Covid-19 shuttered travel to much of the world.

“While not through it, we are on the brink of recovery,” Hilton CEO and WTTC chairman Chris Nassetta told the crowd during what he said was his first speech to a live audience in more than a year. “It is important that we work together to reunite.”

That underlying optimism — highlighted by the conference theme of “Uniting the World for Recovery” — was bolstered on opening day with news that the European Union would reopen to vaccinated travelers this summer.

While the WTTC and groups like the U.S. Travel Association have repeatedly said they oppose vaccine mandates for travel, the news was nonetheless applauded by members and delegates eager to avoid losing another summer of tourism.

Spain’s tourism secretary, Fernando Valdes Verelst, called the news “excellent.” But he emphasized in an interview with Travel Weekly that it is now crucial that the 27-country bloc makes its plan to develop a digital certification program for verifying vaccinated travelers work.

“We cannot fail in this process; we cannot go three steps backward if it were to turn out people aren’t certified by reliable authorities,” he said. “You have to have the vaccination proven from a public authority.”

The EU said it hopes to have its certification program ready by June, although no official date has been set for opening borders. Individual countries can still set their own policies, but officials here seemed confident that the bloc had finally reached an agreement for common policies and protocols. Some countries like Greece, Iceland and Croatia are already open or preparing to open.

WTTC CEO Gloria Guevara.

WTTC CEO Gloria Guevara. Photo Credit: Couretsy of WTTC

In a virtual address to the summit, French president Emmanuel Macron said his government, too, is working hard to reopen its country and territories.

“I would love to host you in Paris before the end of the year to discuss how to work together for recovery,” Macron said.

Valdes said tourism-reliant countries began pushing for the regional reopening after seeing the U.S., U.K. and Israel moving quickly with vaccines. “We saw a need to put this in place,” he said.

A stumbling block was that European Commission members that aren’t dependent on tourism weren’t willing to make visitation a priority, Valdes said. But a breakthrough came in a late February meeting, when countries including Spain, Portugal and Greece convinced the others that 2021 could not be a repeat of 2020 with uncoordinated regulation, he said. Successful vaccine rollouts opened the door for a safe reopening.

Valdes said he hopes more such announcements will follow.

Asked whether the move would result in a push for the U.S. to also open its borders, Harry Theocharis, tourism minister for Greece, said, “We feel you cannot wait for reciprocity. We’ve said this is our system, and the pressure will be on other governments.”

While the Europe reopening news was hailed as an important step toward recovery, tourism representatives from both the public and private sectors agreed that the booming rebound most are hoping for can’t happen until fear and uncertainty are removed from the travel equation.

“We need a statement from the World Health Organization that traveling is not a greater risk if you play by the rules,” Portugal’s tourism secretary, Rita Marques, told the summit.

Marques said that throughout the pandemic, there have been “noisy reactions that jeopardized the industry and increased the perception [of] the risk” of travel.

To move forward, she said, the public and private sectors need to communicate more clearly and assertively that travel can be done safely.

But the public and private sectors also need to come together to push for more uniform global rules governing testing, vaccines, quarantines and digital health records so that travelers can book travel without worry, participants said during panel discussions.

Daniel Richards, founder and CEO of Global Rescue, said successful vaccination campaigns are removing the fear of getting sick for many. And companies like his can provide insurance and a means to fly people home if they do get Covid-19.

But the private sector alone, he said, “can’t remove the uncertainty of the travel experience. That goes to governments. [We need] some level of coordination among governments so that when travelers start to book that trip, start talking about it, [they] have a guarantee that they are not going to get stuck in quarantine.”

The WTTC closed its summit with a commitment to boosting female representation in industry leadership.

The WTTC closed its summit with a commitment to boosting female representation in industry leadership.

The WTTC closed its summit with a commitment to work toward women’s equality and boost female representation in leadership roles in the industry.

“As the first female president and CEO of WTTC, it is an honor to champion this important initiative,” WTTC head Gloria Guevara said.

