Our top 20 places in 2020 – how & to where we were able to travel during the year of Covid-19…

2020 was not the year of traveling. Neither for us. We, who usually take every occasion to travel, whose everyday life looks like continuously checking options, calendars, travel deals, flight schedules, we also found ourselves in a new reality. The old days were gone, when ever we had free time, we just went to explore, visit new countries, and only limitations we needed to face were time & money.

Nevertheless, the year started still kind of normal for us, as per our usual rhythm, we went for a longer vacation in January to Porto and then to the Azores, after two shorter trips followed, to Ibiza and our very last one to Sofia. And then at the beginning of March, the world stopped and closed itself.

Suddenly, our everyday routine of planning our next trips became pointless. We were still looking for options, but less and less. What to plan if we didn’t know when we could travel again? Why to break our hearts with crazy itineraries, lovely travel pictures if we were not even allowed to leave our homes?

But we didn’t give up. We couldn’t give it up. This article is exactly about how we managed to travel during this tough year. What kind of measures we needed to keep in mind, how we had to change our travel routines, and what kind of destinations we were able to reach in 2020. We are not saying it was easy, neither that we managed to go wherever we wanted. No, not at all. However with constantly updating ourselves on the list of open & closed countries, checking the entering rules, and understanding the local restrictions, different kinds of limitations, the risks, always being ready to leave immediately if any new sanction came to life, not booking anything ahead until we were not sure we can actually go, and overall just living for the moment definitely helped us to reach and still enjoy the following places. As if you are like us and living to explore, discover new cultures, and travel to the unknown make you happy – certainly faced the situation of how 2020 shaped our way of traveling, but thanks God, it was still possible! So let’s review where we could travel in the year of Covid-19!

1. Ares del Maestrat (Spain) – June 2020

It was late June and Spain had just recently released the lockdown and many restrictions in order to save the tourism summer season. Suddenly it was possible to travel again so we decided to go as soon as we could. We love history, breath-taking landscapes, awesome views, and enjoying life, like everybody. So, to go to Valencia Region is always a good idea, because of the diversity of its environment, heritage and one of the nicest coasts in the world. We spent there 10 days on a route from Morella (you cannot miss that either) to Bocairent, in Alicante Province. On the way, we discovered Ares del Maestrat, which is simply a delight. A very beautiful medieval village on a cliff, made out of stone, with ruins of an ancient castle on the top of a stunning rock and odds of nice walks admiring the stars during the evenings along its narrow streets.

There was only one place to stay in town, Hotel d’Ares, a cute small hotel in the main square with very good services. Sat down having breakfast there a local person realized about the Hungarian registration plate of our car and he asked if we came from Hungary, while people were free to walk around without a mask. A month later, very sadly, the mask became mandatory even to walk on the streets and, three months later nobody would have asked that question anymore since all the borders in Europe were closed again.

Read our complete article about Ares del Maestrat here.

2. Peñíscola (Spain) – June 2020

We went to Peñíscola twice in June. We really enjoyed this place, besides its picturesque beauty and historical heritage, it’s just the perfect romantic holiday destination as well.

On both occasions the place was full of tourists, Spanish local tourists mainly. It was already that period when you were obliged to wear your mask everywhere, only exceptions were the terraces of the bars and the beach area. Since it was crazy warm to spend all day under the sun on the beach, people were actually queuing for places on the terraces of the bars and restaurants, as the only havens where they could take off their masks and breathe a bit.

Read our latest article about Peñíscola here.

3. Lyon (Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, France) – July 2020

Just arrived at Lyon by motorbike we thanked god not to have come by car. Lyon is the third-largest city and second-largest urban area of France. It is located in an excellent location at the confluence of the rivers Rhône and Saône. It was July, the weather was nice and the mask was not mandatory neither in close spaces yet. Lyon is a real city for real people, far from being crowded by massive tourism. Even though is picturesque, beautiful and vivid and seems to be ready to enjoy with nice terraces all around and restaurants to taste its famous gastronomy.

At one of those terraces, a waiter, after a minute of small-talk in french, asked from where was my accent. I said from Barcelona and suddenly he looked worried. He asked if the situation in Spain was that bad as it appeared on the news. I told him my opinion and he said that Lyon was really OK and he shared the city’s data. Surprisingly, the data was even a bit worse than for Barcelona.  

4. Dijon (Bourgogne, France) – July 2020

We arrived to Dijon the same day that France announce that masks will be mandatory inside shops, restaurants, hotels…

Dijon is to change the panorama. Dijon is the capital of the historical Bourgogne region in eastern France and one of the country’s principal wine-making areas. Just arriving there is a pleasure for wine lovers because of the vineyard landscapes, but besides that is a change of patterns and lifestyle. It’s known for its traditional mustard, autumn gastronomic fair, and its building styles from Gothic to art deco and colorful wooden patterns. Sat down in front of a local beer I was admiring one of those very French-looking carousels. A dad started to argue with a man about if his kid needed or not the mask for a ride.

