AS our driver chatted away on the 50-minute journey to the hotel from Thessaloniki airport, I looked out at the Halkidiki landscape for the first time in 32 years.
Memories flooded back — the olive grove where I crashed a moped, the village that banned us for playing the Rolling Stones too loud at 1am, the apartment block where I woke up with an eyebrow missing.
I hadn’t returned to this three-fingered peninsula in northern Greece since a trip as an excitable 16-year-old with two schoolmates in 1986.
It was my first holiday without my parents and I hadn’t dared show my face here again, having convinced myself someone might recognise me and charge me for the appalling mess we left in our rented apartment.
Now a father myself, I was recalling my teenage adventures to my long-suffering partner and our 11-year-old son as we arrived at Ikos Olivia, our base for the next week.
Thankfully, a wonderful lady called Maria rescued them with a beaming smile and offered us all a welcome drink.
Olivia, one of four Ikos properties in Greece, was named the world’s best all-inclusive resort in Trip Advisor’s 2018 Travellers’ Choice Awards.
It is a beautiful, landscaped, 22-acre paradise including 142 bedrooms and suites, 149 bungalows, four main pool areas, kids’ clubs and 450 metres of private beach with waiter service.
We were new to the all-inclusive concept and expected to find endless hidden extras in the small print.
But after Maria explained how everything works — ie. you want something, they bring it — I realised I could safely allow my family to abuse the 24-hour room service without forcing me to remortgage the house.
Candle-lit dinner on the beach
All meals, drinks, entertainment and kids’ clubs were included, as were sports like tennis, mountain- biking and non-motorised water activities such as pedalos and kayaks.
The only significant extras were motorised watersports and spa treatments.
In 1986, my holiday diet consisted largely of pitta bread and tins of tuna but this time we could enjoy five restaurants, 300 wines and complimentary mini-bar with branded spirits.
We had been allocated a bungalow in the Deluxe section, which has its own exclusive pool and quiet beach.
If we didn’t fancy the 15-second walk to that area, we had our own private pool in our garden. Our son had already jumped in as Maria cracked open a bottle of champagne and showed us around.
The heavens opened that afternoon so we stayed in, ordering room service — although the indoor pool in the spa area, normally adults-only, was opened up to children.
By evening, the sky was clear and we ventured to the main restaurant, Flavors, a Mediterranean buffet with dozens of choices including Greek specialities.
There are four à-la-carte restaurants, too, and we tried them all over the next few days. Choose from Greek, Italian, Asian or French. All were excellent but our favourite was Ouzo, the Greek place.
There is also the option of eating outside the resort at nearby tavernas at no extra charge, a nice touch to support local businesses.
There’s so much to do on-site, we almost forgot to explore beyond Olivia’s walls.
But one day we hired a car and drove 30 minutes west to Sani, a sister property of Ikos. It is a sprawling five-star resort with numerous hotels, restaurants and high-end shops.
Other local attractions include the cave of Petralona, pretty Afytos village, Vourvourou’s beaches and the monastery at Mount Athos — although you’re not allowed within 500 metres if you’re female!
GETTING/STAYING THERE: Seven nights’ all-inclusive at the Ikos Olivia is from £687pp, based on two adults and two children under 12 sharing a panoramic sea-view junior suite.
The price includes return flights from Gatwick on selected dates in October and private transfers.
To book, call Luxury Worldwide Collection on 0333 455 1547 or visit lwcholidays.com.
On our last night we were treated to a candle-lit dinner on the beach, where we kicked off our shoes and relaxed at a table a few feet from the lapping waves of the Aegean.
If you want to treat your family to a luxurious beach break where the kids are well catered for while you enjoy great food in the most relaxing environment imaginable, Ikos Olivia is for you.
But if you’re a naughty 16-year-old looking for all-night mayhem, please don’t impose yourself on the good people of Halkidiki. They’ve only just forgiven me.
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