Imagine strolling along a quiet starlit beach, safe in the knowledge that your children were happily enjoying some funtime.
Picture lunches by the pool, with those children telling you all about their morning’s adventures: splashing in the water, sketching seaside characters, sailing and windsurfing (and that’s even the three year olds…).
And dinners under clear skies, with a feast of international and local dishes: sea bream grilled to perfection, flavoursome paella, fresh feta salads, melt-in-the-mouth mezze…..
Think of a holiday where you could escape with your partner for some treasured adult time: cycling along the shore, diving to the bottom of the sea, or just lounging in the sun, with a good book in your hand and a cerulean pool lapping at your feet.
Too good to be true? In this case, you should believe the blurb. Our holiday at the Mark Warner Levante Beach Resort, Rhodes, was all this, and more.
I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life”
Henry David Thoreau
(Ok, ok, I know it wasn’t the woods….but we really did suck delight from our time at Levante…)
When I found out, last December, that I’d won a trip to Levante, I was blown away. A holiday, as a prize for writing this post about Mumsnet Blogfest? I’d hit a sun-drenched jackpot.
I’d never holidayed on a beach resort before. Would D and I have the freedom we wanted? Could a resort package provide us with the excitement that comes with independent travel (which is what we’d been used to, in our pre-children days)?
The answer was a resounding ‘yes’.
And – as the writer Rachael Lucas had predicted, in our Twitter exchange before I left – as well as taking every last bit of enjoyment from each tiny moment, D and I were able to have our “first rest in forever”.
So how did Mark Warner manage to convert us seasoned independent travellers into resort-lovers? For us, there were a few selling points.
I’m a stay-at-home Mum, and our two children (four and two) haven’t been used to much in the way of childcare. But I do know that, if the children aren’t happy, then the whole family ends up miserable. No amount of sunshine and blue skies can make up for having to drag fed-up kids around for a week. Mark Warner took care of this. Their service was, in our view, second to none.
Austin’s Mini Club was full of adventure. His key worker, Maz, gave her all in helping the 3-5 years olds enjoy a wide range of Mark Warner activities. As well as watersports, the children took introductory tennis lessons, poolside picnics, and crafty sessions in a delightfully cool Club house.
Little Gwen was nurtured in the Toddler Club (for 1-2 year-olds). Although she took a while to adjust to being without Mum or Dad every morning, she built up a strong bond with Charlotte, who was by her side through pool splashing, hole-digging on the beach, crown-making, and triking sessions at the resort’s playground.
This all allowed D and me to spend some quality daytime hours together (from 9am till 12.30, for 6 days of our stay – unheard of in our normal lives. The best we usually get is an evening at a local restaurant, where we’re both so shattered we can’t do much more than grunt at each other). And the evening creche, running from 7.30 till 11pm, gave the kids a chance to unwind with little friends in front of a TV show and film, while Mum and Dad dined under the stars, at one of the resort eateries: La Taverna, the Amalthia Restaurant, or pan-Asian Annora.
The same childcare staff looked after the youngsters in the evening as well as the day, so there were familiar faces at bedtime. And the nannies were sensitive to the needs of each child: our little Gwen, who rarely gets put to bed by anyone other than us, was upset in the creche on a couple of evenings. Maz came to find us in the Amalthia Restaurant to let us know, and find out whether we wanted to collect her (we did, but Austin insisted on staying. We practically had to drag him away from all of the children’s activities). And – a lovely touch here – the maitre d’ of the restaurant, Mika, even arranged for a waiter to carry our (very heavy) plates of food and wine to our balcony, so we could continue dining after putting Gwen in her hotel room bed.
Mark Warner holidays are renowned for their tennis facilities, so D – a keen player, but whose serves have become a bit wonky from lack of practice – was in his element. He was able to get back some of his old form with the help of some one-to-one coaching from tennis pro Charlie.
The standard among a lot of the Mark Warner guests was high (one of the other guests during our week was the brother of a former British number one player). I’m pretty rubbish at the sport, but the tennis was set up to make it easy to find players of a similar level to yourself. And the ‘social tennis’ was aptly named: D and I made friends with a fair number of people on the courts.
I felt comfortable enough to play the games set up for beginners at the Tennis Festival, and the sociability of the game was so enjoyable, that I’ve signed up for a local beginners’ class, to hone my skills in time for next Summer’s season….
Perhaps by the time Summer comes around again, our whole family will be able to hit some serves together, on a court under the sun.
The Levante waterfront, overseen by industrious Pedro, was bustling with activity. You could choose whether to traverse the waves by sailing, windsurfing, kayaking, waterskiing or wakeboarding.
