Up until June this year, I had never visited Greece’s mainland. But more and more incredible hotels have been opening – and seasonal direct flights with BA from London, definitely put this part of the world in my horizon.
May 2015 marked the opening of Ikos Olivia, a stunning luxury hotel located in Halkidiki, Greece. The hotel follows an all-inclusive concept – which is something I am not particularly keen on, as a traveller, but it promised something different: ‘infinite lifestyle’ which translates as something quite unique. Read on.
On this trip (as with others this year to Madeira, Maldives and the Algarve), I travelled with Sovereign, who organised my trip. My guest this time around was my dear sister Renata who was spending some time with me in London. I think that some one-on-one sister time (and the promise of some sunshine even in early June) was just what we needed.
I am not a huge fan of 6am flights, namely from Gatwick (which adds considerably to our journey), but that meant a direct flight with BA (and double tier points compared to Europe, which comes as a little bonus of flying to places like Greece, Turkey and Cyprus – 160 to be precise) and a late morning arrival, due to the 2-hour time difference. Luckily, Gatwick’s Premium Security opened just as the queue for all passengers was incredible, and we made our way to the No. 1 Traveller Lounge, which is a perk for all Sovereign guests. It is a lovely lounge and we were able to have breakfast and get some magazines too.
Our flight was around 3.30 hours, and I must confess, I slept all the way through – I woke up on the ’10 minutes to landing announcement’ and was rewarded with a beautiful landing – we could see the turquoise waters, which is exactly what we went to Greece for. On arrival, we were met by Keith, the local Sovereign concierge and our private transfer was ready for us. And in under 40 minutes, we arrived at the beautiful Ikos Olivia.
The hotel is made up of 2 sections – a main building, and a series of bungalows, many of which have their own private pools. It offers 4 a la carte restaurants and 1 buffet, and all options are available for breakfast, lunch and dinner, meaning you can choose anything you would like, at any time.
We were starving as we arrived, and the first thing we did, literally, was to have lunch. We found a snack bar by the beach where we tucked into our first of many Greek salads and just took in our surroundings. The hotel was new and it really was very nice.
We walked around a bit and saw a large beach area, 3 different pools, and as we got to the bungalow area, where we were staying, discovered a separate pool and quieter beach area – reserved to guests staying in the bungalows (which had the black keycards).
Our bungalow was on the beach, at the very edge of the hotel ground – it had a living room and two ensuite bedrooms and bathrooms (one with a king bed and one with two twin beds).
We loved the colour scheme (not just of the room, but the whole hotel). We were seriously very impressed with the hotel from an interior design perspective (and my sister being one herself and a trained architect even more).
We loved how spacious our 2 bedroom suite was and I must confess, I was particularly impressed with the USB ports in each room and the fact that besides the standard European plugs, there were also UK ones. Small touches – but very useful ones.
Outside, we had a very comfortable seating area (and that inspired me to completely redo our patio area at home) and stunning views to the quiet sea and our almost private beach.
When we ordered our first meal, I did think it was rather strange not having to sign something or tip. But as we continued to enjoy our stay, we got to enjoy it quite a bit.
I am no fan of buffets, and if you are not either, you are in for a treat. The restaurant options were outstanding and I have to say – the decor and design theme continued throughout the dining outlets. We tried Ouzo, the Greek restaurant by the beach and it must be one of the nicest beach restaurants I have ever seen anywhere in the world. Sadly I couldn’t take many other photos as the other tables were full!
On our second night, we tried the ‘Dine Out’ Experience, which basically lets you leave the resort and go to a local restaurant, which has a menu for Ikos guests. To be honest, we really wanted to have some really Greek specialties and went off menu and just selected what we fancied – and it was lovely. We also got to discover a little shop around the corner, called Melithea and we just loved the owners – a mother and son who had a lovely selection of organic oils, olives, jams, spices, herbs and the lot. We couldn’t resist and brought quite a few things back with us.
