The easiest last-minute winter holiday options

The Government is expected to ease the testing burden for travellers this week. The pre-departure test is expected to be scrapped entirely, and the requirement to take a Day 2 PCR test – and self-isolate while waiting for the result – could also go. The move would reduce the cost and hassle involved when heading abroad, providing a boost for both winter sunseekers and the beleaguered travel industry. 

However, some destinations are still making life difficult for British holidaymakers. Germany and France are banning them entirely, while other destinations have strict vaccine rules that make family holidays impossible. Nevertheless, relatively painless options exist in both Europe and beyond. Our writers have chosen some of the best. 

For hassle-free sunshine

Mexico

While countries around the globe have been tightening restrictions in recent weeks, Mexico lingers in a restriction-free, pre-Covid timewarp.

It is mandatory to register on the Mexico Vuela Seguro Platform before boarding your flight to Mexico, and to show a QR code generated by the system upon arrival at the airport. But that’s it. No vaccine requirements, no testing.

The Yucatán Peninsula, a sultry, low-lying limestone plateau full of sinkholes and fringed by white-sand beaches, is the best place for the sort of laid-back holiday we’re all in need of right now. on why Mexico is the perfect winter sun destination – plus 15 holiday suggestions.

Jamaica

For guaranteed sun and good-value luxury, the Caribbean may appeal most this winter. A number of islands have welcomed visitors with stipulations such as quarantine periods during which they must remain in the grounds of their hotel. Jamaica has this type of policy in place, but the bounds of its ‘resilient corridor’ rules should not thwart your holiday enjoyment – you stay within your hotel or resort and can take permitted excursions. 

There are two portions of Jamaica open to tourists through this policy: a Northern section that stretches from Negril across the northern coastline to Port Antonio and a south coast segment running from Milk River westward to Negril. Here’s our insider guide to the home of reggae and rum.

Dominican Republic

Bookings to the Dominican Republic increased by 181 per cent (week-on-week) following its removal late last year from the travel red list, according to price comparison site Skyscanner. Its minimal Covid rules (proof of a negative PCR taken in the 72 hours beforehand, or a vaccination card showing a second dose administered not less than three weeks ahead of arrival) have certainly helped. 





The temperature in Punta Cana generally clips the high 20Cs at all times


Credit: Getty

The country which makes up two thirds of the second biggest island in the Caribbean (Hispaniola) has sometimes been overlooked as a holiday option. But it is coming into focus thanks to the luxury resorts that dot its south-east corner, around the settlement of Punta Cana. The temperature generally clips the high 20Cs at all times. The European winter also largely avoids the hurricane season (June-November). For ideas on where to stay, see our complete guide to the best hotels in the Dominican Republic.

Dubai

It can be easy to sneer at Dubai – to claim that its skyscrapers are ridiculously big, to suggest that its enormous malls are a substitute for any element of culture, to say that its artificial-island construction projects are overreaching and silly. But the glitziest of the United Arab Emirates does not care a jot – and nor do the thousands of UK tourists who flock to its beaches knowing that the sun will have its hat on.

Relatively laid-back rules further enhance its appeal. Arrivals in the UAE must have a negative PCR test before departure and present the certificate at check-in. These need to be taken no more than 72 hours prior to departure for arrivals to Dubai and no more than 48 hours prior to departure for arrivals to Abu Dhabi. See our insider guide to the City of Gold for inspiration on what to do and see.

Egypt

Egypt keeps its entry rules to a minimum – either proof of a full vaccination or a negative PCR test, with children under six exempt. Visitors to the country can choose to admire its ancient treasures, from the Egyptian Musuem’s 120,000 exhibits to the Temple of Luxor, take a mini-cruise on on the Nile, or simply soak up the sun and snorkel in one of its Red Sea resorts. Read why Egypt is perfect for a winter escape.


For skiing

Switzerland  

Switzerland, which remained open for skiing throughout the winter of 2020/21, looks likely to do the same again. Cheekily, it has even relaxed its health regulations in response to stricter measures by its Alpine neighbours France and Austria. Any holiday there is demandingly expensive, but the quality of its resorts is second to none – and with many skiers having gone two years without a trip to the slopes, it could be a price worth paying. Find a great holiday with our pick of the 10 best ski resorts in Switzerland.

Slovakia

A far cheaper alternative to Switzerland is Slovakia, favoured by our skiing expert Peter Hardy. He explains: “I’m not a big fan of Eastern European resorts, with one exception: Jasna in Slovakia. 





