GREEK politics might be volatile, but some things – like the sunshine and the endless blue of the sea and sky of its islands – will never change. And most important, neither will the spirit and endless hospitality of the people.
After many years of at least twice yearly visits – a great excuse, having a daughter living out there! – and staying in anything from small hotels and rooms above tavernas to a spare room in a fisherman’s house, we set out to enjoy a new side to Greece that we found to be a stunner for Silver Travellers.
With posh frocks packed as well as sunscreen, we headed for the unashamed luxury of the all-inclusive 5* Aldemar Amilia Mare at Kalithea on the island of Rhodes, just a few kilometres from the walled Old Town and a world away from what many tourists would expect of Greece.
The differences started after we drove through familiar rugged, dusty countryside to be met by electronic gates and security guards at the start of a curving drive through lush gardens, before arriving at the imposing, pillared entrance to the main building, one of five making up the Amilia Mare on an east-facing beach within the sweeping bay.
A huge, palatial, polished marble reception hall set the scene for an equally polished reception from the smart, uniformed staff, even though it was pushing midnight when we arrived after a spot on flight with Northern based Jet2holidays from Manchester Airport.
We were shown to our room on the top, fifth floor; and as late arrivals, we found in lieu of dinner a tempting selection of meze, lavish salad plates, dessert nibbles, an eye-opening choice of fresh fruit and even a bottle of rather nice wine.
The view from our double balcony was impressive enough in the moon silvered darkness enough to make sure of a dawn alarm call to see the glorious sunrise and a view over the complex to get some idea of what the Amilia Mare had to offer with its pools, themed restaurants, relaxing areas and private sand and pebble beach, with watersports from sailing in a glass bottomed boat to jet skis and wakeboarding.
Then breakfast beckoned, with an almost bewildering choice of help yourself hot and cold goodies in the main Sympossio and smaller VIP Dionyssos restaurant, along with cooked to order omelettes, fried eggs and pancakes.
No excuse at all for going hungry, with the American/Continental buffet catering for every palate no matter which country you happened to be from (and there were lots!) and with snacking and grazing options available at various other places like the self-service Albatros beach bar and Italian themed La Pagoda poolside restaurant for the rest of the morning and all through the day, with unlimited help yourself soft drinks including the likes of ‘real’ Pepsi and 7Up, local beer and wines and all kinds of ice cream available.
And that’s the huge plus of an all-inclusive break – the basic price tag may look a tad on the high side, but just add up all the times on an average sunny day when you and maybe your grandchildren might want a cool drink or an ice lolly, at a good few euros a time, and it starts to make perfect sense.
If you can resist the lure of early morning yoga and the water aerobics in the shallower of the two linked main pools, or even the water slide leading to a plunge pool by the beach bar, you can sneak up on lunchtime with an exploration of more activities and facilities, like the indoor pool and spa with full pampering potential, along with hairdressing and nails etc and even a full fitness gym if you feel the need. I must confess, I didn’t feel the need.
Before you know it, lunchtime has duly arrived, again a cosmopolitan affair, with a choice of atmosphere and scope as well as all manner of hot and cold food on offer, as at breakfast, but with a slice of handmade pizza with the thinnest of crusts from La Pergola a favourite with an awful lot of Italian and Greek visitors as well as us.
While on the subject of food, we can cover dinner as well, and the Aldemar website will give you a clue as to just how many eateries and watering holes are available at the Amelia Mare and its adjoining companion resort, the Aldemar Paradise Village.
Let me just say that in a week of dedicated indulgence and trying to cover all bases, my wife and I didn’t manage to have a meal in them all. Our first dinner was in the main Sympossio restaurant, which has a corresponding Byzantine restaurant in Paradise Village, both with an inspired Club Med style separate dining area for ankle biters, as well as an option for dining indoors or on an outside covered verandah. The sumptuous buffets feature a soup of the day and enough salad for Noah’s Ark in many, many varieties; which can then be followed by a variety of Greek and international dishes starring fish, meats, pasta, rice or veg, with chefs on hand for carving, serving and some cooking to order. As at every mealtime, there is help yourself red, white or rose house wine or beer – or an extra charge list of finer wines – plus juices and soft drinks, tea and as much coffee as you want.
Before the coffee, though, it’s dessert time and this is where the diet goes so far out of the window you’ll never find it in a month of Sundays. You could always stick with a spoonful of fruit jelly, or a slice or two of fresh watermelon and a few strawberries, but that’s not the way to go when there’s the most caramelly creme caramel you’re ever likely to encounter; or super thick yoghurt with gloriously gloopy Greek honey; as well as gateaux of all complexions, delightfully light fruit tartlets, and the downfall of many a Slimming World resolution, tray upon tray of baklava, dripping in honey or scented syrup and daring you to have just the one.
Staying ‘local’ for an after dinner drink led us to the Chevalier main bar, where Vasilis and Giannis were on hand to deftly prepare the cocktail of the day and where, to my astonishment, there were covered, chilled displays with even more sweet nibbles on offer if anyone had left a corner unfilled, and even savoury wraps for people who might suffer a late night snack attack. From the main bar, it was possible to look down on the ground level theatre area, where there were live shows staged every night after early evening entertainment for the youngsters, some of which featured an animation classic I now can’t get out of my head. Watch this.
The highlight for me was a traditional Greek night, which sounds a touch corny, but which differed from the norm by having two couples going by the informal name of Rhodian Balet setting the stage alight with their dancing, backed by a chap on keyboards and the best young bouzouki player I reckon I have ever heard, a lefthander, no less, rejoicing in the name of Thodoris Emmanouil.
A toast in local Rhodian ouzo was the least I could offer, before we made our way past the Eva sunken cocktail bar and the Sahara nightclub (open until 2:00am) and called it a night with big plans for the rest of our stay.
All Rhodes lead to 5* Amilia Mare: Part 2