On our third night, we had dinner at Fusco, which offered a very interesting Italian fine dining experience. The meal was excellent, as were all the others we experienced.
For breakfast, we tried different options each day – we loved the little buffet at the Provence restaurant and actually were incredibly impressed with the main buffet restaurant. It was one of the most well designed buffets I have seen – and I was not expecting it.
During the day, you had pool and beach side service like you would at any luxury hotel – and we ordered some drinks (a frappe, ice tea, soft drinks etc). When it got closer to sunset time, we changed our order to gin & tonics, of course.
We were very pleased with everything on offer – except one thing: the gin selection. Obviously after asking, it was clear that gin isn’t a thing in Greece (yet) and the hotel did take the comments on board – there were many British guests and this matters to us (me not being British but I live there). The wines recommended to us were also really quite good and in all honesty, the whole experience felt like a ‘sign at the end’ hotel, and the service and attention totally matched it.
But there was one thing the hotel wouldn’t be able to get me – simple fresh grilled fish. And there was one person that could help me: Keith, the 24h Sovereign concierge.
Keith, our super Sovereign concierge
When you travel with Sovereign, a couple of days before your trip, you get a special call. You never know when it comes (it is like a surprise!). And basically the local concierge introduces him/herself and offer to help you in anyway they can. It also makes the airport arrival much nicer as you then get to meet the person. We never mean to trouble anyone, but on this trip, we *really* used and abused Keith’s time and local knowledge.
We texted Keith asking if he could help us get a car and find grilled red mullets. It really was as specific as that. Keith was actually close to the hotel and met us so we could go through all the details. Armed with maps and information, we plotted our little journey around the local area. I was slightly worried about renting a car on the spot (as I have a record for quite horrible car rental experiences) and was surprised with his answer. Sixt would have a car ready for us at the hotel the next morning. What? Yes.
So the following morning, we sat down at a sofa in reception… handed over credit cards and driving licences, filled a form, and were given a key. It was SO simple and so personal and so nice. Hats off to Sixt for providing this service to all Ikos Olivia guests – a rep comes each morning and evening and you can just sit down and sort it out. Car types are limited of course and start from 50 Euros a day.
We spent a whole day driving around the various peninsulas and were really impressed by its natural beauty. We also loved how ‘undeveloped’ the area felt – and I mean this in the nicest way possible. No neon signs, no shabby souvenir shops, it was actually quite refreshing.
We found this little place called ‘5 steps in the sand‘ in the Sithonia peninsula and had a really lovely meal. It was still early in the season and was quite quiet – so we had extra attention from the owner, who was delighted to see a tourist ask for red mullets! Lunch for 2: 50 Euros.
A bit of TLC
The hotel had a lovely (and very busy) spa – and I couldn’t resist booking a signature Anne Semonin massage for an hour, in between very busy naps at the beach. The spa was excellent and so was the therapist. A 60-minute massage was 120 Euros.
But where we really spent our time.. was at the beach. The lovely quiet beach – we had some rain, but we also had some sun. And when it rained, we took naps on our outside sofas which were covered.
Visiting this part of Greece was a lovely surprise – we really liked it. The hotel was outstanding and I honestly will be going back with Mr. O and friends next year. Because I need to see this sunset again.
Fact box: I was a guest of Sovereign on this trip and I enjoyed every minute of it. Opinions are, as always, my own. Sovereign (+44 1293 731 566) is offering seven nights at the five star Ikos Olivia in Halkidiki, staying in a one-bedroom bungalow suite on an All Inclusive basis, from £1,139 per person – saving up to £411 per couple. Sovereign guests benefit exclusively from a complimentary private cocktail by the beach and a farewell gift. The holiday also includes UK airport lounge access (where available), private resort transfers and return flights from London Gatwick with easyjet. Based on departures 2 May 2016. (British Airways’ flights to this area will begin in mid May 2016)