Brendan O'Connor: Our Greek Island getaway for adults and kids
Sun holidays in Europe
Brendan takes his family to Kos, and an all-inclusive resort that proves the best of all words for young and old.
Kefalonia is one of those holidays I still dream about.
The accommodation was minimalist, you could say. In those days we didn't think about air-conditioning. It got so hot one night that my wife took leave of her senses and ran around the corridor in a kind of semi-nude trance-like state, where she was convinced that I was out to get her.
I was never less out to get her than I was that night.
The daytime was idyllic as we travelled around the beautiful beaches on what was then an emerging Greek island. It was after Captain Corelli the book but before Captain Corelli the movie, so the place was still relatively unspoilt. Though I couldn't drive, I was the only one with a driving licence, so I had to hire the car, and attempt to drive it around the corner so that someone who could drive could take over.
The next day I was back to the same guy to hire a moped, which I nearly killed myself getting around the corner. The moped was for a friend of ours, one of two brothers who were on the trip with us. Having basically come to blows with his brother during the first day's excursion, over the matter of driving, the motorbiker refused to travel in the vehicle with his brother any further.
So I hired a motorbike, skidded it around the corner and then he took over. And we travelled the length and breadth of the island with an empty seat in the jeep and one of our party motorbiking angrily behind us.
I had been to Greece before Kefallonia, but that involved a few weeks of island-hopping fuelled by the local hallucinogenic hooch. The island-hopping stalled in the second week as we landed at Ios, and got stuck for a week drinking in a bar called Sweet Irish Dreams. If I remember correctly, we actually lost one of our party at that point. He stayed there. Just didn't come home.
We were also joined in Ios by a young doctor friend of a friend who couldn't find us when he arrived so he slept on a wall the first night and burnt himself to a crisp before he woke up in the morning. He avoided the sun for the rest of the week but rationalised this on the grounds that as a doctor the only place he wanted a tan was on his hands and face and he had that courtesy of his first night/morning.
Despite all that, I dream of Greek islands, of the light, the azure sea, the beautiful beaches, the little villages, the food. But I wasn't sure when we would get back there. The flight is a bit long for small kids, and we weren't sure about the set-up in Greece resort-wise. But this year there was a craving, and when we looked into it, we discovered that Greece actually has more nice family-friendly resorts than Spain, Italy or Portugal. Any nice Greek location you can think of, there are lovely looking family-friendly hotels by the sea.
The last couple of years we've gone to Thomson resorts and we've found them ideal for our needs. While an all-inclusive family hotel may not seem the most adventurous kind of holiday, it is the most relaxing, and actually, as the kids get slightly older and more able for an excursion, a nice relaxing all-inclusive can provide a great base for a few sorties out. Also, I find that with the Thomson resorts, unlike with a lot of these places, you actually do feel like you are in the country you are in.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this year the best deals were on Kos. We wondered about both the wisdom and the ethics of going to Kos. Was it right to whoop it up on holidays when there are refugees landing on beaches down the road?
It turned out when we looked into it that the refugee situation has largely abated in Kos. Furthermore, it is actually the right thing to do to support the economy there, an economy that locals will tell you has been devastated in the last few years by a combination of the implosion of Greece, and the bad publicity surrounding the refugee situation. And what's the worst that could happen? That your kids see a bit of reality? So we got over our Western European guilt and headed off to the Family Life Blue Lagoon Village in Kos (pictured above).
Best Holiday Ever is an overused term in our household. As is the question and answer formula "What was your favourite thing about the holiday?" "Everything!" But I think it's fair to say we all loved Kos and we all loved this holiday.
What Thomson's Sensatori and Family Life brands do well is manage the compromise between adults and kids so that everyone gets what they need out of the holiday. And you know, you have to just go with the flow slightly on some things.
The evening entertainment may not be everyone's cup of tea, but the kids were happy and generally headed off down the front, so it meant you could sit back and relax and have a few drinks in the evening. In general these kinds of places actually allow kids a bit of independence. You're not watching them all the time and they can do certain things on their own because you know they're safe enough within the environs of the compound.
Food can sometimes be a compromise in family resorts but it wasn't here. While you might have imagined you'd prefer to be eating at some romantic tavern on a deserted beach, they actually did a fairly good approximation of Greece within the walls. There was a stunning hillside balcony bar where you could sit and watch the sun go down before dinner and while there was a range of choices for meals you could actually eat decent Greek food for all your meals if you wanted. And we mainly did.
