A series of glorious dawns over the Aegean made us feel blessed to be enjoying the 5* facilities at the Aldemar Amilia Mare on Rhodes – and we were doubly blessed with the official opening of the adjoining Aldemar Paradise Village.
The low-rise resort, featured by Northern-based Jet2holidays, mirrors its sister complex in having newly-refurbished luxury rooms and apartments overlooking gardens or the sea and a huge range of on-site facilities, from pools and themed restaurants and bars to its own spa centre and fitness area (no, I didn’t use this one, either).
There’s accommodation for singles, couples and families, with some apartments ideal for taking along the tribe, thanks to divided rooms which open out onto a private sitting area, which in turn is only metres from a shared pool.
A guided tour by front-of-house expert Christos Maravelas revealed that the Village’s 200 rooms are spread out among the gardens and pathways and no guests are housed over the impressive, gleaming reception and its main bar, restaurants and leisure areas, for as tempting as they may be, it’s nice to be able to choose peace and quiet if you want it.
Peace and success was certainly on the agenda in the signature Venus bar when it was the setting for an opening ceremony we were honoured to attend as the only non-Greeks.
A charming Orthodox priest, accompanied by his two young children, was on hand to perform a Blessing of the Waters, lighting candles on a bar table/altar and using a bunch of fragrant fresh basil to sprinkle Holy Water and bless the new-look Village, as well as staff from the Village and Amilia Mare led by the Aldemar group’s executive director, Alexandros Angelopoulous.
His family is the driving force behind the company, which was founded by his father in 1977 and has evolved into a major player in the Greek luxury hotel sector, playing a key role in reviving Greece as a top-quality destination – winning world travel awards and determined to carry on setting and achieving new and higher standards, catering for both the family market and prestige conference trade.
The blessing may have been on Rhodes, but Aldemar has also been blessed with success on Crete, where it has five luxury centres, and three more at Olympia in the Peloponnese – some with stunning credentials which go way beyond the 5* mark in world recognition.
And through all this, the Angelopoulous family have kept the personal touch and are very hands-on when it comes to making sure that as well as raising standards, they also make sure that families from all over Europe have a smashing time on their hols.
His general manager on Rhodes, Andreas Themistokleous, along with deputy manager Tsampikos Tarallis, are also very involved on a day-today basis and to that end, they even have a dedicated Guest Relations team on duty in the lobby; and if they can’t help, they soon find someone who can – so thanks Ismini, Susanna, Sofia and Elisavet!
Being well-fed and watered is only part of being looked after in the Amilia Mare or Paradise Village, but it does play a major part when you can mix and match facilities in both centres and try all that’s on offer.
Before the opening ceremony and the arrival of the Village’s first guests with Jet2holidays – now the third-largest UK holiday operator, flying from seven airports and solidly based in the North – we had chance to sample dinner at The Golden Palm, a Chinese restaurant to go along with the themed Mexican and Greek eateries, among others. It was no surprise to find that it was really, really good, with an impressive hot and cold buffet selection which would have done credit to any high-end UK restaurant, with sweets to match and inclusive wine by the bottle.
On another evening, we splashed out on a worthwhile ‘extra’ by booking a Lobster Night at the French-style Dionyssos restaurant back at the Amilia Mare, supervised by genial F&B manager Theodor Nemas.
Greece hasn’t always had a high reputation for holiday food, and I’m far more familiar with family-style taverna cooking where you go into the kitchen to see what’s on the menu and then dig into a bowl of stifado, a fresh-caught fish or a pile of lamb chops, while drinking often dubious local wine or ouzo out of a tumbler.
But Lobster Night was something else. We started with nibbles before a delicate carrot soup with ginger, cardamom and caramelised beetroot; then pappardelle with sundried tomato, pesto, sliced fillet of duck and valerian; followed by a salad with arugula (rocket), fried cheese, avocado, croutons and balsamic dressing.
Then it was sleeves up for the main event – half a spiny lobster, which nearly filled the plate, fresh from the BBQ grill and served with a lemon/oil dressing. Half an hour later, we were still busy dissecting and relishing every delicious morsel, helped by a modicum of chilled rose and encouraged by waiters Dimos and Tasos, who clearly loved seeing guests have a good time.
Lobster duly dealt with, and hands cleaned up, we sat back and had to be persuaded (!) to have a dessert, fighting off the cheese selection and settling for a rather dainty Nutella cheesecake with caramelised hazelnuts, before heading off for a coffee.
Satisfied? You bet – a celebratory dinner of such quality, overlooking the moonlit beach with the sound of the breakers in the background, has to be a highspot of any holiday.
With so much in the way of food and fun provided onsite in the twin complexes, it can almost be likened to a cruise ship, but (sorry cruise fans!) without the restriction of being cooped up in a claustrophobic, high-rise tower block floating around on an unsteady ocean and steeped in no atmosphere at all.
But there is plenty of encouragement to step outside and explore the countryside, visiting the gem of Lindos as well as the capital and its ancient walled Old Town, site of the legendary Colossus, and easily reached by a door-to-door express bus running at regular intervals all day and until quite late at night.
Local knowledge is invaluable on a tight schedule, and this is where Jet2 rep Monica Campos Pinheiro proved better than any guide book, saving us any amount of time and pointing us very much in the right direction.
Armed with her expert guidance, we headed off to town – and once there, it was easy to see why the island has been such a hit for such a long time, with stunning architecture and archeological treasures at almost every turn. There is the all-too-familiar plague of cafe frontmen trying to ambush every passing tourist down by the port, but a choice Greek word or two soon puts a stop to it and you can exchange grins and go on to enjoy the real Rhodes.
You can enjoy it on a budget, too, for whatever the state of the economy, the genuine local men and women in their small businesses want to encourage you, not rip you off.
We went through an ancient archway to an unpretentious little old-style taverna, complete with cliched rickety chairs and check tablecloths (although it also had free WiFi), and even though we only ordered a large cold beer and a glass of juice in the shade, we were given a small plate of meze, with olives, bread and cheese.
The bill was less than six euros – and even in touristy parts of the harbour, freshly-squeezed, delicious Rhodes orange juice was a steal at €1.50, and you could get an ice cream for just €1, which works out at around 70p.
Times are hard in many holiday spots, especially Greece and her islands – but time spent there is beyond price.