Writer Zoe West, and her family of four, venture to the shores of the Aegean Sea in search of a fly and flop beach holiday with a touch of five star glamour
The Sani Resort, Halkidiki, Greece
After many years spent dragging our children around Italian hilltop towns and scenic countryside playing ‘I-spy another olive tree,’ my husband and I decided that Tippi, 6, and Heidi, 5, were at the perfect age to enjoy a good old-fashioned beach holiday - somewhere to stay, relax and not move. And, in the eyes of many other parents I spoke to, there was only one place to do this: the Sani Resort on mainland Greece.
Based on Halkidiki’s pretty Kassandra peninsula, this now legendary resort, sometimes referred to as Greece’s own little Monaco, is vast. With six beaches, 14 restaurants, an ecological reserve stretching 1,000 acres, a luxury marina and elegantly decorated deluxe rooms, junior and VIP suites, there’s nothing old-fashioned about Sani, and it’s most certainly worth bypassing the islands for.
To reach, pretty-much, guaranteed sun, a 3 ½ hour flight from London to Thessaloniki is more than manageable with two young children in tow, and Greece’s second-largest city is well worth a visit if you're looking for a bit of culture. But for us, it was straight to Sani Resort – which couldn’t have been easier.
When you book a stay of five nights or more, Sani organises a free 45-minute transfer from the airport to the resort. No messing about with car rental companies and navigating unknown highways, just straight in to an air-conditioned taxi complete with spacious leather seats and refreshing towels on arrival - just a hint of what was to come…
Sani Asteria Suites
You could certainly be forgiven for thinking you were in another wealthy principality when at Sani. Consisting of four elegant hotels, three beautiful spas, a marina, shopping palazzo, theatre, numerous celebrated restaurants, general stores and a fur coat boutique (of course), it was immediately obvious why people book a transfer from the airport and don't leave – because you don’t have to.
The hotel you choose for your stay depends very much on what you want from your holiday. The extremely family-friendly Porto Sani Village is close to the Marina with fun, interconnecting pools and large suites, including the new three-bed option.
There’s the Sani Beach Club with low-rise luxury bungalows based on a secluded bay with a child-friendly shallow beach, and for those who desire a a quieter stay, there's the Sani Asteria suites (above). These are the most exclusive at the resort. Each villa has a private pool, and guests have access to a private beach.
The Sani Beach Hotel
Finally, there’s the Sani Beach Hotel, where we stayed, with stunning views over the Aegean Sea, sizeable double rooms and junior suites, an infinity pool and fantastic restaurants including the entertaining Poseiden. All four hotels vary, but designed by the same Greek company displaying contemporary seaside colours and copious amounts of marble, the look is cohesive and distinctly Sani.
We stayed in a junior suite with an enormous king-sized bed, and two small ones for Tippi and Heidi. They loved being in the same room as us, and as they were on special 'Greek time,' we'd all go to bed at pretty much the same time anyway.
Sani at first glance can be overwhelming. To reach one end of the resort from another takes a good ten minutes by hotel buggy. Even the 'list' of things you can do takes a whole morning to digest, but it's worth it, because the activities on offer are quite astounding. Sailing or art classes on the beach anyone? There’s also numerous childcare options run by the renowned World Wide Kids Company - the Melissa creche for four months to three years, complimentary sessions at the Melissa mini club for four years upwards, and the Sani Teen club through July and August.
Tippi and Heidi at Bousoulas beach
What we did
Bousoulas beach, near our hotel, benefits from seven glorious kilometres of immaculate pine-fringed sands and crystal waters. And, with an Instagram-worthy beach bar serving proper American hot dogs, pizzas, sorbets and heavenly chocolate ice cream hailed as 'the best ice cream EVER' we soon became regulars. Here at Bousoulas beach our every whim was catered for by the attentive Beach Buddies - they'll even clean your sunglasses.
