Brendan O'Connor in Turkey: 'You know that moment when you've reached holiday Nirvana?'
Brendan O'Connor takes his family to an all-inclusive Sensatori resort in Turkey, and emerges sane, happy and relaxed.
There's something delicious about late afternoon sun.
It's not as intense, and by that stage of the day you're feeling lazier and more relaxed. And it's a respectable time to have a few cold ones.
So I lay on the edge of the cabana, half in and half out, and ordered a beer. The kids are lolling inside the cabana in various states of undress watching iPads, taking a break from the sun. It's like a giant bed where we are all luxuriating together being waited on hand and foot. The waiter arrives up with beer, more water, bowls of crisps and fruit. I had some music droning on in the background.
And I exhaled. And I had that 'Ahhhhhhhh' moment.
You know that moment? When you have reached holiday Nirvana? When you are totally in the moment, in your bliss, completely relaxed. You're not thinking about anything at home, you're not even thinking about what meal is next, about whether you should be doing something else. You are just immersed in the sensation of being. It is as pure a feeling as you'll ever have. And, of course, a couple of afternoon beers helps it along.
I always imagine that if I didn't have kids I would be free, and I would indulge in real travel, where I would seek out authentic experiences and places where only locals eat, and see the neighbourhoods the tourists don't see, and all that kind of thing. We are all obsessed with transcending our status as tourists when we are abroad being, well, tourists. We feel tourist-trapped.
The irony is that when you have small kids you probably feel more free within a structure. On this occasion, if I had been out with my kids experiencing the real Turkey I would have been on high alert all the time, constantly having to negotiate getting around, getting food and keeping them corralled.
But when someone else is doing the corralling, when you are actually in a corral, you can be free. Free to have moments of bliss, secure in the knowledge that all is well.
Brendan relaxing in a food market
My wife had become obsessed with something called Sensatori, which was a Thomson holiday resort in Ibiza that was all set up for kids, but also seemed to be all set up for adults. It turns out there are more than one Sensatori (or is the plural just Sensatori?), one in Egypt and the one where we were, in Fethiye in southern Turkey.
The idea seems to be that this place works for kids, their parents, and even younger couples or older children. All co-exist peacefully, being blissfully unaware of each other a lot of the time. The adult pool, the adult bar, and adult nightclub and even the adult section of the buffet restaurant may as well not have existed as far as we were concerned. But it didn't bother us, because we were happy in our end of things, among our own. And presumably the adults who didn't have kids were blissfully unaware of us as they sashayed around the adult areas.
I should point out that we were allowed access to the same food as them in the buffet, it's just that we all retired to our various areas to eat it.
The whole set-up led to an incredibly relaxed holiday, where we got to behave slightly like adults, and the kids got a modicum of independence they wouldn't have had outside the compound. And strangely, it never felt claustrophobic. We even escaped once or twice, going 'in country', just so we didn't feel too institutionalised.
We settled in quickly and a daily routine was established straight away. Dad got up early and got a swim and then we all headed for breakfast, then the kids spent two hours in kids club while Mum and Dad fantasised that we didn't have children and sat on sun loungers and read books. Then we went and got them, did some pool time, had lunch, then hit the onsite water slides, then down to the beach for some sea and then, the best bit.
The Sensatori Fethiya
Picture this, right? There is a playground, on the beach, and there is a big tented canopy over it, and there are chair-shaped beanbags all around it where the adults can loll vaguely watching the kids. AND THERE WAS A BEER TAP! WHERE YOU COULD HELP YOURSELF TO BEER! So a few sundowners at the end of the day and then get cleaned up and off for dinner.
While it all might sound like just any old family resort, it was all in the little touches. Not to be xenophobic but the girls running the kids club were English as were most of the kids there, so it made it easier for the kids to interact and it was all familiar enough for them not to have cold feet about it. The waterslides were a genius touch, offering a break from just mucking around in the pool, and giving a sense of mini-adventure for the older one every day as she gradually progressed onto going down the fast ones on her own. The beach/beer/playground set-up was so simple but incredibly relaxing. I'm thinking of importing it to playgrounds here in Ireland.
