Activity-focused resorts provide the perfect environment for sporting progress whatever your age, discovers Juliet Dennis in Greece
Before we went on our first overseas family holiday our five-year-old son Joe had never put his head under water in a swimming pool.
For 18 months we persisted with weekly lessons at our local pool, but it was always the same: crying pre-arrival, changing room tantrums, and a battle to put on his swimming cap.
Finally, there was the standard refusal to ‘put his eyes in’, as his twin sister Nina calls it, or jump into the pool without holding the instructor’s hand. It was partly stubbornness, but it was more than that – a real fear of water.
Yet after just a week at Neilson’s new Vounaki Beachclub in Greece, Joe, having found it in himself to put his head under the water, could not stop jumping into the pool. Backwards, forwards, sideways: the water was his new playground.
I am as delighted, amazed and proud of him as he is of himself to have overcome his fear – and for this we have not just daily swimming in the pool and the sea to thank, but the enthusiasm and encouragement of the Neilson kids’ club instructors and his new group of peers in resort.
Located on the coast of mainland Greece, Vounaki Beachclub is a family-friendly 40-minute transfer from Preveza airport. Accommodation varies from one and two-bed suites to interconnecting and mezzanine rooms.
Ours was the latter, split-level with a double bed upstairs and bunk beds downstairs, and a balcony overlooking the bay, sea and mountains – a view I could have looked at all day, if there hadn’t been all those activities waiting.
The beachclub, a renovated, former Sunsail resort, is new for Neilson for summer 2015. There are two pools (one adult-only), a kids’ club, its own beach, two bars, a spa, two tennis courts, a fitness deck, restaurant and marina.
The list of all-inclusive sports and activities is exhaustive, from sailing and windsurfing courses to mountain bike rides, walks, tennis, yoga and pilates. For an extra cost, the spa offers everything from massages to skincare lessons.
On day one, we got the low-down on the activities at a group meeting – our chance to sign up to sports courses for the week. Sailing is not our bag, so we opted for beginners’ tennis, kayaking and paddleboarding, while I also decided to try some softer options: a massage masterclass and skincare lesson.
Cue some anxious glances. The nearest we come to sport in our daily lives is seeing others cycling through the park, but how hard could it be?
Neilson’s nine clubs cover children from two to 17, running six days a week, and are included in the package price. Travel agents can prebook them.
For a supplement, the Starfish crèche, for children from four months to 23 months, costs £300 for a week or £475 for two. The clubs run from 9.30am to 5.30pm on all days except two, when they start at 2.30pm and run until 11pm, and include a movie and for the younger children, a ‘sleepclub’.
An evening babysitting service, bookable in resort, is available every day for a fee of £30 per night – plus £15 for siblings – from 7pm to 11pm. Joe and Nina joined the Sea Badgers club for children of school reception and year one ages.
Having never used a kids’ club, I felt nervous – and guilty – about putting Joe and Nina in someone else’s care.
I shouldn’t have been. They loved it, made a great group of friends, and before we knew it were paddleboarding, sailing, swimming and taking part in fitness classes, walks, cooking, painting and singing with instructors who have more energy in their little fingers than I have in my whole body. Job done.
While the kids surfed the waves, mum and dad braved the tennis courts – some feat in 40C heat.
We learned how to serve, volley and play backhands and forehands with fun, inspirational coach Alice while simultaneously enjoying a drink (an aptly named social night called ‘booze and balls’).
At the end of the week our group played a tournament – which my husband Nick won. Not bad for someone who last picked up a tennis racket 25 years ago.
I took a paddleboarding lesson – and fell off only once! – and we joined a kayaking ‘safari’ to the quaint fishing village of Paleros.
At the spa I rubbed tennis coach Alice’s back – a willing massage masterclass ‘victim’ who allowed six of us to pummel her back, all in the name of massage training.
It didn’t stop there, of course. There were night-time activities for those who wanted to exert their brain muscles in a quiz or learn some new salsa moves in the bar. But I can’t deny it felt good to sneak off to the adult-only pool for some proper relaxation time too – a rare treat.
We stayed Club Board, which includes all breakfasts and lunches plus four evening meals, with soft drinks, giving us the chance to have some nights out of resort. Full board is an option too.
So we ate out at a nearby taverna and enjoyed cocktails at new rooftop bar Sensomar in Paleros.
The owner told us he could accept only cash payments but, with the bar offering the best views in the village, that hadn’t deterred punters. “I tell people to come back and pay me later if they don’t have the money – they can’t believe it,” he said, describing his experience of opening the bar in the middle of Greece’s financial crisis.
The kids had the treat of a disco night. Seeing Joe and Nina enjoy their first slowdance, albeit not with each other, brought a tear to my eye.
By the end of our first family overseas holiday, we all agreed that next time we need more than a week. In the meantime, anyone for a massage?
Seven nights at the Vounaki Beachclub, Greece, in the October half-term costs from £769 per adult and £705 per child.
The price includes return flights from Gatwick, resort transfers, accommodation on a Club Board basis (breakfast and lunch daily plus four evening meals), children’s clubs (two years to 17) and activities including waterskiing, wakeboarding, tennis, kayaking,dinghy sailing, windsurfing, mountain biking, fitness classes and more.
Tried & Tested: Mark Warner’s Lemnos Beach Resort
Tested by Robin Searle
On the face of it, a Greek island being bestowed with the nickname “the wind-ridden one” isn’t particularly promising.
But in the blazing heat of a Greek summer, a bit of a breeze isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Lemnos is situated in the Aegean Sea, and Mark Warner’s resort is located in the southwest of the island, close to the picturesque main town of Myrina, which is well worth more than a single visit.
Bearing in mind the operator’s focus on watersports, the aforementioned wind is a real bonus, although there is the risk of the odd red flagged day if it really picks up offshore.
It’s not just the sailors and windsurfers who feel the benefit: the breeze is cooling for the children in the kids’ clubs, the players on the tennis courts, and the mountain bikers exploring the interior of this relatively untouched gem.
Mark Warner’s base is at the Lemnos Beach Resort, which is just a €7 taxi ride over the hill to Myrina, but is located out of view of the town’s port on a beautiful west-facing bay offering stunning sunsets on a nightly basis.
The resort is compact, but every room rising up the hillside has a sea view, and many have been refurbished to offer a very comfortable stay. It is certainly worth checking the room type and location on the hillside.
We had a very roomy family suite situated on the second tier of six, but those with rooms higher up did find it an occasional struggle, particularly with young children.
As in most Greek resorts, many of the staff are local, which in these tough times for the country is particularly pleasing for those who like to think their holidays are supporting destinations. The property is also not exclusive to Mark Warner or the UK, which suits those who don’t necessarily want to holiday in Little Britain.
However, in certain areas, such as childcare and watersports instruction, the staff are all from the UK, which will reassure those who particularly value a UK-based qualification in these key positions.
Both our children benefited massively, with our six-year-old Bronwen taking a kayak out with a friend unaccompanied for the first time, and her rather timid four-year-old brother Evan confounding all expectations by taking a spin on a windsurf board under the close protection of Dan the instructor (pictured, left).
If your clients like to combine an authentic Greek island stay with the benefits of Mark Warner’s renowned activities and childcare, the Lemnos Beach Resort comes highly recommended.
Book it: A week in a family suite at Lemnos Beach Resort from September 13 costs £2,460, including British Airways flights from Heathrow, transfers, full-board accommodation with wine. Activities and kids’ clubs from 2-17 years are also included. markwarner.co.uk
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