After a major rebrand, the all-inclusive holiday has made a quiet, luxurious comeback. Trish Halpin enjoys the full package in sun-drenched Corfu
Since a very disappointing package holiday I’d saved like mad to go on in my twenties (shabby hotel, revolting buffet), all-inclusive resorts have been completely off my radar. After hearing some great things from friends over the past few years, however, it seems that now is the perfect the time to give it another go. There are a number of compelling reasons: firstly, with the value of the pound being all over the show (thank you, Brexit), fixing the entire cost of a holiday up front means there’ll be no nasty surprises at check-out time (especially if, like me, you have teenagers with voracious appetites in tow). Secondly, resorts are now catering to a much more discerning clientele of
well-travelled guests, who expect variety (a choice of restaurants, menus and drinks lists), space (no fighting over sun loungers, thank you very much) and an all-round luxury experience (stylish rooms, beautiful grounds and a heavenly spa).
After some research, I discover Ikos Resorts, a collection of properties across Greece and Spain, that appear to tick all of the boxes – and was voted the World’s Best Luxury All-Inclusive Resorts in Trip Advisor’s Travellers’ Choice Awards this year. Some friends had recommended its two properties on the Greek mainland, but when I hear Ikos has just opened a new resort on Corfu, which I’ve been desperate to visit since episode one of The Durrells, I’m sold.
Just a 20-minute drive north of Corfu airport, Ikos Dassia is set in 25 acres on a beautiful beachfront. There are two large main buildings, ‘Sea’ and ‘Sky’, with 411 rooms, as well as six restaurants between them, plus shops and a spa each. When we arrive, we’re taken through the cool and spacious marble ‘Sea’ property out on to a terrace, with views across the pristinely landscaped grounds, swimming pools that circle ancient olive trees and a perfect white-sand beach.
Once we have a fresh fruit cocktail in hand, we’re given an orientation and explanation about Ikos’s Infinite Lifestyle concept. Over the next week, we can eat at all the resort’s restaurants, which have been curated by Michelin-starred chefs; choose any of the 300 international and local wines on the wine list; order room service 24 hours a day; drink limitless cocktails; order as many drinks and snacks by the pool or on the beach as we like. There are also water sports, exercise classes, a gym, a steam room, a sauna and spa pools. We can choose a local restaurant on the island to eat in one evening, and also have the opportunity to drive a Mini for a day to buzz about. So far, so impressive, and when we arrive in our room, my husband Neil is shown the generous minibar and asked which brand of beer he’d like as it’s refilled every day. That’s his holiday sorted then…
Our interconnecting family rooms are elegant and comfortable, but if you want to push the luxe boat out even more, there are bungalow suites and villas, which come with extras, like a concierge service, Taittinger champagne, a private pool and a spa treatment.
‘Forget visions of overcrowded buffets, you’ll never see a queue in this resort’
It doesn’t take long for us to settle into the pace of resort life – eat, swim, relax, repeat. Throw in some early morning Pilates, pre-lunch paddleboarding, plus a good book, and it’s amazing how fast the days drift by. Having decided the teenager activities are a bit ‘cringe’, our 14-year-old twins, Esme and Kit, sign up for a PADI diving course (run by an on-site diver who you pay separately). For lunch, they prefer to order burgers and fries on the beach and hit one of the two ice-cream parlours, so Neil and I escape for a relaxed meal for two at the stylish beachfront restaurant Kerkyra (the Greek name for Corfu), serving delicious Corfiot dishes, such as seabass carpaccio with orange and fennel. On another day, we choose Ouzo, where we sip cold tomato soup and tuck into seafood salad with an ice-cold beer.
We soon develop an evening ritual, too: a sundowner at the pool bar before heading to the room to shower using the gorgeous Anne Semonin products, followed by a pre-dinner cocktail (rose gimlet for me, please) on one of the terraces. Dining always feels like anelegant experience here. Restaurants require reservations, so forget visions of overcrowded buffets – you’ll never see a queue in this resort. Beautiful glassware and linens adorn the tables, and waiters and sommeliers are friendly and attentive. Greek wine is a revelation – although the menu has wines from all over the world, we choose a different local one each night and are never disappointed. Plonk it is not.
On our fourth day, we manage to drag ourselves away from our sun loungers to explore the island. Our Mini Cooper is ready and waiting, and we blast along the coast road and then into the hilly interior of the island. We stop for ice lollies in a tiny village, then pile back into the car to head south to Mon Repos Palace, the birthplace of our very own Prince Philip. Its faded grandeur harks back to the days when the British governed Corfu, and there’s a pleasantly shady walk around the grounds where we discover Ionian archaeological treasures. Unfortunately, we also discover bins overflowing with rubbish, a result of some government wrangling over landfill sites, which is the one blot on this picturesque island.
Another night, we decide to take the resort’s shuttle bus into Corfu Town and amble along the Old Town Esplanade, around the Venetian Quarter and across to the Old Fortress. It’s the height of summer and the cobbled streets are buzzing with tourists shopping for cotton kaftans, handcrafted sandals and gold jewellery. There is so much more to explore, but we decide to leave it all for another visit and head to the taverna pre-organised by the resort team before catching the bus back.
The next evening is our last night in the resort, and after yet another amazing dinner, we stroll barefoot along the beach as the moon shimmers on the Ionian Sea and a gentle breeze blows inland across the water. We’re stopped in our tracks when an electric storm lights up the night sky in the distance. For five minutes we watch as it flashes, cracks and dances along the hills on the Greek mainland across the water, while music from the resort’s weekly beach party plays nearby. This unexpected son et lumière show is the perfect end to our holiday. And there’s just enough time for one more rose gimlet before we head to our room to pack.
Destinology offers a seven-night stay at Ikos Dassia from £849pp, based on two sharing on an all-inclusive basis, including return easyJet flights from London Gatwick. To book, call 01204 474801 or visit destinology.co.uk.