I'd forgotten too how much I loved Greek food. Lamb, courgettes and potato were available in many different combinations here so you couldn't go wrong really. They also had an ingenious sticker system to encourage the kids to try things. So at every meal they both tried something new to get their sticker from one of the staff. They gave us rolls of sticker to bring home with us and we have since adopted the system, on a sporadic basis.
We settled into fairly idyllic daytimes. The guy at the coffee bar would have my coffee ready for me as I headed down to the beach for a morning swim. And breakfast was followed by waterslides. The waterslides were down the beach a bit but they'd drive you down in a a little golf buggy, which was obviously high excitement every day.
An hour or two there, followed by more eating, and then the kids would go to the club for a couple of hours while we set up on the beach, getting in and out of the water off the cute little jetty. We even included a new meal in the day. Before we headed up to get ready for the evening, we'd have a nice cold beer at the beach bar while the kids had freshly made savoury crepes.
One important tip when booking an all-inclusive. Make sure there is food available between meals. Because obviously, you're on holidays and you will need about seven meals a day.
I must say, having avoided all-inclusive for a long time, I am slowly coming to terms with it. It takes a lot of the stress out of everything. Breakfast becomes a lot more relaxed when you're not mainly concerned with secreting croissants on your person for later, one of you trying to check there are no staff looking, while one stuffs the croissant-filled napkin in the bag. As if the staff give a damn.
It also encourages you to drink a bit more, as your not worrying about the extortionate prices that resorts sometimes charge for drinks when they have you trapped. Neither was their any trekking to a local supermarket and trying to minimise the clink as you walk in past reception with a backpack full of cheap booze.
We took a few little outings, the nicest being up the mountains to Zia, a now slightly touristy but still really charming hilltop village where you can sit in nice little restaurants and watch the incredible sunset, before perusing what my daughter calls the 'crazy shops'. No holiday is complete until she has had a run at the crazy shops with her little purse of money from Granny.
We even had a few date nights while the kids attended evening events like chocolate parties.
We left knowing that we would be back to Kos and back to the Greek islands. There is a magic there, a magic to the light, to the sea, to the people. It is something you just don't get anywhere else. It might seem odd to use the word unspoilt in conjunction with a resort holiday but it was unspoilt. The resort actually achieved the aim of feeling like a Greek seaside village, but it was a village where everything was geared towards helping you relax. My favourite thing about it? Everything.
Eat like a Greek and opt for their tapas-style of eating, with little dishes called known as mezedakia. Supplement the reliable souvlaki and moussaka with dishes such as chick-pea puree, courgette flowers filled with rice and herbs or salads made with local leaves like chard and dandelion. To be truly Greek, you must have all of it at room temperature, and don’t ask that they heat up your dinner for you.
Sunset at Zia
You think you’ve seen the best of Greek sunsets, but a trip to Zia by evening will make you forget all the rest. At the base of the Dikaios mountains, Zia has plenty of distracting shops selling traditional wares of soap, oil and honey, but don’t let them distract you from getting a good vantage point for the main event. A manageable path leads up to several cafes offering the best views and home-made lemonade.
Old Town Kefalos
Kefalos has the traditional white buildings with blue paintwork of Kos, as well as a lovely central square full of tavernas and relaxed bars. The old town is a great place to retire to after a day at one of the several beaches in its environs, ranging from family-friendly to brilliant for wind-surfing.
Family Life holidays by TUI are designed for every generation, from spacious family-sized rooms and a la carte restaurants to shed-loads of professional entertainment.
With 290km of coastline, Kos has loads of beaches in all shapes and sizes, from golden swathes backed by beach bars, to hidden bays and little-known coves. Inland, whitewashed villages spill down the hillsides and wild flowers blanket the fields.
In terms of low-key resorts, Kefalos combines old and new. At first glance, it’s thoroughly traditional, with its sugar-cube houses, ancient ruins and timeworn windmills. But it’s also home to the purpose-built resort of Kamari, which is bubbling with cafés, bars and restaurants.
If you want to keep things low-key, Psalidi is another good option. There’s little more than a golden sandy beach and a sprinkle of tavernas and shops here.
Book now for summer 2017. Early booking deposit from just €75pp. Free places for kids also available on selected dates.
Prices for Family Life Blue Lagoon Village Deluxe for 7 nights, All Inclusive: Depart Sep 17, 2016, 2+1 from €2,799, 2+2 from €3,659. Depart June 24, 2017, 2+1 from €2,629, 2+2 from €3,579 (prices include free kids’ places).
For more info, see thomsonholidays.ie.
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