Our Editor Liz has just returned from a week-long family break to Greece with her husband, Jon and their 3-year-old daughter, Saphie.
I’m a big fan of easy family holidays – we normally only choose places we can fly to from Bristol in a couple of hours, and prefer somewhere we can self-cater. However, the photos of the insanely beautiful Chalkidiki peninsula (on the Greek mainland) tempted us to cast off our shackles, drive to Gatwick and fly to Macedonia (4 hours) to try out a couple of self-proclaimed family-friendly hotels there. Edgy, I know.
First up was a newbie for i-escape: Eagles Palace. This contemporary-cool beach resort is right on a golden stretch of sand, lapped by shallow, warm waters. This was the view from our bedroom, and even in April it was warm enough for proper sunbathing (me) and sand-castling/paddling (my husband Jon, and daughter, Saphie, aged 3). So far, a win.
Bigger than most i-escape hotels, with over 150 rooms, I thought it might feel crowded or impersonal – but I was totally wrong. Thanks to oodles of communal space and a tranquil vibe, it actually felt incredibly relaxed throughout, and staff were amazing – everything was done with big smiles, and they constantly surprised us with sweet little gestures. Design-wise, the décor is seaside-inspired: whitewashed walls, lots of wood, tiki loungers on the beach, and dashes of aquamarine, teal and mustard in the rooms.
But it was the family-friendly angle that really impressed us – and made our holiday so easy. For little kids, there’s a lovely shaded playground, and buckets and spades to borrow. The main pool and toddler splash pool are heated, and there’s a choice of restaurants, including Melathron, which offers European buffet fare for half-board stays, and Vinum, serving Italian food. If you want some adult time (and we’d recommend it; there are watersports, a gourmet restaurant and an Elemis spa), the superlative childcare on offer is a game changer. There’s an excellent indoor littlies’ club, staffed by Scott Dunn, with games, toys, arts and crafts; a sheltered garden area and playhouse combo for older kids, plus an Aqua Explorers’ Club with daily watersports classes. Everyone’s happy.
We stayed in a beautiful Junior Suite Sea Front, which was open-plan but had the benefit of a large covered balcony, meaning we had somewhere to sit in the evenings while our daughter slept, plus somewhere cool for her to play in the heat of the day. There are other good options for families, too, including 2-room Family Suites.
It says it all that when we left, Saphie cried and said, “I want to live here.”
On the next peninsula along lay Ekies All Senses Resort, one of our best-selling hotels and somewhere I’d always wanted to visit. Its biggest wow factor is the design, with iconic furnishings (Acapulco and Panton chairs, oversized light bulbs, parasols that resemble lampshades) and 69 unique rooms and suites. But whereas these sort of credentials would normally fill me with toddler-related fear (breakages! Jammy handprints!), what’s refreshing – and amazing – about this hotel is that there’s no sense of pretension or ‘look but don’t touch’. Everything is beautiful, but lots of the design elements are playful and the vibe is relaxed and friendly; it’s a place to re-boot from the pressures of modern life and just chill with your family.
We lazed with cocktails on sofas in the Ibiza-style seaview lounge, while Saphie happily coloured in and ate ice cream; then we spotted boats and buoys from beachside loungers, and paddled with silvery fish in the super-shallow waters. There’s a kids’ club for 5+ year-olds run by Scott Dunn (a watersports programme including sailing and kayaking; a creative programme including craft, theatre and gymnastics), and those with littlies can play in the playground and splash in the pool.
But it’s the food we’ll remember most. Ekies’ waterfront restaurant, Bubo, has a stunning gourmet menu of seafood and traditional Greek dishes. We were blown away by delicate seabass with zucchini textures (including a lattice, a foam and a tiny macaron); slow-cooked Iberico pork with kale and black garlic; wheat risotto with monkfish cheeks and salami, and a flexi chocolate with Maldon salt and a red pumpkin sorbet. Scared your kids won’t eat that? Nor would ours! Saphie is the queen of fussy eaters, but even she was happy with the excellent kids’ menu, including a tomato and Greek-cheese pasta, fish and chips and more.
We also spent a night in Thessaloniki, an interesting, energetic city with a lovely waterfront to stroll along. The Excelsior hotel is one of the city’s finest: beautifully reclaimed from a 1920s-era building, with elegant rooms and a buzzy bistro/bar. Whilst it’s not aimed at families, they are warmly welcomed, and kids will adore the enormous breakfast buffet with its traditional Greek produce (cheese pastries, honey on homemade bread, sweet cream filo pies).
So is Macedonia worth the extra effort in journey time? For hotels like these, and beaches like this, 100%.
Liz’s friends dubbed her ‘The Holiday Queen’ after she took a gap year following school, 2 gap years after university, and filled all available holidays in-between with global back-packing jaunts. She’s travelled extensively in 6 continents, and would love to go to Antarctica but can’t stand being cold. Nowadays she escapes with her husband Jon, and small daughter, Saphie, who views holidays as unlimited ice cream opportunities.