It’s incredible to think that it’s been nearly two months at the time of writing that the whole of France was placed into a strict lockdown which prevented anyone leaving their homes. In common with the rest of the world, there were of course some exceptions such as being allowed to exercise or shop for food but broadly speaking, the message (and law!) was clear. Stay home!

So, it was with much excitement (and some trepidation) that the strict lockdown rules were eased by the French government on the 11th May. This easing is designed to be the first baby step towards a return to normal life and has been welcomed by many across France. There are also plans in place to begin to allow travel in order that some of the summer may be salvaged for holidays.

What restrictions have been lifted?

There have been some significant changes to the lockdown laws that are allowing people to begin to enjoy some sense of normality.

Schools

The easing of the lockdown restrictions allows for children to return to pre-school and primary school. The initial wave of schoolchildren allowed back in the classroom totals around 20% of school age children in France. There are plans to allow junior high schools to open from the 18th May in regions where infections are low. The government will make a decision at the end of May as to whether to allow senior schools to reopen in June.

Shops

Most shops (excluding cafes, bars and restaurants) have been allowed to open. This excludes shops in shopping centres/malls. The queues at the checkouts in the first couple of days attested to the fact that people across France had some significant stocking up to do, having been deprived of the ability to shop anywhere other than supermarkets for nearly two months.

Hairdressers are among those allowed to open, much to the relief of the population at large! I think it’s fair to say that hairdressers will be kept busy for some considerable time.

Cafés, bars and restaurants

As a nation that is celebrated for its food and café culture, it’s been particularly hard for the population to be deprived of the ability to enjoy a coffee out with friends or a convivial meal at a local restaurant with the family. And of course for those who own these establishments life has been particularly hard. The French government is keen to allow these venues to open as soon as practicably possible and there are plans in place to potentially see restrictions lifted on the 15th June.

Exercise and meeting friends and family

Prior to 11th May, meeting up with friends and family was strictly forbidden. In fact, even leaving the house was a mini exercise in bureaucracy as you were required to fill out and carry a ‘attestation de déplacement dérogatoire’ which stated why you were away from your home. Thankfully, since the 11th of May this is no longer a requirement. You are allowed out as often as you wish and can travel freely within your own county (Province). If you want to travel to another province then you can do so as long as your destination is no more than 100km (as the crow flies) from your home). This restriction looks likely to be waived by the end of May.

Meeting up with friends and family is now also allowed as long as the group is limited to a maximum of ten people. You can’t however congregate at bars, cafes and restaurants (hard to do so since their closed). Neither can you assemble as a group on a beach. None-the-less, this easing is definitely welcome. Beaches it’s worth noting are not off limits as long as you are there to exercise, swim etc. Sunbathing is unfortunately still out.

Travelling to France

Frustratingly, but entirely understandably, travelling to France in the immediate future still won’t be possible from many areas of the world. That said, the French government does recognise the massive importance of the tourism industry to France and is clearly keen to allow travel to resume as soon as sensibly possible.

The good news for international travellers (in a roundabout way) is that there are plans in place to allow those already resident in France to begin to holiday in France with more information on what (or will not) be allowed in early June. Traditionally, many French holiday in July or August and the French government feels that it would be hugely problematic if this wasn’t allowed this year. Clearly the overriding thing is that infection rates continue to fall but it’s encouraging to see that, if possible, holidaying in France (for French residents) will be allowed.

So, what’s the silver lining for international tourists in all of this? Well, quite simply, if hotels and restaurants are allowed to open, then they can get back up to speed. It’s hard to go from being totally shut to fully staffed and open overnight. Hopefully therefore by the time international tourists are allowed back to France, things will be running smoothly allowing them to enjoy the relaxed holiday that they will definitely deserve!

So when might visitors from abroad be allowed back to Provence? Whilst there is nothing definite, signs are promising that, assuming infection rates continue to fall, you may be able to enjoy a holiday here from August. Given that August, September and October are such wonderful months here in Provence, that is exciting news!

It’s been a difficult couple of months for everyone affected by this horrible virus around the world. The partial lifting of lockdown restrictions both here in France and across several other European countries is promising. I hope that wherever you are, you and your family are staying well. With a little bit of luck, it hopefully won’t be long until we can welcome you back to Provence. I for one can’t wait!

Su Stephens is Owner of Olives & Vines. Olives & Vines is a luxury holiday company based in the South of France offering stays at their beautifully designed holiday house and boutique hotel in Le Castellet.

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