WHO WENT Nicola Kelly, 43, partner, Mark, 42, and their children Scarlet, 6, and Lucas, 4
WHERE WE WENT MarBella Corfu Hotel, a luxury, five star resort in Agios Ioannis Peristeron, a wonderfully laid-back beachside community on the island’s stunning east coast
Did you know… The MarBella Corfu Hotel was Shortlisted for Best European Family hotel in the Junior Design Awards 2013
The Greek Islands have a very special place in Mark’s and my heart – the last time we visited were in the early days of our courtship where the glorious, uninterrupted sunshine, gently lapping azure-blue waters, swaying cypress trees and genial pace of life left a lasting impression. Nearly two decades and two children later, and suffice to say we are not the young, carefree couple we once were (what Mark has lost in hair, I have made up for in girth, while we both now have our fair share of busyness and stress). So the prospect of returning to this idyllic land of the Gods, and all the memories it evokes, was certainly putting a spring in our step, and sensing our enthusiasm, Scarlet and Lucas were growing ever more excited too. Our Gatwick to Corfu flight on Easy Jet thankfully passed without incident, and although only a little over three hours in duration, the two hour time difference meant we didn’t touch down until just gone 10pm. A sleepy Lucas nodded off on our 20-minute transfer to the resort, but Scarlet was determined to stay awake to see our abode for the next seven days. First impressions did not disappointment with a sweeping driveway through lush, lovingly tended gardens leading up to the MarBella’s main reception, all lit up in the balmy Mediterranean night by hundreds of twinkly fairy lights.
The MarBella could not be described as a small hotel. In fact it is vast, offering 384 guest rooms of various types and styles, half a dozen restaurants (again with differing themes and ambience), numerous bars, a handful of pools, a kids club, on site gym and spa, plus its very own private strip of beach, all set over 100 hectares. Of course it was impossible to ascertain its huge size in the darkness, but we were pleasantly surprised the following morning to see that its clever architecture, with the hotel embedded into the hillside, means that it never feels as big as it actually is, while the incredible views miles out to sea ensures that your focus is largely otherwise engaged. That said, however, our journey to our room that evening, guided by the friendly, chatty manager, did feel somewhat labyrinthine as we travelled through corridors, across terraces and down stairs (while the porters had taken our bags ahead of us, poor Mark still had to contend with the hefty bundle that is a fast asleep Lucas) before finally coming to our superior family sea view room. All fatigue from our travels quickly evaporated, however, when we saw the delightful and plentiful space we found ourselves in. The MarBella recently completed a multi million Euro, four-year refurbishment programme, eliminating all signs of its 70s incarnation, with everything now white, bright, modern and new. This was certainly evidenced in our room, which could not be faulted – combining luxury with comfort and practicality (we particularly like the sliding door separating the children’s sleeping section). What’s more, the staff had thoughtfully laid out a light supper for us, assuming, quite rightly, that we might be hungry after our journey.
The next morning we awoke well rested - our double bed was massive and beyond comfy, while the children had slept like logs - and excited to see the MarBella in the clear light of day (and very clear it was too, with not a cloud in sight). First however it was breakfast, with Lucas complaining of being starving after missing out on the previous night's unexpected feast. After a bountiful buffet offering that included a live cooking bar serving up freshly made omelettes, pancakes and waffles, we were ready for our recce. The property’s location is stunningly picturesque, set between forested hills, olives groves and the Ionian sea that glistened temptingly in the early morning sunshine. Wandering between levels, checking out the various bars, restaurants and swimming pools, Scarlet and Lucas were especially taken with the children’s water park pool and insisted that Mark go back to the room to get their costumes so they could have a quick dip. Reclining on sun loungers as the children splashed about and played, we couldn’t help but smile at our good fortune. A little later, we took the tunnel that goes underneath the main coastal road to access the Natura beach, a private, Blue Flag slice of white sandy heaven, complete with complimentary loungers, towels and an open air restaurant that we soon discovered was the ideal lunchtime spot. The food , whether taken by the sea, or back at one of the hotel’s many eateries, was always fresh, local and of an impeccable standard. Particular favourites were the saganaki (fried Greek cheese), calamari and, of course, the classic Greek salad and moussaka. Scarlet and Lucas’ love of all things pasta-related was amply catered for too.
WHAT WE DID
Our first day pretty much set the template for the rest of our stay – breakfast, pool, beach, lunch, beach, back to the room for a freshen up and then dinner. The children interspersed the routine with visits to the kid’s club, which they both thoroughly enjoyed as it engaged them in various artistic endeavours that they would proudly show off on their return. Corfu is a big and very beautiful island, however, and it would have been rude not to have explored it beyond the immediate vicinity of MarBella, which is why we booked ourselves on a boat trip half way through our stay. A fantastic five-hour affair that took us to wonderfully secluded coves and large stretches of deserted beaches, the boat also dropped anchor on the nearby islands of Parga and Paxos, which both proved to be gems in their own right. All too quickly our week passed in a blissful, sunshine-infused mix of swimming, sandcastle building, eating and relaxing. On our final day we decided to throw in a bit of sightseeing, too, by taking the bus to the island’s capital, Corfu Town. A charming, bustling, cosmopolitan place full of grand palaces, palm-fringed squares, several forts and an Old Town complete with narrow, winding alleyways, we were immediately captivated. After a bit of wandering, a spot of souvenir shopping and an early evening meal in a lovely little taverna, we headed back for the night in preparation for our early start home the following morning. It had been a wonderful week that had revived Mark’s and my love for all things Greek and found new devotees in our gorgeous, sun-kissed children.
Classic Collection Holidays (0800 294 9315, classic-collection.co.uk) offers seven nights at MarBella Corfu from £1899. Price based on a family of 2 adults and 2 pre-school children sharing a family room on a half board basis (all inclusive costs an additional £700) and includes return flights from London Gatwick (other UK departure airports available) to Corfu and private transfers.