Ikos Olivia, Halkidiki, Greece
The last time I went to an all-inclusive hotel, I was 17. I had to wear a luminous orange wrist-band for the week and dance the conga around the pool. I’ve never booked one since. But word has it that things have changed. Over the past couple of years, the all-inclusive concept has been given a makeover and gone are the second-rate buffets and shouty reps and instead in are high-end dining and butler service.
New opening Ikos Olivia in Halkidiki, Greece, has gone one step further and has ditched the all-inclusive tag for a more appealing ‘pre-paid luxury’ concept. Holidaying with a family is an expensive thing, so the actual idea of paying for everything in advance without endless shelling out for ice-creams and drinks is actually a very practical one, so with family in tow, I was curious to see what the new all-inclusive was all about.
The hotel, located in northern Greece, has taken the best of boutique styling – think pretty bedside chandeliers, smart navy-blue velvet headboards, crisp bedlinens – and combined it with a fine-dining concept to offer a stylish take on the all-inclusive. While the rooms in the main resort boast a chic design ethos, those after something extra-special should book the Deluxe Collection, a private area of the hotel where you’ll find contemporary, stand-alone bungalows with their own plunge pools – stunning and very top-end.
The highlight, overall however, is the cuisine, which is of gastronomic standards across all restaurants with most having Michelin-starred chefs at the helm. There are quite a few to choose from, including Ouzo for Greek food, Fusco for Italian, Anaya which is Asian, Provence for French. Each restaurant has their own individual style and décor so you really feel you are eating out in a different restaurant each night – rather than just a different corner of the resort. Anaya is sophisticated with grey rattan furniture, oversized urns, Buddha heads and a shimmering colour palette. Here food is a fusion of Indian meets Chinese – with some truly stand-out dishes. Provence is French fine-dining at its best and Ouzo is a laid-back, summery eaterie with a wide range of locally-inspired dishes. Best of all is Fusco, which has its own ‘charcuturie’ at which you help yourself to cured meats, cheeses, pickles and olives on hand-carved wooden platters. Back at your table you are served a plate of ‘nibbles’ – small arnacini, zucchini fritti – and offered a glass of cold prosecco or champagne while you peruse the menu – risottos, home-made pastas and fresh-fish dishes are to die for.
In fact, the restaurants are so impressive that we kept forgetting that we didn’t have to ask for the bill at the end of each meal. Excellent wine lists, amuse-bouche, freshly-baked breads elevate each offering further. In addition to these, there is an excellent room service and a dine out option (where you can be taken to a local restaurant), as well as the open-all-day Flavors, which, while it is a Mediterranean buffet style, it is a very good one – with endless choices of hot and cold dishes and fresh, inventive salads (all different each time).
Attention to detail is second-to-none throughout the resort – Anne Semonin amenities in the rooms, a glass of bubbly while you check-in – give it a feeling of a luxury resort. While lazing on your lounger next to one of pools is always an inviting option, there is plenty to keep you and the little ones busy, if you so wish. The hotel also has a private beach with a host of watersports on offer (also included in the pre-paid fee): from kayaking to diving, pedalo-boating to windsurfing. Factor in the mini theatre (with nightly shows, musicians or film nights), sports facilities and four swimming pools and you’ll find yourself spoilt for choice. The Anne Semonin Spa is another highlight – and while treatments are extra – it makes for a lovely escape for a while.
The hotel is set in 22 acres of manicured lawns, tropical flowers and olive trees, with the inviting view of the turquoise waters of the Aegean on the horizon, so while it is a perfect offering for families, you never feel on top of anyone. Furthermore, its ‘Beach Life’ concept aims to balance the convenience and affordability of an all-inclusive with a touch of indulgence, so guests can take advantage of an all-day waiter, childcare services and bespoke beachfront dining– all while enjoying the sun’s rays on their very own tranquil, private beach.
Ikos Olivia’s aim is to offer a balance between the security of a traditional all-inclusive and the freedom of a bespoke holiday and it has managed it brilliantly, all without a wristband in sight!