I had vague memories of sandy, baking hot campsites in the South of France growing up where you’d have nothing but a deflated football for entertainment. They were good days and while there wasn’t much in terms of polish (or even Coca Cola; disappointing to a five-year-old), it was somewhere to cut loose from all the pressures of learning the alphabet and wondering how Old McDonald kept on top of everything.
So when I heard of the family-friendly Sani Resort, an hour south of Thessaloniki in Greece, I was a little skeptical. Even though the recommendation came through my mate Jane in Amsterdam (70% of their bookings are repeat business), I wasn’t sure it would have the same Great Escape vibes as those shoddy campsites.
Sure, they’d have all the gear. And when I say gear, you guys know what I’m talking about – travel cots, high chairs, inflatables, plastic beakers, multi-hued straws that need to be presented for colour selection at every meal. (Lord forbid the resort runs out of the much-coveted green ones). Oh and staff that actually speak to the kids instead of dismissing them as toe rags. All this Sani has in abundance. But might a dedicated resort with it’s own marina have a little too much ‘don’t touch this kids’ to it?
After the seamless three-hour flight, we landed at what has been referred to as family mecca. My initial feeling was it’s more parent-friendly than anything – the kids are fully catered for but there’s a distinct Ibiza cool vibe to the whole place with the infinity pool overlooking Bousoulas Beach and the wicker chairs dotted about the place.
While I was doing a weekend recce alone and sans enfant (it felt like a blimmin’ sabbatical), I was scouting it out for a longer jaunt with the full fam – granny and granndad included for that handy extra pair of eyes/hands. But to be honest I barely got beyond the sun loungers. An often overlooked item at any hotel or resort, these aren’t your average limp sponge-swathed rickety structures that everyone’s elbowing for. We’re talking rows of flumpy cloud-like pillowy beds that’ll have you snoozing well into sunburn territory.
While the main pool is packed with offspring of the well-heeled parents dotted about the loungers, it’s not overwhelming or elitist. Noone is packed in like a frazzled sardine and even the piercing screams of a newborn get swallowed into the ripple of a nearby water feature.
So, yes, parent-friendly is where it’s at. That’s not to say the kids aren’t all right. With a dedicated on-site crèche rammed with the newest toys on the block, the staff greet us with genuine coat hanger smiles and the kids look like they’re having a ball. Its handily located next to the luxe spa, so mama and baby can have a little mini break. There was a sign on the nearby beach to the spa that read “Fancy a bit of sun and sex? We’ll look after the kids for 30 minutes.” I thought that was bold but brilliant facility until I was told the chalkboard said ‘sea not sex’. “Ah, fancy a bit of sun and sea?”
(They should probably consider the former as a legitimate part of the package, though.)
The marina is very much the heart of Sani life with a whopping 17 restaurants and bars that won’t leave you wishing you had a Swiss bank account or getting bored of the same fare. Traditional Greek restaurant Ergon serves up meze dishes such as Ntolmadakia vine leaves in herbs, fava beans purée with cured pork with caramelised onions and chicken souvlaki in yoghurt and cumin on Cretan wild rice. Despite my reservations about resort restaurants and Greek food itself, it was top notch fodder and I left fully sated, although resembling a jacket potato. Must learn my limits.
The aptly-named Macaroni Italian restaurant, and highly rated Tomata tends to be where families radiate but because of the vast space it doesn’t feel like you’re involved in every toddler tantrum – this is a resort that’s been constructed around parental calm. In short, they understand the stuff that drives families apart in a cramped Pizza gaf at an M25 service station.
Perhaps the best spot for a room with some phew is Porto Sani (known as the ‘well-being’ hotel due to its Zen-like Spa Suite). Rooms are in garden and junior suites that line the pools, all swathed in pink fuchsia bougainvillea and shaded by lush palms that make Greece seem more exotic than it perhaps is.
Some of the junior suites have enough room to accommodate two small children on sofa beds in the lounge, which makes a bit of a cash saving. There’s all the usual trimmings you’d expect from this sort of place – Nespresso machines, Bose iPod deck and Anne Semonin products in the bathroom.
But polish aside and regardless of how parent-friendly the whole resort is, it’s all about the kids. If the kids are happy, the parents can ease into those pillowy sun loungers with gusto and start ordering the crudites and negronis. With heated pools, a balmy 25 degrees and beaches galore for sand castle constructing, there was a sense of kids being able to fully run riot – regardless of the staff wafting about in immaculate white uniforms.
While it’s not a ramshackle, dusty campsite with a deflated neon football for entertainment, one kid galloping past me, knocking me sideways with his younger brother in tow hollered, ‘race you to the big blue yacht’. More polished, yes, but they also serve Coca Cola so perhaps I’ve grown up?