While women make up 54% of the industry’s workforce, “globally, women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, which has exacerbated the pay gap, the opportunity gap and the shocking lack of senior positions and leadership roles across the travel and tourism sector,” Guevara said. “This needs to be changed.”

Tennis great Martina Navratilova joined the closing session to launch the women empowerment initiative.

“Women have always had to outperform men, and whilst things are changing for the better, it is still a fight and a constant battle,” Navratilova said.

Guevara also announced that the WTTC plans to hold next year’s global summit in the Philippines. 



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Europe’s COVID-19 setbacks risk another summer travel washout


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Tourists at a market in Lausanne Switzerland.Europe’s airlines and travel sector are bracing for a second lost summer, with rebound hopes increasingly challenged by a hobbled COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
Image Credit: Supplied

London/Paris: Europe’s airlines and travel sector are bracing for a second lost summer, with rebound hopes increasingly challenged by a hobbled COVID-19 vaccine rollout, resurgent infections and new lockdowns.

Airline and travel stocks fell on Friday after Paris and much of northern France shut down for a month, days after Italy introduced stiff business and movement curbs for most of the country including Rome and Milan.

The setbacks hit recovery prospects for the crucial peak season, whose profits typically tide airlines through winter, when most carriers lose money even in good times.

“If there’s no confidence there, demand just doesn’t come back,” said Dublin-based Alton Aviation consultant Leah Ryan, who expects the bad news on vaccines and lockdowns to hurt already weak bookings.

The summer outlook also has been dented by rising infections in Greece and elsewhere, and a suspension of AstraZeneca’s vaccine by a number of European countries over health fears. Several countries announced resumption of use of the AstraZeneca shot this week after the European Medicines Agency said the benefits clearly outweigh its risks.

Airlines in trouble

Airlines that have already racked up billions in debt face further strain that some may not survive without fresh funds.

British Airways owner IAG raised 1.2 billion euros ($1.43 billion) in a bond issue on Thursday, saying the cushion would protect it from a drawn-out slump.

A patchy stop-start summer may pose fewer difficulties for low-cost airlines such as Ryanair and Wizz Air, which can redeploy planes quickly between routes.

But Ryanair’s home market expects to keep strict travel curbs in place at least throughout June, Irish health official Ronan Glynn said on Thursday, citing the “deteriorating situation internationally” and emerging more contagious virus variants.

Ryanair shares traded 4.2% lower on Friday, with IAG down 4% and easyJet and Wizz both down 3.5%. Rebound hopes had driven travel stocks higher over the past month, led by IAG’s 25% gain.

While ultra-low cost carriers can take the pain of another summer washout, analysts say, rivals such as easyJet and Virgin Atlantic could face renewed balance-sheet pressures. Air France-KLM is also seeking to raise capital and reduce debt from last year’s 10.4 billion-euro bailout.

The Franco-Dutch airline group aims to fly more than 50% of pre-crisis capacity this year, compared with 40%-50% for Lufthansa – targets that could still prove ambitious.

Major hit 

“There’s a risk of an increased number of bankruptcies particularly between now and the end of the year,” Alexandre de Juniac, head of global airline body IATA, told Reuters.

The latest whiplash in recovery sentiment extends from airlines into hospitality industries and the broader economy, penalizing tourism-dependent Mediterranean countries.

“Virus numbers are going up, the vaccine rollout is falling behind and there is a risk that Europe could lose a second summer,” Morgan Stanley economist Jacob Nell said, predicting a “major hit to the southern economies”.

The weak European outlook contrasts with optimistic messages from U.S. airline CEOs, who this week reported rising spring and summer leisure bookings across the country, as the U.S.

vaccination campaign gained momentum and coronavirus restrictions are eased.

United Airlines said it could halt its cash burn this month, excluding debt and severance payments.

Thanks to its faster progress on vaccinations, the UK outbound market has been seen as key to the coming European peak season.