And – not to be forgotten – there was also a huge inflatable green and yellow sofa, dragged along by a speedboat, which some of our new holiday friends told us was just like a fairground ride, only bouncier.
D and I signed up for the resort’s introductory sailing session. We spent two relaxing hours in a Pico together, tacking backwards and forwards across the sparkling bay, and sailed upwind towards the gauzy green hills at the edge of Afandou.
For me, it was almost effortless: under the serene sky of the Greek morning, I found out something new about my partner. He already knows how to sail (and windsurf). After nearly capsizing our boat, I decided to turn down the offer of swapping into the instructor’s vessel for some one-to-one tuition. It was more fun to sit back and let D take control of the rudder, listen to his tales about childhood sailing on Scottish lochs, and find out something unexpected about this man I’ve known since we were nineteen.
Anyone who says romance dies when you have kids, needs to hop onto a BA flight and get their butts over to Levante.
Scuba and Cycling
The most thrilling part of the trip for me, was scuba diving, under the watchful guidance of In-Depth diving instructor Dan. His career stemmed all the way back from early diving days, as a novice 14-year-old learning his skills in murky Peterborough pools.
We drove out to a cove with a shallow bay; flubbered our way down the beach in our wetsuits; and took a short tour of the 6-metre-deep bed. At one point Dan led us to the edge of a sheer cliff, where the sea floor dropped dramatically down to 30 metres (is it possible to get vertigo under water? I know I certainly did…..)
Although the Med is the most over-fished sea in the world, we still managed to see a fair amount of marine life, including a sea cucumber, which Dan passed me to hold (they’re quite soft and delicate-feeling. Whoever knew?). I shared the dive with a father and his 12-year-old daughter, whose first sea excursion it was. The beams on all our faces on the drive back to the resort were bright enough to dazzle the oncoming traffic.
D and I also cycled. One morning we took out a couple of mountain bikes, to explore the area around Levante. We biked along with the sound of cicadas belting out from the undergrowth; coasted past olive trees, and emerged onto a coastal path, which took us along a pretty much deserted stretch of the beach.
The area around the resort was beautiful, and it left us aching to see more of this intriguing island.
We managed to cram an awful lot in to our week at Levante, but somehow it all felt blissfully easy. Our accommodation – we were given a family suite, with two interconnecting rooms – was comfortable, and kept immaculately clean by dedicated hotel staff (who even made a special out-of-hours trip back one evening, because the children had been napping when they did their rounds).
Attentive staff in the restaurants kept us well-fed and happy. And, even though the food was so delicious that we ate about three times as much as we normally do – and despite the fact that we seemed to do loads of lounging by the pool – we managed to avoid piling on the pounds. Exercise just seemed to happen effortlessly on the resort.
As well as all the tennis, diving, cycling and sailing, the glistening pools were so inviting, and the sea so cool, that we spent hours just messing about in the water, making happy family memories.
I spent a couple of hours in Levante’s air-conditioned gym, and took a few exercise classes with the dulcet-toned fitness instructor Hannah: aqua aerobics, sunrise stretch, and a delectable yoga-style stretch on the beach. D played regular 5-a-side-football sessions with a team assembled by Rich, whose sprightly commitment to the beautiful game caused him to pull a tendon on the last evening of our stay.
And it was this commitment – shown by all the staff we met – which helped turn our Mark Warner holiday into such a comfortably exciting experience. We were welcomed and looked after by a large team of British and Greek professionals, all glowing with bronzed health and looking as though they were delighted to be there, working in such a fine resort.
And who could blame them? I’m itching to go back.
Our life, for our all-too-short week at Levante, felt charmed. We were bedazzled by the perpetual sunshine, and the clear azure skies; cooled by the refreshing sea breeze; and lulled by the cicadas in the evenings.
Not everything was perfect. Some of the music played over the resort’s sound systems wasn’t quite to our taste, and a bit loud (personally, I’d have preferred them to crank up the jazz, and tone down the Euro-pop). The Satellite TV in our room brought us horrific scenes from the Middle East; there’s no escaping reality, even when you’re in paradise. And Austin caught a bug towards the end of our stay, so he had to miss the last day of Mini Club, which he was very disappointed about.
But none of these things eroded the peachy glamour of Levante. There was enough adventure on the resort, to keep us there, without feeling the need to explore further afield. And we ended our week-long stay feeling as though holidays would never be the same again.
If you’d like to see even more of the resort, check out this sneak peek preview I posted last week.
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