5. Eguisheim (Alsace, France) – July 2020

Eguisheim is a medieval village in France’s Alsace wine region. The narrow, concentric streets of its old town and its well-preserved half-timbered houses are a delight for tourists. 

It was early morning when we left the motorbike parked in the outside of the town parking lot. It was nothing open to get even a coffee. Taking pictures to many details, to every hidden fairy tale corner time flew off. And when we tried again to get into a restaurant the terraces were completely full. Everyone seemed to have a handy mask ready to use in case of possible human contact on the streets, but nobody cared that much sat on a table side by side with half of the people that got off from the same tourist bus.

6. Cochem (Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany) – July 2020

We got into Germany to Heidelberg direction from Alsace, just after reading in a newspaper that Germany was planning to get back to the old normality. At the first petrol station turned out that was not exactly that way. To drink a simple coffee you needed to fill a form with a long list of questions and data.

The path along the Rhin was out of huge traffic and the normally crowded cute villages were not that crowded. The prices seemed reduced to me and was possible to choose freely the place at any terrace among those restaurants that have dared to remain open. We followed the Rhin till the Mosel and Cochem was a desert for an extraordinary route along those rivers. With only five thousand inhabitants, Cochem is the biggest town in the Cochem-Zell district in Rhineland-Palatinate. The views from the opposite side of the Mosel to the town itself and the castle are simply extraordinary.

7. Vianden (Luxembourg) – July 2020

Vianden is a town on the Our River, in Luxembourg’s Ardennes region. It’s known for the centuries-old hilltop Vianden Castle and the 13th-century cloister of the Gothic Trinitarian Church. Indeed, it is a really beautiful place and a good starting point for a route all around the country, which is not that small if you want to drive all over its corners.

As usual, at least before, nobody was controlling a road border in between Schengen area member states. Vianden was the first town we arrived after crossing the border and we liked that much that we decided to stay for some days. The vibe there was special and relaxed, people are helpful, polite, educated, and a bit humble. Definitely, they are far away from the arrogance of some of their neighbors from the nearby countries. I could hear some Portuguese around and I asked why the Portuguese Language is that present. 20 percent of the population are Portuguese descendants. “Come closer, I will explain to you why!”, said the smiling waiter while he was wearing his mask off.      

8. Dinant (Wallonia, Belgium) – July 2020

Dinant is a stunning city in Belgium’s Walloon Region. It’s on the banks of the Meuse River and backed by steep cliffs. Perched on an outcrop above the town, you can spot the ancient fortified Citadel. The views from the opposite side of the river are amazing and the river front and its Collégiale Notre-Dame de Dinant are musts you cannot miss on your visit in town.

Despite being in the middle of a pandemic, it was tough to park in Dinant even for a motorbike. The restaurants were full and the prices high. People enjoyed life as if the world was going to end. The next day came into force the regulation by which in the center of Belgian cities it was mandatory to wear a mask at all times and in any place.

9. Vichy (France) – July 2020

Vichy is a lovely and super beautiful town in central France. It’s known for its historical importance, spas and eclectic architecture, posh pedestrian streets, luxurious residential buildings, from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And besides that the amazingly clean air – that it’s a waste not to breathe in while wearing your mask – thanks to the Allier river that is crossing the town and ends up in the Lac d’Allier. The famous Vichy water is drawn from the springs on the Allier River and is used for mainly drinking, healing and cosmetic purposes.

After our visit to Vichy, we booked accommodation nearby in a residential village. At the moment we arrived at the house the owner came outside, without any mask, and started to yell that we cannot enter without our masks, without even saying Bonjour, those were her first words to us. Of course, we immediately put on our mask, then finally she was okay to open the gate for us in order to park, but she still without wearing any mask. The rules were clearly applied only on one side.

10. Cap Ferret (France) – July 2020

Cap Ferret was a long-term dream for us for quite a time. One of those kinds of dreams, that you put on your bucket list, but even if you never get there in your life is also fine. It became one of our desired destinations thanks to the French cult movie – Little White Lies / Les petits mouchoirs – which was shot in this epic scenery.

