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HEALTH

Here’s what you should know before booking a trip from the UK to Italy

There has been a surge in flight bookings to Italy since the British government announced its lockdown exit plan on Monday. But tourists will need to check the restrictions that apply here before booking a holiday.

Here's what you should know before booking a trip from the UK to Italy
If you're hoping to book a summer holiday in Italy this year, here's what you need to know. Photo: AFP

Airlines including Ryanair have reported a sharp rise in bookings to Italy from the UK this week after Prime Minister Boris Johson on Monday said international trips could potentially restart from May 17th, 2021.

But eager British holidaymakers may not be factoring in that in order for a holiday in Italy to be possible, Italy's rules would also have to change.

EXPLAINED: Who can travel to Italy right now?

Italy currently has a ban in place on almost all arrivals from Britain amid concern over the new virus variants detected in the UK.

Only legal residents of Italy are currently allowed to enter the country from the UK.

British people who own second homes in Italy but aren't residents are also unable to enter the country until further notice.

The ban also affects people hoping to visit family members, partners or friends in Italy.

The Italian government has not said when it may lift the restriction, but it's not likely for a while with a new increase in coronavirus cases being attributed largely to new variants.

READ ALSO: Where and how much are coronavirus cases rising in Italy?

Photo: AFP

The restriction on arrivals from Britain was first imposed at the end of December.

Those who are allowed to enter Italy from the UK will be required to take two coronavirus tests – one before and one after the flight – and to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine after arriving in Italy.

(See more details of the current travel rules in a separate article here.)

There were also cases in early January of British passengers with Italian residency being denied boarding by airport staff who did not recognise their documents as valid.

Reader question: Can I travel between Italy and the UK via France?

It is worth noting that Italy still has tough coronavirus rules in place within the country, including the mandatory wearing of masks in public at all times, which are strictly enforced with fines up to 1,000 euros for non-compliance.

Restaurants, bars and other businesses are currently closed in around half of the country, travel between Italian regions is banned, and there is a 10pm curfew in place.

These rules are expected to stay in place for the foreseeable future, as Italy struggles to keep its coronavirus infection rate under control.

While some European countries including Spain are pushing for a vaccine passport scheme to help tourism restart, this is not something the Italian government is currently considering – even though some regional authorities, such as Sardinia’s, are in favour of the idea.

Italy’s tourism minister has indicated that the country is keen to restart tourism as soon as infection rates and vaccination campaigns allow for it. But it’s too early to say yet whether this will coincide with the UK’s suggested date of May 17th.

The British government’s travel task force will report on April 12th as to whether international summer holidays can go ahead.

For now, the spread of Covid variants and the ongoing vaccination roll-outs mean that for now it’s still hard to know when the right time to book a flight to Italy will be.

We will publish any updates from Italian authorities relating to travel from the UK as soon as they are announced. You can see all the latest  travel news from Italy here.
 
For more information on international travel to and from Italy, see the Foreign Ministry's website 

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TRANSPORT

Costly flights, few trains: What’s travel like between Sicily and mainland Italy?

Sicily may be just a stone’s throw from mainland Italy but getting there and back is not always simple or fast, as Silvia Marchetti explains.

Costly flights, few trains: What’s travel like between Sicily and mainland Italy?

Transport connections between Italy’s largest island region and the main Italian cities are expected to improve in the long run, with the government hoping to use European pandemic recovery funds. But infrastructure investments take years to bear fruit. 

Taking a flight is of course the easiest and quickest way to reach Sicily, where there are three main airports – Palermo, Catania, Trapani – plus two minor ones on the southernmost Pantelleria and Lampedusa islands. But there are mounting ticket costs. 

The recent investigation launched by Italian authorities into alleged price-fixing on flights to and from Sicily during Christmas holidays by many low-cost airlines shows how fliers might have been left with little choice. Unless one is a Sicilian resident with access to privileged fares, the round trip is often costly.

I recently did an online search and found flights to Sicily are still quite expensive, costing roughly 300 euros for a return trip from Rome, even if booked well in advance. And not all Italian airports serve the destination. 

