As our boat thunders away from the jetty, the staff smile broadly and wave eagerly, continuing to do so until I can no longer see them. My arms feel tired just from watching them – to my reckoning, they’ve been waving non-stop for at least 15 minutes, and yet the smiles never leave their faces and the waving never falters for a second.
This tireless enthusiasm typifies the atmosphere at a place that has, for the last few days, felt like less of a hotel resort and more of a family reunion. Every single staff member, or G.O. as they’re known, will say a cheery ‘Bonjour’ whenever you see them, whether they are in the middle of an important conversation with colleagues, serving a drink at the bar or tending to the immaculate grounds.
Considering this undying amicability, coupled with the Greek climate, it’s not hard to see why Club Med, billed as a ‘premium all-inclusive resort’, has visitors coming back year on year. I’ve talked to customers in the resort who apparently just choose their next holiday by looking at the Club Med brochure and picking a destination they haven’t seen yet, without a thought to another company’s catalogue. It is unsurprising that its last report found UK sales of all-inclusive holidays has grown 32% in the last five years and one in four are in the premium market.
The Gregolimano resort, on the Greek island of Evia, has an attractive mix of facilities and services which cater simultaneously for families as well as couples. For example, only 200 metres away from the children’s club (with Club Med staff on hand to entertain and supervise) is a romantic beach restaurant for the adults. Said ‘beach restaurant’ is actually more of a buffet, but the phrase does not do justice to the elegantly laid tables and huge range of lavish food, including beef fillets cooked and carved in front of your eyes, freshly caught fish and more salads than you knew existed.
But it’s not just about the eating, fortunately, because with so many tanned and toned Mediterranean bodies about the place (even the mothers have six-packs), you’ll want to do something active to stay in shape. And there’s more than enough choice, with watersports, tennis, five-a-side football, a gym, archery and even a flying trapeze to choose from. All of these are included in the cost of the holiday, so parents don’t need to worry about their children pestering them for one last session of costly water-skiing. The sea-based sporting options also include wakeboarding, windsurfing and sailing, but book in advance – lessons are free too, so unsurprisingly they’re very popular.
After mid-afternoon snacks including pastries and freshly-cooked crepes, live singers take to the stage in the outdoor bar area, located by the pool and main restaurant. The bar serves all number of cocktails, so settle down to watch the sunset with a Tequila Sunrise and start up a conversation with other visitors. Look out for dress codes, including the famous white nights where everyone dresses in their best and brightest and the resort looks like a sort of enormous beautiful wedding.
Dinner and the other meals in the resort are all you can eat self-service buffets – but this is the relaxed Mediterranean version of all you can eat, not the British ‘stuff yourself till it hurts’ equivalent. This is just another aspect of why the all-inclusive resort business model works so well in France and Spain but has somewhat of a stigma in the UK. Instead of bubbling vats of mass-produced rubbish, Club Med dishes are freshly prepared and well presented, which are picked at daintily and languidly by customers. Just like the air-conditioned private coach transfer from the airport, Club Med’s focus on ‘premium’ all-inclusivity makes a huge difference.
As the day draws to a close, the livelihood of the resort skyrockets, thanks largely to a madcap dance-floor tradition called the Crazy Signs. Initially, it feels almost as flamboyant (and just as cringe-worthy) as the ending of Dirty Dancing, but have a drink or two to loosen the muscles and the inhibitions, because once you go for it, it’s ridiculously fun. There are always a few staff members leading the routine so new arrivals can get involved, and by the end of the night, usually the vast majority of the crowd are clapping and twirling away with them.
And, if you’re suitably in the mood, there’s a nightclub on weekend nights. Even the walk there is an entertaining event; the club is located on the far side of the resort (away from most of the accommodation, understandably) and so the move from bar to club involves a beautiful walk along the beachfront, looking out over the Aegean Sea. Because Greece is shared over several islands, it feels a lot like Thailand for some reason. The turquoise sea and outline of mountains in the background is like nothing I’ve seen before in Europe. Once at the club, the music is a pretty British affair so you can’t use the excuse of not recognising the song to not dance. If you’re not feeling the vibe, a few more of those complimentary cocktails should ease the nerves.
You’ll need somewhere relaxing to rest your head after the day’s activities, and the rooms deliver breezy modern places to get out of the heat. The room types include Club, Deluxe and Suite, and all of which come with the choice of a hotel or beach bungalow location. All have air conditioning, flat screen TVs and digital security safes and the Deluxe and Suite style rooms have minibars and coffee facilities. Many rooms have a ‘sea view’ – in the fullest sense of the phrase; the whole view from the window is dominated by rich blue sea. It’s almost as if the window is a sea-coloured wall – and the rest of the room has been decorated to match, in complimentary blue and pine wood finish.
But you won’t want to spend too much time in you room, because there’s so much to do here – and if the resort doesn’t quench your thirst, there are daily cultural trips to Athens, Delphi and beyond, as well as cycling and helicopter tours. And, as per that boat trip and all the waving, even leaving Club Med is a celebratory spectacle, so be sure to embrace it all.
Club Med (www.clubmed.co.uk) offers a seven-night Premium All-Inclusive holiday to Club Med Gregolimano from £905 per adult and £499 per child (subject to availability) for a 29 September departure. Price includes return flights from London; transfers; accommodation in a Club Room; all meals with wine, beer and soft drinks, open bar and snacks; children’s clubs and sports activities.