But rising European infection rates could threaten those plans too. Greece became Britain’s biggest source of imported cases when the countries opened a travel corridor last summer, according to an official UK study published this week.

Instead, the faster pace of vaccinations in Britain and the United States could bring a transatlantic rebound ” potentially flipping the conventional wisdom that short-haul will recover first.

“These two countries are leading the G20,” with shots administered to 40% of the population in Britain and one-third in the United States, UBS aviation analyst Jarrod Castle said.

“The North Atlantic could open up between (them) before other European markets, which would be greatly beneficial for British Airways.”



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Europe’s COVID setbacks risk another summer travel washout


By Sarah Young and Laurence Frost

LONDON/PARIS (Reuters) – Europe’s airlines and travel sector are bracing for a second lost summer, with rebound hopes increasingly challenged by a hobbled COVID-19 vaccine rollout, resurgent infections and new lockdowns.

Airline and travel stocks fell on Friday after Paris and much of northern France shut down for a month, days after Italy introduced stiff business and movement curbs for most of the country including Rome and Milan.

The setbacks hit recovery prospects for the crucial peak season, whose profits typically tide airlines through winter, when most carrier lose money even in good times.

“If there’s no confidence there, demand just doesn’t come back,” said Dublin-based Alton Aviation consultant Leah Ryan, who expects the bad news on vaccines and lockdowns to hurt already weak bookings.

As well as new lockdowns, the summer outlook has been dented by rising infections in Greece and elsewhere and a damaging suspension of AstraZeneca’s vaccine by a number of European countries, over health fears rejected by the European Medicines Agency.

Airlines that have already racked up billions in debt face further strain that some may not survive without fresh funds.

British Airways owner IAG raised 1.2 billion euros ($1.43 billion) in a bond issue on Thursday, saying the cushion would protect it from a drawn-out slump.

A patchy stop-start summer may pose fewer difficulties for low-cost airlines such as Ryanair and Wizz Air, which can redeploy planes quickly between routes.

But Ryanair’s home market expects to keep strict travel curbs in place at least throughout June, Irish health official Ronan Glynn said on Thursday, citing the “deteriorating situation internationally” and emerging virus variants.

Ryanair shares traded 4.2% lower on Friday, with IAG down 4% and easyJet and Wizz both down 3.5%. Rebound hopes had driven travel stocks higher over the past month, led by IAG’s 25% gain.

While ultra-low cost carriers can take the pain of another summer washout, analysts say, rivals such as easyJet and Virgin Atlantic could face renewed balance-sheet pressures. Air France-KLM is also seeking to raise capital and reduce debt from last year’s 10.4 billion-euro bailout.

The Franco-Dutch airline group aims to fly more than 50% of pre-crisis capacity this year, compared with 40-50% for Lufthansa – targets that could still prove ambitious.

“MAJOR HIT”

“There’s a risk of an increased number of bankruptcies particularly between now and the end of the year,” Alexandre de Juniac, head of global airline body IATA, told Reuters.

The latest whiplash in recovery sentiment extends from airlines into hospitality industries and the broader economy, penalizing tourism-dependent Mediterranean countries.

“Virus numbers are going up, the vaccine rollout is falling behind and there is a risk that Europe could lose a second summer,” Morgan Stanley economist Jacob Nell said, predicting a “major hit to the southern economies”.

Thanks to its faster progress on vaccinations, the UK outbound market has been seen as key to the coming European season.

But rising European infection rates could threaten those plans too. Greece became Britain’s biggest source of imported cases when the countries opened a travel corridor last summer, according to an official UK study published this week.

Instead, the faster pace of vaccinations in Britain and the United States could bring a transatlantic rebound – even flipping the conventional wisdom that short-haul will recover first.

“These two countries are leading the G20,” with shots administered to 40% of the population in Britain and one-third in the United States, UBS aviation analyst Jarrod Castle said.

