French tourists flock to ‘liberating’ Madrid

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26 February 2021

By | 26 February 2021

2021 begins with a 731% increase in searches to Madrid from any French airport

Tourists from France are seeking a break from their strict national lockdown by heading south into Spain. The overriding feeling, according to those traveling there, has been one of freedom. “It’s sincerely a pleasure to sit on a terrace and have a drink,” said one French visitor. Unlike Paris, where a 6 pm curfew is still in place, Madrid’s conservative regional government has set one of the loosest sets of measures in the country. Mask-wearing is still mandatory, and crowds in public spaces are limited, but the ability to sit outside at a bar or restaurant and have a sit-down meal or a glass of something is proving a massive draw. Kiwi.com saw searches spike by 645% on 11 February compared to numbers two months previously, while Kayak reported a 731% increase in searches on its French site between 15 January and 18 February compared to the previous four-week period.

“Without tourism, we have no-one”

In France, restaurants and bars are still closed. French tourists describe the feeling of enjoying a drink in Madrid as one of freedom In France, restaurants and bars are still closed. French tourists describe the feeling of enjoying a drink in Madrid as one of freedom — Shutterstock

“Seeing the restaurants open was a bit of a shock because in Paris it’s depressing… all the blinds are lowered,” remarked another visitor, a student at the Sorbonne. The city’s policies are at odds with the rest of the country which, like the rest of Europe, is still being battered by a third wave of the virus. The only requirement to visit Madrid from France currently is a negative PCR test, which in France is free. Both Paris Charles de Gaulle and Paris Orly airports have screening centers at which passengers can make an appointment online before traveling.

Bars and restaurants are, naturally, still taking safety measures such as disinfection, mask-wearing, and reduced occupancy, with one restaurant manager stating that he was happy with the influx of tourists, adding that “without tourism, we have no-one”. As well as places to eat and drink, cinemas, theaters, and museums are also open until 10 pm. This is another reason people are coming to Madrid. “I wanted to do a trip and live normally. We came here on a whim and life is good,” said 22-year-old Theo Perucci, sitting outside a bar sipping a beer and playing cards.

Full flights, young travelers

Young tourist woman wearing a protective face mask in Plaza Mayor Madrid Spain Young tourist woman wearing a protective face mask in Plaza Mayor Madrid Spain — Shutterstock

Regular commuters between Paris and Madrid noted the increase in activity and the full aircraft. “They look younger than usual,” noted one passenger, while a spokesman for Air France said that “although the program for Madrid has not been strengthened in recent weeks, we can confirm that the available flights are, indeed, full”. French tourists overtook British and German visitors in their thousands in December, with numbers increasing as the weather improves and the French school holidays giving families a two-week window to do something different. Travelers from France now constitute one in four people visiting Madrid. There’s still cause for concern, however, as Spanish police broke up two parties hosted by French nationals recently, both held in rented apartments in which dozens of maskless partygoers flouted the city’s rules banning domestic mingling. Police are currently investigating whether the two instances were coincidences, or whether some people are seeing this as an opportunity for Madrid to become a temporary destination for promoting party tourism to French travelers.

Locals determined to stay safe

People rowing a boat in the lake in Park del Retiro, Madrid, SpainPeople rowing a boat in the lake in Park del Retiro, Madrid, Spain — Shutterstock

Nevertheless, many people seem unconcerned and are just happy to be sampling something resembling normality. Indeed, many are impressed with the way the locals appear determined in their attitude to keeping safe. Leaving a rooftop bar in the evening “I felt safe because… mask-wearing is much more respected here than in France or Britain,” said business student Clemence Berna. As the Madrid regional government continues to fight with the national administration over its handling of the pandemic, it seems that people will continue to come as long as they can for a taste of what they hope life will be like again in the near future.

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This article was amended on 3 March to include updated figures.