Relaxing British tourists say they are enjoying the “holiday feeling” again in Madeira after the easing of coronavirus restrictions allowed the return of some foreign travel.
Passengers on early-morning flights to the Portuguese island from London Gatwick and Birmingham airports were among the first to take advantage of changes to Covid rules for people travelling from England on Monday.
A three-quarters full Tui plane flying from Gatwick to the Cristiano Ronaldo Airport near Funchal burst into applause as it touched down at the green list destination with happy travellers on board.
After negotiating the at times “stressful” last-minute pre-departure testing requirements to visit Madeira, Tui holidaymakers described the “tremendous” feeling of being away again after many months.
John and Victoria Perfect, aged 61 and 60, from Cannock in Staffordshire, flew in from Birmingham and spoke to the PA news agency by the pool of the Riu Palace hotel.
Mrs Perfect, a self-employed aesthetic practitioner who carries out procedures such as Botox, said it felt “absolutely amazing” to be away after the pandemic left her “sat at home doing nothing”.
“This is just heaven to me. It’s the social contact with people as well. This morning I’ve just had a smile on my face,” she added.
Mrs Perfect had two surgeries in recent months and endured periods of isolating and recuperating at home, away from her family.
“It’s been a bit grim for me really, especially not having the granddaughters,” she said, adding that her aim on holiday was to “do nothing really, just relax and enjoy this holiday feeling again and the sun and the sea”.
The pair paid £80 each at the airport to complete their pre-departure test to visit the island.
Sat nearby, solo traveller Mikail Khan, 34, from London, only booked his Birmingham flight four days ago in search of “a break from work” and an opportunity to “recharge”.
The owner of a property management and investment firm added: “It’s stressful enough running your own business but to be doing it during the pandemic makes it even more challenging.”
Mr Khan said he had been unable to access the website of Tui’s testing partner firm Chronomics and instead paid £100 for a private pre-departure test.
“To be honest, you’ve got no choice, you have to do it if you want a break,” he said.
Tui- the UK’s biggest tour operator – is offering testing packages to customers ranging from £20 to £90, with delivery and return costs included in the price.
Kits must be ordered before certain times depending on the departure date.
According to the Visit Madeira website, travellers wanting to visit the island must carry proof of a negative PCR Covid test taken 72 hours prior to boarding a flight, or show they have been vaccinated or provide a medical document confirming they have recovered from the virus issued in the last 90 days.
The island’s bars and restaurants have to close at 10pm and run at reduced capacity, while there is also an 11pm to 5am curfew in place throughout the week.
Madeira is one of the few green list destinations where people visiting from England will now not need to quarantine on their return, and will only be required to take one post-arrival coronavirus test when back home.
Lee Moran, 37, and Toni Bowers, 39, from Leicester, also flew in from Birmingham Airport after booking their holiday on Thursday.
The pair, who said they had to drop off their self-administered PCR tests in Birmingham for processing, said it was “a bit stressful” and had worried about being ready in time for their trip.
But Ms Bowers, who works in sales, said being in Madeira had left her “speechless”, adding: “I think we take it for granted some times, going on a plane and going somewhere.
“Because we’ve not been able to do that in a year and a half you appreciate it that little bit more”.
Damien Liddle, 40, from Norwich, said that after some “mixed messages” and spending £60 on a testing package he found himself driving two and a half hours to Peterborough on Friday to a testing centre.
“I wouldn’t have booked the holiday if I knew that was happening,” he admitted, adding it had been a “stress” waiting to see if he would receive his result in time for travel.
Sitting next to his partner Rachel Butcher, 37, he added: “We’re here, it’s sunny, you can’t really ask much more… it’s good that things are moving forward.”
Ms Butcher, who runs a fashion store with Mr Liddle, said: “I plan to do nothing really apart from sit on a sun bed.
“It’s got to be better than the weather back home, it was raining when we left.”