“The North Atlantic could open up between (them) before other European markets, which would be greatly beneficial for British Airways.”

($1 = 0.8398 euros)

(Reporting by Sarah Young and Laurence Frost; Additional reporting by Conor Humphries in Dublin; Editing by Susan Fenton)



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Why Tenerife is Europe’s best spot for responsible whale watching


O

ne upside to the realisation that we’ve been treating our oceans as a supersized rubbish tip? The growing popularity of schemes designed to protect their inhabitants, whether it’s National Marine Parks such as the UK’s Plymouth Sound, or Unesco’s World Heritage Marine Programme, which provides protection for areas like Western Australia’s Shark Bay.

The Whale Heritage Site scheme is the latest example. Established in 2015 by the World Cetacean Alliance, its purpose is to identify notable cetacean (whales, dolphins and porpoises) habitats, protecting these species by increasing awareness, encouraging community engagement and promoting responsible whale and dolphin-watching as ethical alternatives to seeing cetaceans in captivity. The scheme’s first two recipients were South Africa’s The Bluff, an area off the coast of Durban, and Australia’s Hervey Bay, an essential stop-off for migrating whales. In January 2021, it was announced that Europe’s first Whale Heritage Site is Tenerife-La Gomera Marine Area, off the coast of Tenerife.

So what’s the appeal of the Canary Islands? It turns out cetaceans head there for the same reason sun-starved tourists do (although the whales’ indulgence of choice is admittedly crustaceans, not cocktails). There’s year-round sun and warm, clear water and, in some areas, the ocean has a depth of 2,000m, which allows cetaceans to feast on a variety of species, ranging from plankton to squid. This staggering depth also provides protection from chilly currents sweeping in across the Atlantic – a major bonus for creatures who can’t simply hop onto dry land and flop onto a sun-lounger.

The area has 28 species of cetacean, although it’s the short-finned pilot whale that most visitors are desperate to spot. “Tenerife has one of the world’s few resident short-finned pilot whale populations,” says Katheryn Wise, wildlife campaign manager at World Animal Protection, which partners with the World Cetacean Alliance to roll out the Whale Heritage Site scheme. “The pilot whales here have unique hunting behaviours which haven’t been observed elsewhere. One example is their deep, high-speed dives to chase and capture squid.”

Tenerife’s waters have become Europe’s first Whale Heritage Site

(Tamara Hinson)

By highlighting areas such as the Tenerife-La Gomera Marine Area, it’s hoped that more people will understand the importance of these creatures. “Cetaceans are great indicators of ecosystem health,” says Jacobo Marrero, a Tenerife-based cetacean expert. “They alert us if there are imbalances, and play an essential role in maintaining the equilibrium. Without these apex predators, the natural balance is easily disrupted.”

South Africa’s Whale Heritage Site – known as The Bluff – is a great example of one which has come full circle. In the early 1900s it was home to the world’s largest land-based whaling operation. Every year, crew manning Durban’s South African Whaling Company’s ships harpooned around 100 whales between March and September, and black and white pictures show enormous carcasses being hauled along a purpose-built railway. A century later, in 2019, The Bluff became the world’s first Whale Heritage Site. Today, an annual Welcoming of the Whales Festival, along with guided walks and tours of the former whaling station, allows locals to learn more about cetaceans. Only two closely monitored whale-watching operations can operate, which brings us on to another benefit of Whale Heritage Sites: to qualify, judges require proof that there are mechanisms in place to safeguard cetaceans’ welfare and to reduce threats.



The pilot whales here have unique hunting behaviours which haven’t been observed elsewhere. One example is their deep, high-speed dives to chase and capture squid

“In Tenerife for example, stakeholder groups are committed to reducing the number of illegal whale-watching operators and to encouraging tourists to use responsible, sustainable operators,” says Elizabeth Cuevas, Whale Heritage Sites manager at the World Cetacean Alliance. “Meanwhile, at California’s Dana Point Whale Heritage Site, the panel identified plastic pollution as a major threat, so there’s a focus on initiatives which reduce plastic pollution. At future sites, ship strikes may be a concern, so the conservation measures may look different again.”