We spent 2 days in Bordeaux, and there, ad hoc we decided to visit the Atlantic Coast, and if we are that close, let’s visit finally Cap Ferret too. We exactly behaved like the locals, or even like the protagonists of the movie, departing from Bordeaux and driving along the nicely built panoramic road that ends at Cap Ferret. It was the middle of July, crazy big traffic on the road, and it was immediately noticeable that it’s the most preferred holiday destination for all Bordeaux and its surroundings. This piece of the road usually you are able to take in less than an hour, but that time we need to queue for hours to finally arrive. While in Bordeaux the masks were visible on everyone, Cap Ferret was different. It is overall a chic residential area with swimming and surfing beaches like Plage de l’Horizon, plus views onto the famed Dune of Pilat on the other side of Arcachon Bay. The casual bars and seafood restaurants were full of people, only local tourists, and local residents, we could hardly hear any foreign words, enjoying the beautiful sunny weather, with no maks, in a super tranquil way.

11. Sant Jean de Luz (France) – July 2020

Saint-Jean-de-Luz or Donibane Lohizune in Basque. This beautiful town is located in the region of the French Basque Country in Aquitaine, France, on the coast but close to the Pyrenees. It was an old spot for corsairs and pirates that has become a summer resort for many couples and families on the Basque country coast. The weather is hot in summer and nice all year long and the architecture and the gastronomy are two of its best assets. It’s a town ideal for enjoying the beach, admiring the traditional Basque patterns mixed with the classic French style, and enjoy life in bars and restaurants.

We arrived there after 5000 km around Europe. It was early July, and during our trip, France changed its prevention measures from mandatory mask only for public transports for being mandatory inside indoor public spaces. They proposed to close the border with Spain even having worse data than them, but the Spanish government replied saying that such a treatment would be bilateral and France used the reserve gear, once aware that there are more French based in Spain who cross the border very often than the other way round.  

Read our complete article about French Basque Country here.

12. Balaton (Hungary) – July 2020

Hungary currently is and was almost always closed during the pandemic, but for the summer months, they opened their borders for 2 months. That was the occasion on which we jumped and the moment they announced that the country would open, we immediately checked the flight tickets and were able to buy them for an extremely low amount of money, that we have never seen before for this connection. Just a couple of days after we had purchased the tickets, the prices went up really high. So it was definitely a good strategy to stay updated, and the first moment we saw an opportunity, immediately react.

Departing from Barcelona that time – middle of July – was not a fairy tale. Crazy hot weather outside, and you needed to keep your mask on everywhere, on the streets, including on the airport, on the plane, all together for 8 hours constantly in 40 degrees. So the moment of arrival was indeed shocking in Budapest, whereas they said the cases were much less that time, and we hardly could see anyone with their mask on. It was not mandatory there, only recommended. Even the taxi driver said when getting into the city, “if you insist me to wear the mask, I would, but if not, I prefer not to”. And once we arrived at the Balaton area, that time it looked like that there the people are living in a different reality. No masks, bars, beaches open, no restrictions on public transport, everyone was just living their everyday life without masks. It was visible though that the number of tourists was much less, hence the bar owners kept complaining.

Read our latest article about Balaton here.

13. Las Casas de Alcanar (Spain) – August 2020

We stopped there on a summer visit to Ebro Delta, one of our favorite places near home, and we fell in love with the town at the first sight. It was August, and the terraces were full of people drinking “cañas” (small glasses of beer) and many masks rested on the tables’ corners.  

Les Cases de Alcanar is one of the most charming fishing villages on the Ebre Coast. The town is white with some hills in the background; it looks like as an authentic fishing village with a seafront that preserves the old anglers’ houses and patterns with some blue upon the white. The port is cute and real, very picturesque, and the vibe is as cool as in the Delta.

14. Donosti – San Sebastian (Basque Country, Spain) – September 2020

San Sebastián or Donosti in Basque language is definitely one of the most beautiful cities in Spain. It has a very well defined character, a specific classic urban architecture, a nice oceanfront, a vivid atmosphere, excellent gastronomy and the best city beach all over the Spanish Peninsula. In addition, it is possible to admire those spots from the top of two very iconic hills on the extremes of the city.

Since it has been along with the history a much-appreciated city for vacations became a bit posh, snobbish, and pricy. Normally is one of the most expensive cities in Spain to get accommodation for a weekend. That time, in early September, when everybody started to speak about the second wave of the pandemic, we found plenty of very reasonable options on the booking platforms. We decided to stay in the very old town, we parked the park in a nearby parking lot, and we carried our backpacks breathing through a mask on the streets. When we arrived, we washed our hands with hand sanitizer, filled the forms, and listened to the long list of Covid-19 prevention instructions we needed to follow inside the hotel. It seemed that we had to care about more things on vacation than at home. Maybe there were so many cheap options available because of that?. Fortunately, the friendly owner of the small hotel winked an eye and said, “Well, if you go up on the hill, if nobody is watching you can remove the mask…

Read our complete San Sebastian review here.

