The Olympic spirit and the quest for excellence is alive and well – in the place where it all started.
Ancient Olympia is one of those special places that almost defies description, reminding us of a symbolic flame of endeavour that keeps on burning, especially in an Olympic year like this, with the flame being carried across the world to Rio.
It’s fitting, too, that it’s very much a part of Greece and the Greek outlook on life which they happily share with the rest of us.
There are so many echoes from the past when you visit the awesome site in the Peloponnese – and compelling ones to today, with the country facing an Olympian task to combat all sorts of challenges.
And that fighting spirit, coupled with the warmest of warm Greek welcomes, is very much part of the fabric at the Aldemar Olympian Village, part of the Royal Olympian Luxury Resort and Spa and separated from its breathtaking neighbour by millennia, yet just a short drive away and sharing the same ethos and drive to be the best of the best.
This is the Aldemar flagship, a 5* family resort by the Aegean in a region of glorious green countryside, with wooded hillsides and rolling contours clothed with vineyards and olive groves, traditionally called the ‘Garden of Greece.’
It’s in stark contrast to the parched image we have of many a Greek island in a scorching summer, and it’s a garden relished by the eco-conscious Aldemar team – and the resort chefs who enjoy showing off their considerable skills in six restaurants, ranging from a snack bar, an Italian which makes great pizzas and a traditional-style taverna, to gourmet fine dining. The big ‘Olympia’ restaurant, in the resort’s main building, is organised buffet-style, with chefs on hand to carve and serve some hot items, and the sheer scale shows just how much Aldemar puts back into the local economy by showcasing so much fresh produce from the area. This is apparent even at breakfast, from your first glimpse of the huge display of fruit and cheeses; and countless eggs and piles of bacon in a never-ending supply run from the kitchen, in addition to goodness knows how many other items, including the always-wonderful Greek answer to penicillin, bowls of gloriously-creamy yoghurt and herb-scented honey.
When it gets round to dinner time, factor in dish after dish of various salads and constantly-replenished vegetables, and you begin to realise just how much fresh food is being used every day – and how much the resort and its awareness is helping where it matters.
It’s in keeping with Aldemar being one of the big hitters in Greek tourism, setting a standard that makes it world-class; and earning the accolades to reflect that – executive director Alexandros Angelopoulos always seems to be at glittering ceremonies accepting top awards for Aldemar, as well as featuring in magazines and appearing on TV and radio.
The family-run company, which has luxury resorts on Rhodes and Crete as well as the Peloponnese, is also a big employer and from all the smiling faces and great feedback I had, it believes in keeping its staff happy. In return, they’re happy to work their socks off and swap roles as the occasion demands, with senior catering staff not batting an eyelid when called on to help at the bustling Kioski beach bar, or to lend a hand at the sharp end when a large group of German visitors (and some English!) all seemed to want an after-dinner cocktail at the same time. For the record, there are seven bars, maybe even eight, so you’re never far from refreshment at any time, day or night, on whatever level of your all-inclusive tariff.
It’s a fair old drive to reach the Olympian Village from the region’s main airport at Kalamata, but the trip by transfer coach or hire car does give you chance to see a slice of the ‘real’ Greece and its villages, with the temptation to stop off and have a Greek coffee and a snack (Kalamata olives, of course!) to set the mood.
A gated and guarded main entrance leads to the village-style resort complex amid lush, tended gardens, with 560-odd rooms in bungalows, suites and apartments; and 25 outdoor pools and a waterslide to go with them. The village itself is designed to be very family-friendly, hence the waterslide and two children’s pools, and a very active kids’ programme, but it also caters for couples and singles who want to keep themselves more to themselves, with private and small shared pools well away from any youngsters.
Basically, you can be as distant or as involved as you want, with all manner of things going on in various parts of the complex, from tennis to horse riding, and there’s also a full 2 kilometres of pristine, private beach to go at if you want sand in your toes and opt for the Aegean instead of a pool.
Our spacious ground-floor apartment (there is another above it, in a traditional-style, detached cottage) had doors opening onto a sheltered patio area with sunbeds, chairs and a table, and our own steps into a shared pool featuring a small island complete with palm trees, reached by a wooden bridge if you didn’t want to get your feet wet.
The apartment has a shower room as you enter the front door, handy if you head home straight from the beach, as well as a huge en-suite bathroom with a separate walk-in shower. A separate lounge – with large flat screen TV like the bedroom, in case you and a companion have clashing tastes – boasted a comfortable sofa and chairs, plus a dining-size table, an all-important fridge and even a custom-made drinks’ trolley if you wanted to entertain or just play at being dead lazy.
The apartment was called Erato 1, after the Greek muse of love poetry and song, so it doesn’t give a writer any excuse for not waxing lyrical (or trying to!) over this wonderful part of Greece and how the country, and some inspired tourism ideas, is showing that it’s very much still in business.
There’s another amazing side to the Aldemar experience, too – and that can be revealed in part 2 of the Olympian Epic.
David Graham travelled as a guest of Aldemar and flew from Manchester by finding a ‘flight only’ deal with a tour company airline – try online sites like Skyscanner or Netflights. Transfer was by hire car (46 euros a day), with Sixt having a dedicated desk in the Olympian Village lobby. Return coach transfer thanks to Fleetway Travel.