Pilot whales in Tenerife have unique hunting behaviours

(Dylan Walker)

 At a time when there’s growing pressure on organisations such as SeaWorld to abandon shows featuring cetaceans, Whale Heritage Sites don’t just highlight areas where these creatures can be seen in the wild, but ensure that there are measures to protect them. “By raising their prominence, we hope to reduce the demand to see these creatures in tanks, and bring us closer to our vision of making this the last generation of cetaceans in captivity,” says Wise.

In a nutshell, the scheme is about making cetaceans the stars of the show, but in a very different way. It’s about engaging communities and convincing people to care about these marvellous creatures. And not a moment too soon. “The status of many cetacean species is vulnerable to critical,” says Dylan Walker, the World Cetacean Alliance’s chief executive. “Extinction is just around the corner for some, and Whale Heritage sites are a critical tool which allows us to prioritise their protection in the places where they’re clinging on.”



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BBC – Travel – Europe’s 500-year-old seafood tradition


In a green, breezy meadow a few kilometres from the coast in West Flanders, Belgium, Nele Bekaert fetched her 1 tonne Brabant draft horse, Axel. After she strapped an old-fashioned wooden saddle to Axel’s back and hitched a cart to the rear cantle for her fishing gear, she and I hopped in the back of the cart and slowly trundled down village roads to the seaside village of Oostduinkerke.

50 Reasons to Love the World – 2021

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“Because while I’m out shrimp fishing, Belgium’s North Sea allows me and my horse to feel calm, peaceful and at one with nature. I’m also happy to preserve and share this very important cultural tradition.” – Nele Bekaert, horse fisherwoman

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It was low tide, so Axel trudged through wet sand for about 1km to reach the water’s edge. When the sea and sand finally met, Bekaert slid on thigh-high waterproof boots, bright yellow waterproof overalls, a slicker and a fishing hat. She unlatched the cart and tied a large funnel-shaped drag net to Axel’s back. She then suspended two wicker baskets from his sides and mounted her 23-year-old steed, wedging her way in between the baskets. Bekaert then carefully led the massive animal thigh-deep into the cold waters of the North Sea to trawl for shrimp – just as Flemish fishermen in this small community have been doing for more than 500 years.

The trade was once practiced by families on the North Sea coast from France to Germany and southern England, and today there are only 17 people alive who continue this now Unesco-recognised tradition. Oostduinkerke – an 8,500-person Flemish community on Belgium’s north-western tip – is the last place in the world where it still lives on. Since the late 15th Century, it has typically been passed down from fathers to sons in a custom that has remained unchanged over the years.

But five years ago, a board representing the d’Oostduinkerkse Paardenvissers (Association of East Dunkirk Horse Fishers), the Orde van de Paardenvisser (Royal Order of Horse Fishers), NAVIGO National Fisheries Museum and Koksijde City Council did something unprecedented: they allowed a fisherwoman to join the team. Now, 37-year-old Bekaert is the world’s first officially recognised female paardenvissen (horse fisher).

“If someone says I cannot do something, I say I can,” she said. “And with Unesco recognition, the ‘man club’ could not say no to me.”

While it was once common on the North Sea coast for women to catch shrimp by hand-pushing mini trawlers, they were discouraged from doing so on horseback because that was considered a “man’s job”. But when horse fishing achieved Unesco status in 2013, an outgrowth effort to safeguard the practice ensued. Because Unesco deems that any activity on its Intangible Cultural Heritage list must be equal opportunity for all genders, the designation paved the way for horse fisherwomen.

The ‘man club’ could not say no to me

So, in 2015, after Bekaert completed a two-year internship, a theoretical training and a practical exam, the mother of three joined her fellow male paardenvissen as the first female in their ranks. Now, she shrimp fishes alongside the men three seasons a year, including summer tourist demonstrations that showcase the craft’s ancient funnel-net trapping system.

