Scorchio! Air traffic chaos turns up the heat at Gatwick as southern Europe bakes in health harming hot snap
Chalkmarks: Monopoli, Puglia, Italy (Photo: Mike Lesley July 2023)

Good morning. This is what happened in the world of travel this week: Friday 14th July 2023

CIAO bello! We are in Italy and that means we are within inches of pizza at every turn. But of course we didn’t come here for the margherita. There’s Prosecco too. Just kidding, there’s culture, history and stunning beaches. And we are deep in true vintage Italy. We are staying in the historic city of Lecce, in the south. This is the Venice of Puglia… okay, without the canals, but where by sunset the empty, narrow streets turn into packed outdoor restaurants. By 10pm the tables are filled with families eating orecchiette, pasticciotto, and drinking glasses of primitivo. This place belongs in a museum but here we are in an air-conditioned Airbnb within the walls of this Medieval town keeping cool in the 35C heat. It’s not easy being here at the moment. It’s full on summer. There were days when it was sooooo hot all we could do was eat gelato, drink iced leccese coffee (made with sweet almond sugar syrup) and lie on the beach on the island in Gallipoli. Today was particularly bad when we had to go on a boat trip and swim in the two seas at the heel of Italy where the land ends. This hotspot is called Santa Maria di Lueca where the Adriatic meets the Ionian Sea. Oh dear life, it’s beautiful. Lonely Planet hasn’t made it here yet but we have. This is the golden ticket. It’s a classic. Just another week to go. Here’s this week’s travel headlines and our Italy special.

Sparkling water!

Down on the beaches: The anti-cyclone has landed in southern Europe. Temperatures across the Mediterranean are reaching 40C today. It’s so hot the Italians have named the heatwave Cerberus after Dante’s three-headed hound that guards hell. For holidaymakers in parts of Spain and the Italian islands, Sardinia and Sicily, the mercury is set to rise further- and could break the 48.8C record set in 2021. And where we are in southern Italy, the day is hot at 9am. The morning starts at 34C and rises to 38C by 4pm. It drops to only 32C by midnight. Frazzled by the heat, we have one focus: gelato. Sky News reported on tourists collapsing at the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.

Right on cue: easyJet has cancelled 1,700 flights from Gatwick due to airspace issues across Europe this summer. (Please don’t cancel ours. We miss the wind and rain!) The move will affect thousands of holidaymakers set to travel in July as airspace across the continent is at a premium with the threat of French air traffic control strikes and a planned walk out of staff at Italian airports tomorrow. There’s also the war in Ukraine which squeezes the airspace across the continent as skies above remain closed. According to the Guardian easyJet said 95 per cent of travellers had already been rebooked on to alternative flights and others would be offered refunds. Euronews Travel has listed all the dates for industrial action in July. 

Plane to see: Gatwick has been named the worst airport in Europe for flight cancellations and delays. Passenger rights group AirHelp calculated that more than 54 per cent of flights were cancelled or delayed last month. A spokesman for the airport told the Evening Standard: “Gatwick has more flights to Europe than any other UK airport and can be impacted disproportionately by disruption on the continent.” Stansted was the best in the UK and Helsinki-Vantaa, Finland, the best in Europe, in June.

More turbulence: Willie Walsh, boss of International Air Transport Association (IATA), confirmed Gatwick seemed to be suffering hardest during these air traffic control (ATC) limits. He told ITV news: “The most severe impacts are being seen at Europe’s most congested airports, especially London Gatwick where the performance is also affected by local ATC resource issues. Gatwick is now the worst-performing airport among the 31 major airports reported by Eurocontrol and sits at number 106 out of the 110 airports covered by the entire data set.”

Have you seen our pictures: Our fantastic travel photos, which capture some of our favourite destinations around the world, are now available for sale on Alamy. Woohoo!

Foodie adventure: Mamma Mia. Pull up a stool, dangle your legs and get stuck into aperitivo. It’s not wrong to start a weekend break in Emilia-Romana, Italy, sipping a glass of Prosecco but it’s the perfect excuse to revisit the classics: Campari, Cinzano, the bright orange Aperol and even a sparkling Lambrusco. Bellissima. Italy is also a top spot for great food. From the moment you step off the plane, it’s ragu, lasagne, Mortadella ham, green olives and nearby Modena is home to Balsamic, delicious drizzled over gelato.  Here’s what we got up to when we went. Read all about it.