READ ALSO: Trains and planes: Italy’s new international travel routes in 2023

Paradoxically, it is often easier to reach Sicily from a European city such as London or Brussels than from an Italian one, and I often envy foreign friends who quickly find a much cheaper flight than I can from Rome. Others hop on ferry boats in southern France to land in Sicily. 

For those already in Italy, other options are traveling by train or car, which can still be hellish. Even though the A1 autostrada del Sole, the country’s backbone, has been completed, driving down the length of the country takes 12 hours – inclusive of meal and toilet stops – roughly 1,500 kilometers. I did it once, and it is crazy, but it depends on how much one loves driving.

All train connections end in Reggio Calabria or other southern regions, even the high-speed Italo takes 10 hours from Milan to the tip of the boot. The journey by train is less stressful than by car or plane, and costs roughly 280 euros for a round trip from Milan.

Travel to and from Sicily can often turn into a nightmarish odyssey. I’ve spoken to lots of Sicilians and foreigners who often embark on a 24-hour trip to get to Sicily from Rome and Milan. 

I remember once going to Linosa island for the summer holidays and having to take the plane to Palermo, then a long bus ride to Porto Empedocle to catch the midnight ferry, sleeping on a bench and waking up the next morning to stunning volcanic black scenery. I could have taken the plane to sister-isle Lampedusa and then a quick ferry boat, but the air fare was way over my budget. That trip lasted 28 hours, exactly the same amount of time as my past flights to Jakarta from Rome – but with added stress.

The ferry connecting Messina, Sicily with Villa San Giovanni, Calabria. Photo: Clare Speak/The Local

The government aims to revive the Messina bridge plan, an idea which has been floating in the air since 1866. I doubt things would change much. Many people would still drive their cars along the bridge rather than take the ecological high speed railway expected to be built on it.

To improve connections, transport must shift from the road to the railway tracks by increasing high-speed train services, as well as ferries, thus curbing CO2 emissions. High-speed sea connections to and from Naples, Civitavecchia, Livorno and other key mainland ports should also be increased.

READ ALSO: Yes, train travel across Europe is far better than flying – even with kids

The Messina bridge, which I seriously doubt will be built during this government’s five-year legislature, would just end up increasing road traffic. Locals and tourists in Calabria will be tempted to drive their car or motorino just three kilometers to grab a cassata cake in Messina. 

However, the real issue is not getting to and from Sicily, but getting around Sicily once you land there.

I had the chance to meet several Sicilian commuters who travel almost daily from a rural village to Rome, Naples or Milan for meetings. They wake up at three in the morning and return home at 11pm, up to four times a week. 

Island train and bus connections are rather poor so the car is their best option to get to the airport. However, bar the main highways, most Sicilian roads are a work-in-progress or in bad condition.

You never know where a Sicilian road trip might take you. Photo: Silvia Marchetti

I happened to experience an ‘adventurous’ road trip once from Catania airport to a tiny village in the province of Caltanissetta. According to the satellite map it was meant to take roughly two hours, but it turned out to be five, and I literally found myself in the middle of the countryside surrounded by sheep and ravines. Not quite the idyll I had dreamt.

Some highways were shut due to maintenance so I had to cut across unpaved rural roads without street lights, or deviate elsewhere which lengthened my trip (ravenous, I took five minutes to stop for a quick cannolo on the way).

It all depends on what degree of adventure travelers are seeking. Distances seem shorter for some foreigners than they do to Italians. Americans in particular and others from non-European Union countries are excited to drive from Milan to Sicily, for they can catch a glimpse of Italy in its entirety, or tour Sicily’s main archaeological sites in eight hours.

But many others I know, because of the poor state of Sicilian roads and regional connections, prefer to fly in and rent cars with drivers to take them to their destinations. 

The future of Sicily’s transport connections must be affordable and more frequent flights, high-speed railways and eco-friendly boats. Not new bridges and even more cars on the road.

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