I have to say that the whole all-inclusive thing, which was new to me, worked very well. Obviously, I was worried that anxiety about getting the value out of the all-inclusive would mean that I would eat and drink far too much. "There's sparkling wine at breakfast. I'd better drink it." But I managed to stay calm enough while still enjoying it. For example, it's nice not to have to pay extortionate prices for water as you often do in these resorts in hot countries.
A traditional Turkish gulet
It's not that I pay for the water usually. But having free water in fridges everywhere saved me having to head out with a backpack to find a shop and bring back a stash of drinks. Liquid in bottles is very heavy in hot countries.
At Sensatori they also came around at the pool with little treats like slushies and milkshakes just when you needed them. And morning coffee was taken in the patisserie with a few delicious chocolates. Other little touches included an old lady down on the beach making amazing giant pancakes in what seems like a traditional style - savoury or sweet. The elder child and I would watch her hypnotised as she went about her ritual.
The food in general was great and reasonably Turkish, which was nice. We mainly ate the buffet because it gives the kids that little bit of independence where they can be popping up and down for bits and pieces. We were also lucky enough to eat in the a la carte restaurants a few nights. I say lucky because there is a ticket and queueing system for these and when they were full they were full. The Italian was nice, considering we were in Turkey, and the Turkish was, as you could imagine, authentic.
But I'm a spit and sawdust kind of guy, so my food memory from Turkey will be sitting in the food part of the market in Fethiye with loads of Turkish families and ancient looking women wrapped up in black in the sweltering heat, eating real kebabs.
The market was pleasantly weird and exotic. As we went deeper in and it got hotter and stranger, I could feel the kids getting nervous. Women who looked to our eyes like medieval peasants sat on the ground selling half a dozen eggs with Coke, bottles of milk or yogurt or something which must have been boiling in the heat. I could sense the kids were glad to get back down to the waterfront where we got the nicest cobs of corn you ever tasted from a hawker and hopped back on the boat that dropped us at the jetty in front of the hotel. Even when you wanted to go out and see the real world for a while, Sensatori made it easy.
Another day, as we travelled into the old town on the dolmus, the local little mini buses where the guy drives along honking at everyone to get on, and many of them do, passing the money up, everyone seeming to know how much it was except us, I imagined I yearned to be out in the wild, exploring the real Turkey I could see out the windows.
But the next day we discovered you could hire the beach cabanas and be waited on hand and foot, and everybody was happy and relaxed, and I was hazy with beer in the late afternoon, and the kids went out to run around with the kids from the cabana next door. And I vowed that maybe some day I would come back and see more of the real Turkey. But for now, I exhaled, feeling sane, happy and relaxed, feeling like you imagine you're supposed to feel on a holiday.
There's a big push on in our house for Sensatori Ibiza, where I guess I will wish at times I had made it to there when I was 25 years younger.
Three to try
12 Islands Tour
Twelve of the small islands in the bay around the town of Fethiye are best explored by boat. One local company sends a pretty, traditional wooden gullet boat around the local hotels and conducts tours around the 12 islands, landing on the largest and most scenic. Just bring suncream and your togs and snorkel for swimming in the turquoise sea. From €21. See fethiye-tours.com
The sea around Fethiye is one of its greatest assets and the views from the Lycian rock tombs are hard to beat. The tombs themselves are special, too. Dating from the 4th Century, they are Classical tombs in style, which look like they emerged miraculously from the craggy rock that surrounds them. The climb is worth it for the eerie, other-worldly atmosphere and the views of the bay.
Fethiye Old Town
Tuesday is market day in Fethiye, with everything under the sun for sale all along the riverside. The food stalls selling pancakes and gyros are good, but also check out the Paspatur, Fethiye's less frenetic Old Town, where you can pick your fish and vegetables from stalls and have it cooked in the surrounding cafes. There are also streetside bars on its cool, shaded streets, and shops selling what seem like decent rugs and Turkish textiles.
September 7, Dublin to Dalaman, Sensatori Fethiye, 5*, Fethiye , seven nights, all-inclusive, €1099pp based on two sharing
August 31, Dublin to Dalaman, Tropical, 4*, Sarigerme, all-inclusive, seven nights, €949pps; 2+1 €2199; 2+2 €2989
August 31, Dublin to Dalaman, Club Evin, 3*, Marmaris, self-catering, €439pp based on two sharing See thomsonholidays.ie
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