As I relax on the beach, the sand warm beneath my feet, a light sea breeze is just taking the edge off the heat.
Before me is the glistening azure Toroneos Gulf and, on the horizon, the hills of the Halkidiki peninsula. I reach out and a long, cool drink is handed to me by one of the attentive staff – at last, I think, I’m on holiday.
Despite its recent problems, Greece remains one of the most popular leisure destinations for UK travellers. More than two million Britons fly there every year, many of whom take advantage of all-inclusive deals available across the country’s beach resorts.
The all-inclusive tag doesn’t always conjure up visions of luxury, with its connotations of wristbands and buffet dining. The Greek government believes such resorts can also affect surrounding trade, which is why it is encouraging them to build partnerships with local businesses.
One company leading the way is Ikos Resorts, which has two properties in Halkidiki, both of which allow guests to enjoy five-star facilities on an all-inclusive basis, but with the option of going off-site and dining at local restaurants at no extra cost.
I’m staying at the new Ikos Olivia (ikosresorts.com/olivia), which opened in May. Flanked by rolling hills lined with olive groves, the beachfront property is set in nine hectares of Mediterranean gardens.
The hotel’s own food and drink offering is certainly a cut above what you may expect from some all-inclusive resorts.
Four à la carte restaurants – Anaya (pan-Asian), Fusco (Italian), Provence (French) and Ouzo (Greek) – feature menus created by Michelin-starred chefs such as Lefteris Lazarou of Varoulko in Athens and Andrea Fusco of Guido Ballerina in Rome. Fine wines are included, with sommeliers on hand to advise on excellent local options as well as European and New World bottles.
Should you tire of fine-dining, there is also a Mediterranean-style buffet, or head to Anemomilos taverna in the nearby village of Gerakini for traditional Greek food in a pretty garden setting. If you are still hungry after all that, there is complimentary 24-hour room service, and free minibars stocked with premium wines and branded spirits.
The property has 136 rooms and suites in the main five-storey building, plus 159 low-rise private bungalows dotted throughout the grounds. My spacious Panorama Junior suite, decorated in muted blues and greys, offers lovely sea views from a good-sized balcony, plus a living area and a Nespresso machine.
The huge white marble bathroom has a separate tub and shower and is stocked with Anne Semonin products. As you would expect, wifi is free throughout.
The 85 sqm Deluxe two-bedroom bungalow suites are a good option for families. Sleeping up to six people, they are designed to give a high degree of privacy and come with access to a private beach and 800 sqm pool, plus upgraded services and amenities.
It’s easy, in such beautiful surroundings, to spend your time lounging by the pool, taking advantage of the all-day waiter service. Should you wish to indulge further, there is a splendid Anne Semonin spa with six treatment rooms, a steam bath and sauna (Deluxe guests get one treatment included).
If you are feeling a little more energetic – or need to work off some of that food – there is a state-of-the-art gym and indoor pool, plus a wide range of sporting activities, from beach volleyball, tennis and yoga to windsurfing, paddle boarding and kayaking. (Sailing and towable rides are an extra charge.)
Bikes are also laid on if you’d like to explore the area. Gerakini has a modest selection of shops, bars and restaurants, while the pretty seafront promenade is an easy, traffic-free cycle.
The area is rich in historic sites and bespoke tours can be arranged to ancient Pella and Vergina and the monasteries of Meteora. You could also explore the coast by boat or try a vineyard tour.
Or simply reach up from your sunbed for another cool drink – you are on holiday, after all.
Ikos Olivia closes for the winter season in late October and reopens on May 1. Sovereign is offering a seven-night all-inclusive stay at the hotel from £879 per person (based on departures on May 9, 2016; two sharing). It includes return Thomson flights from Gatwick, airport fast-track security and lounge access where available, plus private transfers to and from Thessaloniki airport, about a 45-minute drive away. Tel +44 (0)1293 731566; sovereign.com
WINE AMONG THE VINES
If, like me, you have experienced some fairly basic wines in Greece, you will be pleasantly surprised to hear that a new wave of wine-makers are popping up and producing some very drinkable varieties.
About 25km south-west of Thessaloniki, on the slopes of Epanomi and overlooking Mount Olympus, are the vineyards of Gerovassiliou. This award-winning ultra-modern winery uses the latest technology to produce exceptional wines, with its Ktima Gerovassiliou range found in Selfridges and top London restaurants.
An expert guide will walk you through the wine-making process, from picking to fermentation, and there is also a charming museum of artefacts amassed by the owner.
The tour is rounded off by a tasting and I highly recommend staying for lunch on the terrace, overlooking the vines and enjoying delicious food as well as some pretty fine wines.
Tours from €30 (depending on party size). Entry €5; gerovassiliou.gr