As Bekaert rode Axel parallel to the coastline, a pair of metal-wooden plates flanking the net dragged across the sea floor to hold it open. A metal chain attached to the front of the net trawled over the sand to create “shockwaves”, causing small, grey shrimp to jump into the net where water pressure pushed them to the back.

After about 30 minutes, the duo returned to shore for Bekaert to empty the net and rinse and sort their catch. She kept shrimp and edible fish like sole and left small fish and crabs for the seagulls. Then she filtered out tiny shrimp with metal sieves, retaining only those fully grown and large enough to eat.

She normally boils her shrimp on the beach, but that day she took the catch home because of Covid-19 restrictions. Since it was the summer off-season, she only caught enough (about 1kg) for her family to eat, and insisted the shrimp are best boiled alive to preserve their freshness.

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Back home, Bekaert brought salted water to a boil in a stove-like cauldron outside her garage. She and her horseback-fisher husband, Chris Vermote, dumped the shrimp into the hot water. After about 10 minutes, the grey shrimp turned pink and white. Bekaert removed them with a large slotted spoon and began the arduous task of peeling them. These little shrimp were undoubtedly the freshest and tastiest I’d ever eaten, and of the many ways to prepare these glistening grey delicacies, Bekaert’s favourite is as croquette crevette: deep-fried, battered rolls with a molten shrimp filling, often with ground peels for extra flavour.

Shrimp fishing is a family affair, and Bekaert learned the craft from Vermote, whose great-grandfather was a horse fisher. She had always loved riding horses and wanted to master a new skill. While Bekaert and her husband-trainer were initially met with resistance by other horse fishermen, they showed their mettle and she her skills riding a horse.

What a man can do, a woman can do also

“What a man can do, a woman can do also,” Bekaert said. Not only is she now recognised by the Royal Order of Horse Fishers, she will be celebrated this autumn with her photo on its annual Champagne label, promoting the craft as its first horse fisherwoman.

“Training with my husband brought us closer together as we must rely on each other in the sea, especially if a horse runs away,” Bekaert said. She and Vermote are now training their 12-year-old son and hope to become the first shrimp-fishing family with three members. When their nine-year-old twin daughters get older, they will also be trained.

This generational passing down of the tradition helps sustain it. Moreover, each shrimp-fishing household in or near Oostduinkerke specialises in a necessary skill such as net weaving, assessing tides and currents or caring for horses. In all, 13 households, representing 15 fishermen and two fisherwomen (a second, Katrien Terryn, passed her practical exam on 29 June 2020), are interdependent. Formally, they come together in d’Oostduinkerkse Paardenvissers. They also band together to promote their craft in the Order, which includes travelling to other countries and presenting Belgian King Philippe Léopold Louis Marie with the first catch of the season each September at his Palace of Laeken.

According to Ruth Pirlet, a researcher at Belgium’s NAVIGO National Fisheries Museum, which has two floors about the history of shrimp fishing and even a restaurant run by a horse fisherman and his wife, the craft not only requires excellent equestrianism but also knowledge of the coastline, sand banks, currents, wave patterns and even cooking shrimp. “It takes a lot of skill and there are a lot of different skills involved,” she said.

As Pirlet explained, from the 16th Century until just after World War Two, shrimp fishing by horseback was practiced across the North Sea, but as economies improved, coastal farmer-fishermen disappeared. In Belgium, for example, coastal dunes were populated with small farms and horses were used to trawl for shrimp as an extra source of food and income. As the coastline developed, farms were driven out and horses moved inland. Nowadays, this old-fashioned method has largely been replaced by commercial beam trawling – heavy-duty nets held open by a steel beam and dragged across the seabed by boats.

