Ever since Greece won its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1830, relations between it and Turkey have been, shall we say, spotty, marked by alternating periods of hostility (including being on opposing sides in four major wars) and reconciliation. While military tensions have arisen again this year (a maritime dispute), in just the last two weeks, the vicissitudes of the pandemic have made Greece and Turkey unexpected bedfellows: They are the two tried-and-true destinations where la-dolce-vita-deprived Americans are most likely to get their Mediterranean fix this summer.
French international borders remain closed to non-essential travelers. (There had been hopes they would open by mid-March.) Italy recently extended its state of emergency until April 30–and its unclear what will happen after. Spain continues to be off limits to visitors from non-EU and non-Schengen countries, as well as from all countries without a reciprocal agreement with Spain for accepting travelers–which the United States does not have.
Don’t get me wrong. Travel specialists are still receiving inquires (and bookings) for Italy, France, and Spain.”We are seeing around 23 or 24 new requests per week coming in,” says Andrea Grisdale, of the high-end Italian travel agency IC Bellagio.”But the majority of them are for Q3 of this year, with 2022 in second place. We don’t expect to see our travelers from the US before this July.” Ditto for France:”Right now, people are booking for July onwards, but mostly September,” says France travel advisor Philip Haslett, of Kairos.”And everyone is looking very closely at the cancellation conditions of course!”
But July feels far off, doesn’t it? And with the coronavirus’s chicanery, anything could still happen between now and then….
Which is why the slowly but surely burgeoning travel universe is shifting ever so slightly on its axis these days. Those who want the Mediterranean now, and for sure this summer, are suddenly no longer thinking St. Tropez, or Ibiza, or Costa Smeralda, or Capri. But islands and mainlands of Turkey and Greece. Booking a trip in one or the other, says Jack Ezon, of the luxury travel agency EmbarkBeyond, is”like buying travel insurance for your summer.” (And combining both is a natural and excellent pairing if you have more time.)
Turkey’s international borders are open; you just need proof of a negative result on a PCR test taken within three days prior to arrival. Greece has announced that it will open its borders mid-May to Americans with those same test result requirement, or with proof of vaccination. Which means it could be you on a beach along the Athens Riviera, sipping an Aperol spritz or an ouzo—not by Labor Day, but by Memorial Day.
“We noticed two simultaneous trends recently,” says Ezon.”Both made us re-focus on Greece and Turkey.”
“First, our hotel partners in France, Italy, and Spain were encouraging us to move our big events bookings elsewhere. Because things were not looking good. In the past two weeks, we moved about $1 million in business to Greece, including a 60th birthday party, and a wedding that went from being themed 007 in Monte Carlo to Mama Mia in Santorini. We moved four yacht trips out of Italy and France to the Cyclades. Mykonos, I find, is the place that most resembles St. Tropez or Ibiza, typically two of our top destinations in the summer. And Bodrum, in Turkey, has suddenly become the alternative to Port Cervo, on Sardinia’s Costa Smeralda.”
“And then,” Ezon continues,”we were hearing from our clients. Of course they love American ranches, the Caribbean, Mexico. But they’ve already been doing that. And no, Florida no longer does it. Too crowded, with too little control. They tell us, too, that they want to meet people from a different zip code! Plus, the Mediterranean is their annual pilgrimage, and they’d already missed it last year. Nothing really compares to white-washed houses on little Greek islands surrounded by a deep blue sea.”
The odysseys have already begun.
“We have several of our clients in Turkey now, over spring break,” says Martin Rapp, of Altour,”and several trips on the books for Greece and the islands for July and August. Our clients are now generally vaccinated and ready to travel internationally to countries that will have them.”
And you know a place is hot if travel specialists are booking their own vacation there.”Several of my colleagues,” Rapp adds,”have planned Turkish trips for themselves this summer.”
I’m jealous. One consummate Turkey insider, the journalist Seda Domanic, an Istanbul resident, sent me a note recently about her favorite things:”A stay at the new Six Senses Kocatas Mansion, Istanbul. A private yacht sunset cruise on the Bosphorus, to see the city’s most beautiful houses and scenery from the water while sipping a cocktail–away from all the hustle. And then two charming, small, and easily accessible islands, Cunda and Bozcaada. Cunda is famous among Turks for its gastronomy. Bozcaada is famous for its wineries and pristine beaches. And they’re both hideaway places.”
A word to the wise, though, about both Greece and Turkey: Hurry.
Think what happened in Florida in the past few months when demand for it suddenly surged. As Ezon points out with amazement,”The W South Beach is now more expensive than the Hotel du Cap in July!”
In that spirit, to help travelers get ahead of what he sees as the coming wave and to help them reserve the best options, he has just launched a special “Greek and Ottoman summer” program,” with perks, discounted rates, and upgrades for bookings made between now and April 22 (all fully refundable, of course).
Rapp holds out a few other possibilities as well:
“I have chartered yachts for clients in Croatia for late July. And I myself am booked to fly to Montenegro in mid-June for the opening of the One&Only Portonovi resort there.” Both are on the Adriatic branch of the Mediterranean, with the charms of the slightly less traveled.
And here’s another Mediterranean idea:”Interestingly,” says Rapp,”we have several trips to Israel on the books–even though they have not announced when the country will open. Clients told me they were interested because the high rate of vaccinations in Israel make it highly probably that it will open in the next month or two.” Probably before July.
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