We made full use of the popular Babe watch, service, too. For half an hour, Sani's experienced staff watch your children for up to 30 minutes free of charge, building sandcastles and playing games with them. Our girls loved this as they could still see us, and we got to read our books uninterrupted for a whole half-hour. Bliss. We also enjoyed hiring bikes from the bike centre and cycling round Sani’s smooth pathways to the Sani Beach Club for shallow waters, sand banks and safe snorkelling. And when the girls tired of swimming and sand, we‘d visit the adventure playground, which does not disappoint. Swings on roundabouts, rope bridges, slides and climbing equipment, all on soft golden sand made this a daily ‘must.’
The adventure playground
With so many things to do, my advice would be to speak to a Sani member of staff early on. There's tennis camps, football academies, cookery classes, art classes, yoga classes for adults, a kid's sailing academy and a Little Explorers nature club which journeys through the resorts wetlands, home to 214 species of birds. And that's not all. With an open air cinema, six Canada clay tennis courts and fun pedalos with slides on, you could spend three weeks here and still not have done half of what there is to do. Maybe that’s why so many people return year after year.
As the night falls, the Sani Marina is a lovely place to take an evening walk. Not only can you marvel at the yachts and sailing boats, there's a stunning sunset and romantic sparkling lights on the gentle lapping waters to gaze at, and if you ask the restaurants for some bread, feeding the fish is a lovely way to end a full family day.
The ice cream was a winner
What we ate
A clear advantage of staying at a large resort is the amount of food on offer. Sani runs what is called a 'dine-around' programme, meaning whatever site you’re based at, you can eat at any of Sani's 14 restaurants. You may want to book up your first couple of nights before you arrive though as tables get reserved quick.
From the a la carte menu created by a two Michelin-starred chef at the Water restaurant to the Mediterranean Tomata with fantastic wines, and traditional Greek country tavernas, there are options for everyone, with kids’ menus at each one.
Eating at the nearby Bousoulas bar for lunch was easy for us, but for dinner, our favourite restaurant was on the other side of the resort - the Ouzerie. Here we could enjoy a traditional Greek dinner, and even though there was a kid’s menu, Tippi loved the grown-up grilled meat skewers, which they would adapt for her. Heidi is very much a pasta kind of girl, which was readily available at most of the restaurants. With a grass verge outside Ouzerie, the girls had somewhere to play with other children, while we finished our meal in peace.
Post-dinner, a magic show and mini disco takes place around the Sani Beach Club hotel swimming pool, where all the children can meet and have fun as the sun sets.
The Sani Beach Club hotel swimming pool
Sani feels like a 'stylish hug'. The resort is safe and you always feel like you’re in good hands. Nothing is too much of a problem, and whilst the resort is vast, it in no way feels impersonal. Even when Heidi lost her hat, I was presented with it the next morning at breakfast, having not even enquired after it. They had seen her name and knew exactly who the hat belonged to.
And, apart from the obvious pretty surroundings, stylish furnishings, and exquisite restaurants, there's so much more. You could be visiting the Sani Gourmet or Art festival whilst your children have fun at the academies, treating yourself at one of the three elegant spas, or dining at Byblos - the only caviar-dedicated restaurant in Greece. If you do want to use the babysitting services for an evening, this is the place to do it as it’s one of the few child-free zones at the resort.
Sani is the kind of place you’ll go back to time and time again as a family, not just because of the inspiring surroundings, excellent service and 'those sunsets,' but because your children grow with the resort. Whatever their age, there will always be something they can look forward to trying 'next year.'
Sovereign (01293 731 566 has a seven-night luxury holiday to the five star Sani Beach Hotel, in Halkidiki, on a Half Board basis, from £765 per person. This price includes a complimentary Half Board upgrade and Sovereign customers also benefit from access to UK airport lounges where available, private airport transfers, and return international flights from London Gatwick with British Airways included in the package. Prices based on departures on 27 September 2015, check websites for latest offers.
A junior suite
A Sani scooter!
The Sani spa
Sani bike centre
The sun sets over Sani