If you’re dreaming of your next European stroll, you’re not alone. Like other travelers, maybe you’ve wistfully imagined yourself walking along vineyard-blanketed hills and pausing to sample the local wine, exploring quaint and colorful villages dripping with charm, or gazing upon breathtaking vistas of olive groves.
But also like other travelers, maybe you’ve found yourself wondering what it would be like to travel there now. Are masks required everywhere—even while hiking? Are all those wonderful Old-World restaurants closed? How hard is it to get around the country? And, if you can get there, how will the locals receive you?
Fortunately, there are Country Walkers guests who have just enjoyed a European sojourn. And they’re eager to share their experiences so that, as you consider when to return to Europe, you can do so with a clear picture of what it might be like in mind.
Judy and Mike Shanley returned from our Guided France, Italy & Switzerland: The Mont Blanc Circuit Adventure on September 16, 2021. They weren’t alone in exploring the roof of Europe on foot. The couple was accompanied by Judy’s two sisters and two of her siblings’ friends, all of them eager to walk some of the continent’s most legendary and majestic walking trails.
“I Felt More Comfortable in Europe than at Home.”
For Judy, the trip was a long time coming. “As soon as I’m nearing the end of one trip, I like to be planning another,” she tells us. As someone who likes to keep busy, having her Mont Blanc trip postponed because of the pandemic was a disappointment, no matter how necessary. But she is not one to just sit around and wait. She enjoys a retired life of golfing, running, yoga, and mosaic art projects. Oh, and did we mention she plays the banjo?
Though her life is full of activities that lend themselves well to social distancing, she felt very comfortable throughout her Walking Adventure—even in public spaces like restaurants and shops that required masks.
“On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the most comfortable, I came in around an eight or nine,” she says. “I felt more comfortable there than I do in my hometown of Campbell, California.”
“There were signs everywhere asking you to wear masks and show your vaccination card,” she explains. “And just like at home, people for the most part were following along.”
In the countries they visited—France, Italy, and Switzerland—the rhetoric around vaccines was dialed back quite a bit compared to what she hears at home. “It was much less politicized,” she continues. This allowed her and her small band of fellow walkers to take a break from pandemic headlines and fully appreciate what brought them to Europe and the Mont Blanc Circuit: taking spectacular hikes, soaking in rich culture, and meeting warm locals they encountered along the way.
No Masks Required on the Trail
It’s not that they were able to completely banish the pandemic from their minds. Like the United States, Europe is living a new normal of vaccination cards, temperature checks, masks, and social distancing. But the walks were glorious—in the open alpine air where masks were not required. And because they were on a Walking Adventure, they spent the vast majority of their time on the trails. Ergo, though mask-wearing was an inconvenience, it did not dampen the spirit of their trip.
When they weren’t on the trail, she says, “it seemed like everyone was trying to make it as comfortable an experience as possible.” She credits the Country Walkers guides for this, but also acknowledges there’s a lot at stake for Europeans right now. Tourism is such a large part of the economy; everyone is rolling out very long and very cushy welcome mats.
Europe—and Country Walkers—Are Here When You’re Ready
Before their trip, Country Walkers kept the Shanleys updated on the status of their departure (it was postponed from its original date). As their trip came together, Country Walkers advised them that they had to bring their vaccination cards and provided resources on its website about each country’s guidelines.
Still, even by following guidelines, no one would say that travel is 100% risk-free right now; but, as Judy suggests, neither is a trip to your hometown grocery store. As long as Covid-19 exists, everyone must make their own assessment of what is comfortable for them.
We asked the Shanleys one final question, one that we thought would serve as a barometer for the present and future state of European travel: “If you had the opportunity, would you do it all again tomorrow?”
“Yeah, definitely,” she says. In her response, you can already hear her planning her next adventure.