A taste of Italy. For those longing not only to eat but to learn how to cook authentic Italian cuisine there are numerous schools in Tuscany that teach how to prepare antipasti, soups, risotto, gnocchi and of course traditional pizza and pasta dishes. We found Gourmet on Tour, which offers a hands-on experience with professional chefs. Situated in Villa Lucia in the valley of Vorno – close to Pisa – in Tuscany, they also offer wine tastings and guided tours to nearby cities. It’s a recipe for happiness. We tried it here

More of this: Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean and the biggest region in Italy. It’s home to many of Europe’s volcanoes – Etna being the biggest, Vulcano the stinkiest and Stromboli one of the most active on earth. The Valley of the Temples is older than the Acropolis in Athens. The Aeolian islands are outrageously stunning but so few tourists make it there. And if all this is not enough, Palermo has the best pizza on the planet and in Catania they eat ice (granita) for breakfast. Irresistible! Watch this to find out where to start.

This is why you go to Sardinia: Sometimes you just need to sit down and do nothing for a little while to help slow life down. And sometimes you just need to feel the sand between your toes and dive into the sea to help you realise how good life is. As well as being a chilled Italian island, you’ll find some of the oldest people on the planet in Sardinia. Many live to be 100 – documentaries have been made about them. But these centenarians aren’t frail. Their bodies are beautiful. The secret is in the food – the olive oil and the the red wine. Getaway here.

Goosebumps: The moment you see Venice for the first time. Arriving by train is the best way for that first impression. And you don’t have to go looking for Venice: A kingdom of palatial buildings is there, straight out of the station doors. The water taxis rush by on the Grand Canal looking like they’re straight out of a James Bond film – and the captains all look like male models. The gondolas are there too. It’s that classic image. We need a minute! And everyone arriving is the same. Most people are standing around, just looking around. And so, it’s up the staircase and across the  Rialto bridge we go – trundling our suitcase behind us. We’re so excited. We channel our inner Bond girl – someone take our picture, please! Here are some of our favourite pix of the trip!

Having a moment: “That’s my villa down there,” I say. “The one on the left with the red roses trailing over the windows.” Someone else picks one with a vineyard and another wants any that’s perched on top of a hill. We’re on a 20k (12.5miles) bike ride along the gravelly disused railway called Spoleto-Norcia to Castel San Felice in Umbria. Voted the most beautiful bike path in Italy in 2015, the route takes us through a giddy rainbow of green of unspoilt forest, farmland, olive groves, vineyards and full panoramas of the region. Ancient monasteries and hamlets pop out among the long grass and tall trees where we stop to refuel in the piazzas filling out plates with prosciutto, cheese, chunks of bread and red wine. Who needs a beach when you have this? Starting in Perugia then heading south to Assisi and ending in Spoleto, we took an electric e-bike tour of central Italy for TNT Magazine

This time last year: Has travel lost its way? Heathrow asks passengers to push back summer holidays to ease airport chaos Heathrow Airport filled the news pages after it told airlines to stop selling flight tickets … It announced a 100,000 daily departing passenger cap until 11th September to help ground staff cope with demand and end the long queues, lost baggage and last minute delays … Emirates screamed: “Airmageddon” on Twitter … British Airways asked passengers to rebook their holidays for later in July … Airports across Europe were also struggling including Brussels, Frankfurt, Lisbon, Charles de Gaulle and Schiphol … An extreme heatwave across Europe caused wildfires in Quinta do Lago resort in the Algarve where celebrity villas have been evacuated. In Spain firefighters have been battling fires in Extremadura and Salamanca where temperatures have passed 40C. In France thousands of locals including tourists have been evacuated from around south Bordeaux following forest fires. And in Turkey a forest fire raged for 24 hours close to the popular Data peninsula. Reuters had the footage … An old North Sea oil rig aka the See Monster pitched up on the beach in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, ready to be transformed into an art project.

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Working from the beach!

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