Bella, Bella Mare Hotel
After a break of 36 years since last visiting Corfu whilst scouring the island looking for new tourist destinations back in the day, I wasn’t expecting to find a large, unspoiled, bay reminiscent of my first visit all these years later. Avlaki Bay, however, is truly unspoiled. And Simpson Travel, a company well known for offering quality hotels and villas in stunning locations had invited me and my husband – a Corfu virgin – to stay at the Bella Mare Hotel, a new addition to their Corfu programme.
Situated in the beautiful north east of the island, Avlaki is about an hour’s drive from Corfu town. To find such a gem, with its large pebble beach and clear aquamarine sea, against the backdrop of an undeveloped green valley and protected natural wooded headland, on a well-established tourist island such as Corfu is rare. And the Bella Mare, with its sweeping lawns and tranquil gardens running down to the beach commands prime position. With two tavernas within a few minutes stroll, a handful of houses and a small watersports centre halfway around the bay, Avlaki is old school Greece with the added bonus of the very stylish and relaxing Bella Mare Hotel – a perfect combination for confirmed Grecophiles like me who now appreciate a bit of luxury.
Like all the best smaller hotels, the Bella Mare offers low-key, elegant, style. It’s also low level, with the majority of rooms and suites at ground or first floor designed laterally to ensure everyone has a view of both the bay and the gardens from their terrace or balcony. And what a view! All the balconies are a good size but some, including ours, were extremely large, perfect for that pre-dinner aperitif or al fresco meal. Unusually in a hotel, all the rooms have their own discreet kitchenette. So discreet it’s housed in a cupboard, which sounds odd I know, but it’s actually a great piece of design: sink, two ring hob, fridge and sufficiently equipped to make the odd cuppa or snack. Perfect for those of us who like to stay in a hotel but also feel we can occasionally please ourselves like we do at home, without having to hide the evidence from the maid! It’s also great for families and grandparents, especially as there are various room and suite options. The rooms themselves are very spacious with relaxing, stylish, décor, good quality furnishings, including a large sofa, air conditioning and state of the art bathrooms.
Relaxation is the order of the day at the Bella Mare. With a choice of ample sun-loungers around the large pool, bathing platforms next to the beach, lounging bean-bags and soft seating on the lawns between the beach and the pool, there are plenty of places to choose from. The pool-bar is, invitingly, a few paces from the pool and the seafront, open throughout the day into the evening offering a choice of wraps, pizzas, pasta, burgers, salads etc., all made freshly to order and reasonably priced. After lunch and a glass of local wine we stretched out on the bathing platforms overlooking the beach, waves gently lapping against the shore: immediate relaxation. Silence. Dreamy sleep. Hours later, as the sun dipped behind the wooded headland, we reluctantly peeled ourselves away for the short walk to our suite before returning to the pool-bar for an aperitif and supper at the nearby highly rated Cavo Barbero Taverna, where we had the best sea bass we have ever eaten. Breakfast at the hotel offers an excellent choice of cold foods, cheese pies, home made cakes and jams and a daily changing hot dish, usually a delicious Corfiot speciality, such as Strapatsada (eggs, feta cheese, tomato and oregano baked in the oven).
Ideally located between bustling Kassiopi and the sleepy hamlet of Aghios Stefanos, Avlaki is well positioned for the best of all worlds, if you can bear to tear yourself away. Kassiopi, a long established resort even when I visited 36 years ago, has grown and inevitably changed but still has some of the charm of the fishing harbour I remember and now has a wide choice of tavernas, shops and nightlife. There is also great walking around this area. One day we walked to Aghios Stefanos (1½ hours) along the coastal path through the wooded nature reserve and rewarded ourselves with an excellent lunch at Eucalyptus Taverna right on the beach, before ordering a taxi for the short ride back. We also spent a very happy afternoon and evening in Corfu Town, a vibrant blend of historical influences, particularly Italian. With its Venetian architecture the old town has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 2007 and should be on everyone’s list to visit.
With discreet service from their team of experienced and mature staff, all with deep roots in the island, Simpson clearly know a thing or two about what makes a great holiday. Recognizing the Bella Mare as a perfect fit for their loyal fan base they are working with the hotel to add ten luxurious suites with their own pool and pool-bar and a tennis court to make the hotel an exclusive Simpson destination from 2019. With emphasis on family holidays between14 July–31 August there will be clubs with age appropriate activities for 8–12 year olds, Dolphins, as well as a club for teenagers, Tribe, to banish constant boredom and entice them away from their mobiles for that oh-so-difficult age group – which certainly would have been welcome when my lot were teens! There will also be a dedicated Simpson watersports centre a few minutes walk along the beach offering paddle-boarding, windsurfing, dinghy sailing, kayaking and equipment hire with courses for both adults and children.
I absolutely loved the Bella Mare, its stunning location, elegant interiors and laid-back ambiance and, with the planned enhancements for 2019, having found this gem I will not be waiting another 36 years to return to Corfu, particularly as the other half loved it too!
For more information about Bella Mare Hotel.