15. Vitoria-Gasteiz (Basque Country, Spain) – September 2020

We went to visit Vitoria-Gasteiz in early September. We have booked an accomodation upfront, where we were advised to meet the owner at their reception. The owner opened the door and told us there that the accomodation is actually on a different address, but we could enter to sign the papers. The moment we wanted to enter to the reception area, she jumped ahead of us with a thermometer, and checked our temperature. Since both of us were fine, we could enter, of course after proper hand cleaning.

Read our latest article about Vitoria-Gasteiz here.

16. Corralejo (Fuerteventura, Islas Canarias, Spain) – October 2020

We spent altogether almost 3 weeks on the Canary Islands, it was basically the last period when you could travel there without any PCR tests, even if you were coming from Spain. We flew to Fuerteventura from Barcelona El Prat airport with an early morning flight, spending the whole night before at the empty airport with less than 20 more people around, without any cafes or bars open, constantly wearing our masks, suffering on the uncomfortable chairs of the departure area. The security control opened only 2 hours before our flight, and once you entered the departure area, basically you could hardly go out to the street to breathe in some fresh air, only if you were able to deal with the airport security that they would also let you come back in. We had some snacks and coffee from the 2 working vending machines, and listening at every 10 minutes from the loudspeaker of the airport in Spanish, Catalan, and English the following lines: “It’s obligatory to wear your mask with having your nose covered on the whole territory of the airport…”

Once arriving to Corralejo the life seemed immediately better. There were restrictions, mandatory masks everywhere, but bars and restaurants were open, people were enjoying the sunshine and the warm weather, and the town had a much liveable vibe than Barcelona, with the Canary Islands having the least number of cases reported all over Spain. But just to be on the safe side we didn’t dare to book accommodations upfront. As we were not sure what if we would have to fly back home earlier, so we reserved a place only for the first 5 days.

Read our dedicated article about Corralejo here.

17. Ajuy (Fuerteventura, Islas Canarias, Spain) – October 2020

We were enjoying just the beginning of our second week on the Canary Islands, and after our visit in Ajuy, we received an e-mail from Ryanair in which they informed us that our return flight was canceled. We were offered two replacement options, and of course, none of them were as good as the original flight. So we ended up shortening our holidays with three days by force, just because Ryanair decided that on that flight the number of passengers was not profitable and it’s better to bundle and fill the remaining flights 100% – without keeping their promise of ensuring empty middle seats in order to keep the social distancing.

Read our complete Ajuy review here.

18. Teguise (Lanzarote, Islas Canarias, Spain) – October 2020

We were already on Lanzarote island when we heard the news that in Catalunia they close the bars and restaurants again and they introduce the “toque de queda” – curfew between 10 pm and 8 am. On the Canary Islands, it was not on the plans yet, so we agreed that at least until we were there, we would enjoy all the bars and restaurants, and as long as we can go out for a short walk even after 10 pm we will do.

But in parallel the life also changed a bit on Lanzarote. The second time when we visited Teguise it was clearly visible that they were also getting ready for further limitations, with having much less people around and less bars open.

Read our complete article about Teguise here.

19. La Graciosa (Islas Canarias, Spain) – October 2020

We have taken a ferry from Lanzarote to La Graciosa and wanted to spend one day on this paradise island. On the ferry they followed all measures, hand sanitizer before entering, and mandatory masks on board. Due to the fact that the island has only two villages, the rule was really simple there. On the territory of the villages it was mandatory to keep your masks on, but once living the village, you could bike further without your mask, and enjoy the fresh air of this car-free island.

Read our complete review about La Graciosa here.

20. Rupit (Catalunya, Spain) – December 2020

We had the chance to visit Rupit in December, so very recently. As per the related measures we were under lockdown in our municipality during weekends, so the only option we could catch and leave from home was during weekdays from Monday 8:00 am till Thursday 22:00 pm. But fortunately, a bank holiday happened to be on a Tuesday and the Monday before was a bridge day. So funny enough we were not allowed to leave our residential town during the weekend, but on that special Monday morning yes. So of course we immediately lived with the opportunity and headed to Central Catalunya, since we were still not allowed to cross the borders of this region and go any further.

It was not a surprise that we were not the only ones with this idea of escaping from home and using these two days as an opportunity to travel a tiny bit. Rupit was full with tourists, and in its most popular bakery there was not enough space for any social distancing, regardless of having mask on everyone.

Read more about Sau region, including Rupit here.

Dear Traveller, hope you liked the latest article from Besides the Obvious! If you would not like to miss any of our travel stories, destination ideas, vacation plans, holiday inspirations, do not forget to subscribe here!

  

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