In July 2020 we were able to travel to Spain and return just before the FCO changed its travel advice for Spain, and removed it from the list of countries where UK residents are allowed to travel. Three weeks later, and following first hand reports from friends who had safely travelled to Greece, in COVID times, we decided we wanted to enjoy a bit of Greek hospitality and sunshine.
You can see more details of this trip in my Greece Covid Travel Highlight on Instagram.
Where we travelled to in Greece
Initially we were meant to go to France – we are in the final stretch of our adoption process and were ‘given a clear week’ before any final decisions were made. We thought that a last hurrah in Champagne and Paris (and a drive there) would be perfect but we had difficulty booking the trip. One Champagne house has closed on Friday, the other on Thursday, most luxury hotels in Paris were closed. But when the private tour guide (we booked a visit to the Louvre) cancelled our tour ‘as we didn’t want to work that weekend after all’, I decided to see it as an omen and that it just wasn’t meant to be. (and not a bad thing as we would have had to leave France half way as it was removed from the ‘UK travel corridors’ list halfway through our stay.
To book this trip to Greece, we first saw what was available from The Luxury Collection on points (as we have 1 million plus at the moment) and every single hotel was available despite being August (which was a good sign). We couldn’t really decide – so the flight availability schedule helped – there were 2 seats in business class on Avios leaving 48 hours to Kalamata and 2 seats also in business class from Athens a week later. (also worth noting that both destinations are 160 Tier Pointers).
With that in mind, we booked 5 nights at The Romanos in Costa Navarino (which I had visited a few years before) with room rates at around 450 Euros per night (68,000 bonvoy points) and 2 nights at The Grande Bretagne in Athens, a city we had never really visited before and thought that the Ancient Greek Gods were telling us to take the time to do so. Current room rates at The Grande Bretagne are around 380-400 Euros a night (60,000 bonvoy points).
For our transfer, we pre-booked the services of Dimitrios Tsapekis and his Transfer Me company. Our transfer from Kalamata Airport to Costa Navarino took 40 minutes and cost 60 Euros, our transfer from Costa Navarino to Athens took 3 hours and cost 250 Euros and finally our transfer from our Athens hotel to the airport cost 40 Euros and took around 45 minutes. Combined cost was 350 Euros and he had nice Mercedes cars. Both driver and passenger are required to wear masks in Greece – unlike in the UK for some absurd reason. Read ‘You should wear vs you must wear, which is ludicrous. Passenger numbers in Greece are limited to 3 (excluding the driver).
We also hired a car for 2 days during our stay at Costa Navarino – Hertz has a location at the hotel and it all went well.
It didn’t really pay to have a car (which cost around 90 Euros a day) as a taxi to dinner would be around 40 Euros, but we wanted to get out of the hotel and go to some nice beaches and lunches and it was nice to have that freedom (but also to stay in the rest of the time).
What you need to do before travelling to Greece
Greece required all visitors to complete a Passenger Location Form (PLF) prior to arrival (up to 24 hours) providing detailed information on their point of departure, the duration of previous stays in other countries, and the address of their stay(s) while in Greece.
We were sent a QR code, to be scanned on arrival at 10pm the following night (which would be 00.00h in Greece due to the time difference between Greece and the United Kingdom).
Greece is performing random Covid 19 tests on arrival – depending on your QR code (and obviously travel profile). Rumour said it started with a seven (but do NOT rely on this information please). There are some additional travel advisory notes with regards to extra requirements for citizens from particular countries.
Our Heathrow Airport experience
I was a bit wary of the time it would take us to check in – as on my previous visit to Spain, check in took hours (even using the First Wing). We arrived 2h30 minutes before our flight, just in case, but the experience couldn’t have been more different. There were no check in queues at all and within minutes, we were through security in BA’s First Wing (which this time had both queues open). Note that Heathrow is still requiring passengers to remove their shoes (something they never did pre Covid, and I cannot understand).
Masks are to be worn at all times and we saw 95% compliance.
BA First Lounge
The lounge experience was exactly the same as the one we had a month prior – no self service, items brought to your seat in minutes and overall very good. There is still a limited menu (and no toast or bacon sandwiches) but they offer a decent variety.
Shopping at the Terminal
I wanted to make some beauty purchases (hence why we arrived a bit earlier) and take advantage of a great promotion World Duty Free is offering during the Summer of 2020: 3 for 2 on products of the same brand. We stocked up on Clarins’ sun range and men’s range for Mr. O, on Atelier Cologne as we both wanted a fragrance each and a few other bits.
Tip: buy as many magazines and books you can at home as only one of the WH Smiths were open and the queues were ridiculous (namely as they still insist on making you scan your boarding pass and then manually have to disable them).