While less efficient, horseback shrimp fishing is more sustainable, since its lighter equipment diminishes damage to the sea floor. Monetarily, however, it is not. According to Bekaert, most horse fishers have “real” jobs to pay their bills. “It’s an expensive hobby, but [a] labour of love,” she said.

During the shrimping season (September through November and March through May), the average catch is 7kg per day selling for about €10 per kilo. This is based on about three hours of fishing – with shore stops every 30 minutes to empty the net and put the sorted catch into baskets – and a total of nine hours per outing. The fishers typically eat, freeze or sell their catch to locals on call lists.

It is our identity

In Oostduinkerke, statues of horse fishermen dot the beach and streets in honour of the 500-year-old tradition. Horse fishers are also represented in paintings, decorations, venues, street names and even a local beer called Peerdevisscher. “The people who live here are very proud of them,” Pirlet said. The shrimp fishers underpin the community’s identity and inspire cultural events, such as the area’s most important local holiday: the annual two-day Shrimp Festival held each June. Residents spend months preparing floats, costumes and more for a parade that attracts about 10,000 international visitors. The first day includes a shrimp-catching competition among the horse fishers and whomever wins rides first in the parade the next day.

The festival was started in 1950 by Honoré Loones, the mayor of Koksijde, Oostuinkerke’s neighbouring town, who saved horseback shrimp fishing from extinction by making it a tourist attraction. The event – including public demonstrations in the summer months – has been supported and partly subsidised by the municipality ever since. Current Koksijde Mayor Marc Vanden Bussche, who served as one of nine judges for Terryn’s practical exam, noted that the tradition sustains the modern coastal community. “It is our identity,” he said.

Moreover, the small shrimp play a big role in Belgian cuisine; about half of all shrimp caught in the North Sea are consumed in Belgium. They are typically used in soup or classic Belgian dishes such as croquette crevette and tomate-crevette (a large, hollowed-out tomato filled with shrimp and mayonnaise). But for some, boiled grey shrimp are best simply served atop buttered brown bread with coffee, local beer or white wine.

Besides the culinary benefits, shrimp fishing on horseback is good for the soul. “It makes me calm and peaceful as it’s just me, my horse and the sea,” Bekaert said. “I have a sense of time without time, and oneness. I think about nothing else.”

BBC Travel celebrates 50 Reasons to Love the World in 2021, through the inspiration of well-known voices as well as unsung heroes in local communities around the globe.

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How Gibraltar Became Europe’s Pandemic Wedding Hot Spot


Olivia Windham Stewart, a 34-year-old British human rights specialist, who married her American partner in Gibraltar’s botanical gardens last week, echoed that determination. “It’s been such a frustrating and disappointing year, having to slow down all our life plans, so it was such a big relief when we found Gibraltar and realized that there was a place where we could actually get married,” she said.

Throughout the day, couples line up outside Gibraltar’s Civil Status and Registration Office, waiting in anticipation for their ceremony, which takes place in a drab room, brightened up by a youthful portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, and typically lasts around 15 minutes.

Afterward, couples stand in front of the building’s blue shutters and pose for photos, some wearing full wedding attire, complete with bridal veil and pocket square, others in summer dresses and slacks.

One item of clothing is mandatory for the ceremony: a face covering (even during the first kiss).

The bizarre circumstances bring couples from all over the world together and on a recent weekend, after their ceremonies, many of them joined locals and tourists at the Ocean Village Marina, a popular drinking spot on the harbor, and celebrated in the bustling restaurants and bars with Champagne and live music; those sitting outside at the bars and restaurants mostly did not wear masks.

Amanda Durocher, an American teacher, married her British fiancé on a quick trip to Gibraltar in August.

Emotionally, she said, the process had been draining. “For us, leading up to it was super anxious and then it was a relief,” she said. “And now we just feel so overjoyed by knowing that we have some more control over our lives.”

Still, like other brides who traveled with their partners to Gibraltar alone, Ms. Durocher found aspects of the process surreal and lonely.



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