Skiing in Jasna is a far cheaper alternative to other eastern European resorts


Credit: Getty

“Never heard of it? You’re missing out and, as far as I can ascertain, you can go there right now if you’re double-vaxxed, without any quarantine or arrival test requirements beyond a pre-departure 72-hour PCR. Like much of Europe, there are Covid health passes in force in resorts, but proof of two doses will be enough to jump that hoop.

“Jasná Nízke Tatry – to give it its full name – is located in the Low Tatras mountain range. Understandably you might think that the nearby High Tatras, with resorts such as Tatranská Lomnica, Starý  Smokovec and Štrbské Pleso offer superior skiing. In fact, the reverse is true. Jasna has more diverse terrain and a longer vertical drop of over 1,000m.

“The skiing takes place on both the north and south sides of the rounded 2,024m summit of Mt Chopok. The modern lift system rivals that of major Alpine resorts and the tempting array of equipment and clothing that greeted us in the ski shop would not be out of place in the French 3 Valleys (and it’s half the price). If Jasna were in Austria or Italy it would rank in the top 10 of that country’s ski areas.”

: The forgotten country that’s home to some of Europe’s best skiing – and still open to Britons

Sweden

The Scandinavian nation is an outlier when it comes to Covid restrictions, and resorts have adopted a recommendation-led rather than restrictive approach – there’s not a mask, health pass or closed venue in sight. In Sweden, resorts such as Sälen and Åre encourage visitors to avoid queues by pre-booking lift passes and to keep on top of their own personal hygiene and hand washing, but that’s it. 

Visitors to Sweden must be vaccinated, but there are no forms to fill out or Covid tests, and under 18s, in the company of a double-jabbed adult, are exempt from any restrictions at the border. Here’s why lockdown-free Sweden could be your safest bet for a ski holiday


For a city break

Seville

While France and Germany remain closed to British tourists, Spain is welcoming vaccinated travellers. Its finest winter city break is surely Seville, where temperatures can top 20C even in January. 

“Follow the locals to hole-in-the-wall bars, sip cañas (small glasses) of beer, and then get lost wandering the tiny streets of Barrio Santa Cruz, dotted with orange-tree-filled plazas, before resting in a quiet, shady corner on a tiled bench,” says our expert to the city, Fiona Flores-Watson. “For a more authentic experience, head to boho Macarena or tile-and-gypsy quarter Triana. Then, after dusk, head up the rooftops to admire the largest Gothic cathedral in the world and its Moorish-Christian tower from a terrace bar.” Discover more things to do and see in our insider guide to Spain’s steamy southern city.





Follow the locals and then get lost wandering the tiny streets of Barrio Santa Cruz, dotted with orange-tree-filled plazas


Credit: Getty

Lisbon

Portugal’s entry rules remain fairly relaxed. You must complete an online passenger locator card and show evidence of an antigen test taken within 48 hours of departure, or a PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure. However, there are no requirements to show proof of vaccination. 

Lisbon offers a relatively mild option in winter. Mary Lussiana, Telegraph Travel’s expert on the Portuguese capital, explains: “The food surprises, with a depth far beyond the famous pastéis de nata (custard tarts) that are so known and loved. There is history; from the 12th-century Moorish castle that dominates the skyline to the magnificent 16th-century Manueline monastery of Jerónimos, and the bombastic 18th-century heart of Lisbon, built after so much of the city was destroyed in the 1755 earthquake.

“There is authentic, genuine and welcoming hospitality; and a wave of new and affordable hotels along cobbled streets and flanking bougainvillea-clad squares, all of which brim with a sense of place. For Lisbon, unlike so much of the world, has not gone global: it remains resolutely Portuguese, looking out to sea, with its back to the rest of Europe and its identity intact.” Here’s our insider guide to Portugal’s timeless capital.

Istanbul 

For an offbeat urban break, try Istanbul. No other city in the world straddles two continents; nowhere else has been the capital of two empires. This vibrant metropolis of 15 million people, sprawling across the European and Asian sides of the Bosphorus Strait, is unique. 

Turkey has kept its borders open for the majority of the pandemic, with relatively light rules. All arrivals must complete an online form a maximum of 72 hours prior to travel and show proof of one of the following:

  • A full course of Covid-19 vaccinations (completed at least 14 days prior to arrival in Turkey)
  • Recent recovery from COVID-19
  • A negative PCR test (less than 72 hours of arrival)
  • A rapid antigen test (less than 48 hours of arrival).
  • For children aged 11 and under, no test is needed.