Our journey from London to Kalamata, Greece
Boarding is slick (but interestingly nor as sleek as it was in Athens on our return flight). The old boarding groups have been scrapped and people are called by row numbers. However, this information is not clear on the screens by the departure gate and it really can be confusing. One BA ground crew member was actually shouting the gate numbers.
Social distancing was observed – and you’d really see families going forward one by one and it was all very calm.
I also noticed that again on the jetty that social distance markers have been placed on the walls – and again, they were respected.
BA now offers clear inflight procedures – wear a mask at all times (except when eating or drinking), stay in your seat as much as possible, only get up if you see the loo light is green and on arrival, do NOT get up from your seat. You are also given hand sanitiser + hand wipe to clean your seat. I always bring my own.
There have been some slight improvements to the inflight catering service: we still get a box with a sandwich, a little salad and a bottle of water but, wait for this, THERE IS NOW ICE AND LEMON, which have been clearly proven not to cause Covid. Proper glass glasses still do, sadly, so drinks are still served in these.
They disembark the plane in groups of 4 rows (which still means every person in that part of the plane gets up at the same time), but the alternative would be alternate rows or something which of course would cause chaos.
These comments refer to Club Europe and in my case, and thankfully we boarded the planes via jetties, except in Heraklion, where we accessed the terminal on foot.
On the return to London Heathrow, we landed at C gates (I do not understand the process, but I need to believe that the number of flights is now superior to the one that Terminal 5A can process). We used the train back to T5A and people did social distance.
Arrival at Kalamata Airport
Despite having disembarked the plane in small groups and a short walk to the terminal, all hell broke lose as queue management outside the terminal was so poor, that having us disembark in rows of 4 was completely pointless – to say it was chaotic it would to be kind. The local team at Keraklion Airport could have managed the queue much much better.
We kept (and argued with people around us) 1 metre distance and at one point just let others get in before us. It was like the heat fried people’s brains. The most ridiculous thing was then once you got in, you had probably 10 metres until passport control and by the time people got there, they would social distance. Duh.
Our QR code was scanned and we did not get the extra testing beep and we proceeded to get our luggage and were then met by our driver.
Our stay in Greece
As stated earlier, our 7-night stay in Greece was split in 2 – we stayed 5 nights in Costa Navarino (hence the flight to Kalamata) and 2 nights in Athens, where we were to fly from.
On both my trip to Spain and this one, I didn’t really want to go somewhere new (obviously my preference). I had previously reviewed The Romanos, a Luxury Collection Resort and I thought it was a very good hotel. It offered space (also worth noting that half the rooms have a private pool), a large sandy beach and we knew there would be some places we could visit if we were that way inclined. It is not boutique in any sense of the world – but it a well oiled operation.
Costa Navarino is not a very busy touristy destination – and that suited us. And the appeal of not having to share a pool was pretty high.
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The hotel had some clear COVID policies – and we saw a very clear link on the website which detailed ‘the official policy’. But let me summarise the ones we really noticed and may be of interest if you are planning a trip to Greece:
- temperature check at hotel gate (every single time we returned to the hotel)
- temperature check (with a really fancy machine) prior to check in, which we used daily (by choice, as it was interesting)
- perspex screens everywhere – but we also noticed that when we sat down at hotel or spa reception, for example, they would wipe all surfaces in between guests.
- pens – you were given every pen you used (but by the end of the week there were bins to leave pens so they could be sanitised and re-used)
- in Costa Navarino there was no need to wear masks unless you visited one of the hotel shops. I felt that these were necessary at the breakfast buffet and for example if going to the loo in a restaurant. By the time we had got to Athens, these regulations had been implemented by the hotel (and the Greek government). If you are indoors, you wear a mask.
- the breakfast buffet was assisted in both locations
- sun loungers – my favourite rule. As part of Greece’s response to Covid 19, these need to be 100% covered (I was told this was the official guidance, BUT it could be just a Luxury Collection rule. The reason why I am not sure is because in The Romanos they had ‘quite the sign’ saying that they would not be legally responsible if you caught COVID because you chose not to use 2 towels to completely cover your sun bed. In Athens, we had a mattress protector and plastic sealed towels – in Costa Navarino, we could get the towels from the towel hut.
Even at public beaches, the increased hygiene protocols really were visible – every sun lounger was cleaned top to bottom in between customers. And in the case of this tiny beach, you could tell the procedure had become automatic as there were no other customers waiting.
I ensured people would social distance by using some sticks next to us – which I am happy to report everyone respected!
Every person that worked in a customer-facing position in hospitality wore a mask – there were no ifs or buts.
