Sandra knows us well now, so finding a summer family holiday to meet our needs was a challenge. We don’t like too much heat and we like to have something to do beyond beach and pool, but at the same time, we wanted a relaxing break after our China adventure last year.
Greece was suggested as somewhere we had not been before, and Halkidiki recommended as far enough north to be a similar temperature in August to other Mediterranean destinations we had ‘survived’. Sandra found that the Ikos hotel group was opening a new all-inclusive resort called the Olivia in May 2015. As this is our daughter’s name, the omens were good and we booked in February.
We stayed at the Ikos Olivia as a family of 4 (with a son of 16 and daughter of 12) for ten days at the beginning of August 2015 in a one-bedroom bungalow suite directly overlooking the beach. This was about the best non-‘deluxe’ accommodation on site, thanks to Sandra’s persistence in making a request of the hotel who she had booked with direct.
The room had a well-proportioned main bedroom with ample storage, a ‘living’ room with sofa bed and separate pullout bed which made it comfortable enough (and much cheaper than paying for a separate second bedroom). Being on the first floor, we had a generous outdoor terrace with sun-loungers and armchairs to seat 6. The bathroom was a good size and well appointed although other Trip Advisor reviews mention that for the quality of hotel and size of rooms, a separate shower and bath would have been expected. The room also had a mini-bar which was restocked every morning, a Nespresso machine and kettle with teas etc, and a small table and chairs if eating in-room. We didn’t use the TVs although there were limited international channels and a DVD player (with a library of films to borrow from reception).
Olivia is a sizeable resort, combining a refurbished hotel (which looks as though it’s been stripped back to shell and rebuilt from Google Streetview) and a range of one and two storey bungalow suites spread across a 23 acre site with olives, palms and acacias. It only opened in May but is working smoothly already. The grounds are immaculate and groomed daily by a team of gardeners. There are five excellent restaurants (Mediterranean, Greek, French, Italian and Asian) to choose from. Three offer breakfast and lunch including the buffet style ‘Flavors’ which was conveniently next to our accommodation, whilst 4 also provide a la carte service in the evenings. We ate at each and found them of a very high standard with menus designed by Michelin star chefs and well executed. There is a deluxe collection with its own pool and a number of private pools with individual suites. There is an air of exclusivity, even to the extent that part of the beach is managed just for the deluxe customers, but there wasn’t a sense of them and us amongst the clientele. We didn’t spend much time in the hotel building, which easily accommodated circa 150 rooms, so there were almost three ‘communities’ of residents, totalling we heard 800 people.
The pool areas and beach/water sports facilities are fantastic, with well spaced sunloungers, all amply shaded by large umbrellas. There is regular waiter-service around both pool and on beach, plus a swim-up bar in the one of the pools.
There is a good programme of activities including evening entertainment, sports and watersports. We hired bikes (which are reasonable quality MTBs), played tennis and the only extra cost was for an aqua-inflatable ride. Free pedaloes are available but most active watersports involved additional cost. Having said that, pretty much everything else was included. All drinks and food were “free” which made it very tempting to indulge in too much of both, but the ability to have a cocktail mid-afternoon, or have a glass of sparkling wine, then wine with a meal, and finish off with a dessert wine without having to have a full bottle between two was excellent. The children maxed out on milkshakes, cola and fruit juices.
The staff were exceptional – well trained and extremely positive. Nothing was too much trouble and there was a real sense of wanting the Olivia to get a good reputation quickly. It will get lots of positive recommendations on the strength of our experience.
It is only when leaving the resort and finding the surrounding area of Gerakini somewhat rundown that you realise what a luxury bubble Ikos Olivia exists in. That’s the benefit and downside of an all-inclusive holiday where literally nothing is left to chance. It’s exclusive but all too easy to forget you are actually in Greece. We took a day trip to Mount Athos which was worthwhile. Friendly people surviving in difficult economic circumstances. The area relies heavily on tourism (it was interesting to speak to the transfer driver on the way to the airport about the differences between Athens and Thessaloniki).
Ikos runs 3 other resorts in the area and has found a recipe for success. From what we hear, Olivia will be priced higher next year having offered discounted rates this year to build a reputation and following. Get in quick before it becomes even more exclusive!
Our Room Tip: Stay in one of the Beachfront suites (there are about 16 which are not in the deluxe collection)