We ate out every day (obviously) but avoided places with a lot of people. In Costa Navarino, we avoided the main square between the 2 hotels in the evening (we did go to restaurants but not bars as that was by choice – I don’t know if they were busy or not).
We had some wonderful socially distanced meals both at the hotel and outside, as you can see below.
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In Athens, we chose to go to 2 bars – one being the hotel rooftop (which was wonderful) and the other a place called Drunk Sinatra which was beautiful. It was completely empty inside as everyone chose to stay and enjoy a drink outside and everyone stayed in their own tables so there was no mixing with people we did not know. It was as simple as that.
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We were asked at both hotels if we wanted to decline housekeeping and/or turndown and we ‘said we did not wish to decline anything’. It was lovely to have the room cleaned daily (but I appreciated having the option). Everything was spotless as expected, in all honesty.
I appreciated the Covid kits, the readily available disposable masks the mini hand sanitiser.
A small group tour
We booked a small group tour as we wanted to see some of the sights in Athens and we wanted a bit more background information. Finding a company running a tour in August 2020 wasn’t easy, but Athens Walking Tours did run 1 tour on our last day in town (we had booked the day before and it got cancelled as not enough people had booked).
Our tour was a 3h30 ‘city highlights’ + a guided visit to the Acropolis and we really enjoyed it. I am also very grateful that they decided to run the first part of the tour with just us two and then the other guests (8) joined us for the final 90 minutes.
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Masks were worn so we could be a bit more flexible with the social distancing – but we also tried to keep that at all times. Whereas we had some sights totally to ourselves – like the Temple of Zeus or the Panatinaiko Stadium, we had to share the acropolis with a couple of hundred of other like minded visitors 🙂 I have zero complaints and am very grateful for the opportunity.
You can see these in more detail in my Greece Covid Travel Highlight on Instagram.
Returning to the UK
A day before we travelled back to the UK, we completed the UK’s Passenger Locator Form. A copy was supposed to be emailed to us, but the email came without an attachment – and luckily we still had our windows open and were able to email ourselves the document.
Athens airport was fantastic – whoever handles the local BA operations bothered to set up the queues so people could start joining them pre check in (unlike in Malaga), security was a breeze and the lounge was not bad either (very limited food).
Most shops were closed (except for Duty Free) but there were plenty of food options open (including Ergon House, which we also visited in Athens). Boarding was VERY civilised – and we liked how they organised the boarding by rows.
Our flight was uneventful – but I did enjoy my gin and tonic with ice and lemon albeit in a plastic glass (because of Covid).
Back at Heathrow, no one checked our PLFs and we were out of the airport in 20 minutes (which I always enjoy). It seems that the PLFs are randomly checked per flight (let me know if this is the case).
How did it feel travelling to Greece?
We have zero complaints about Greece – and one thing I have to say is how committed everyone who worked in hospitality was in going above and beyond to welcome guests.
The Greeks are normally quite nice – but there was a real sense of appreciation for being able to work and welcome tourists again. The reason why I am saying this is because we were told this time and time again by many. More often than not, we were asked ‘if there was anything else they could do, because it was great to be able to do their job’. Quite humbling – but it summarised the mood.
And again, to everyone complaining it is difficult to wear masks for an hour to go shopping, I take my hat off to everyone working long shifts in the Summer heat in Greece.
One thing I liked in Spain was that it felt that there was no divide in terms of guests and whose working in the industry – everyone was wearing a mask full stop. In Greece, it was skewed to those working in the industry (which did not seem so fair), but the rules changed in meantime and I think everyone has to do their bit.
Would I recommend a visit to Greece?
Absolutely. I would happily return tomorrow and take my whole family with me. But as I said on my previous post – travelling in Covid times cannot be taken for granted. The privilege may be revoked at any time as the number of cases rise locally.
A good resource I found is Paul Charles of the PC Agency, who are crunching the data daily and share their traffic light system on twitter daily.
Monday update: Bad news for #Switzerland, now in the red zone for quarantine to be applied. Good news for #Italy and #Turkey which are still low in the green zone, despite rising cases. They are highly unlikely to be added to quarantine list this week. @ThePCAgency #coronavirus pic.twitter.com/twDor0avtW
— Paul Charles (@PPaulCharles) August 24, 2020
I hope this article answers any questions you may have about travelling to Greece – but if there is anything I have not covered here or on my Instagram stories, feel free to send me a message on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
Until the next time
PS. We travelled to Spain before the FCO rules changed (and had a fantastic time at Finca Cortesin). If you are looking for quarantine-free travel ideas from the UK, I am updating this blog post regularly (as things change!)
PPS. If you are looking for other Greek suggestions, have a look here.
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