Stirling ventures forth with family in tow to the Marbella Beach Hotel, Corfu. Corfu, historically, for me at least, has been something of a 1970s legend. On a dearly loved auntie’s mantlepiece stood, in pride of place, a small, slightly dusty cut-out of a wooden island. Blazoned with the name Corfu, key landmarks and a crude map it was something of an objet d’art and curio. What and where was this exotic land? What wonders did it hold? The name stayed with me. Years later, deckchairs, knotted handkerchiefs and fish and chips come to mind when the word Corfu is mentioned, but is that still the case? Has the island moved on and taken up the challenges set out by the modern traveller? I go forth with Family Stirling (one obedient husband, one wilful wife, daughters x 2) and find out with a trip to the Marbella Beach Resort Hotel.
It’s located about 30 minutes drive south of of the airport on the east coast, a road which was quite bumpy and, shall we say, rather exciting to drive along. Luckily for all future travellers a multimillion Euro investment will see major renovation to the road making it smoother than the silk of the Royal Suite at the Goring. The 5 star hotel has been built into the hillside and is both sweeping and imposing but you wouldn’t know this until you get inside the complex and look back over the hotel from one of many terraces. Recent and extensive renovations have created a selection of beautiful suites that can accommodate individual travellers or roving families such as us. Our room, a deluxe family room with garden, was extremely well laid out. Obvious consideration has been given to families. With the main bedroom in the centre of the build and a lounge towards the garden it lets you relax and recoup. Then in the evening, when the central sliding doors are closed you have a separate room for the kids to sleep in. Baby-sitting is available if you book in advance but for us the most exciting part of the hotel’s many offerings was the kids club. Freshly built (complete with wet paint on the picket fence) and with nothing more in mind than entertaining your young with games, adventures, crafting, face painting and the ever popular ‘ice-cream’ trip to the hotel’s private beach. In fact it proved so popular that both girls insisted on going back the following day, for the entire day. What a shame, Lady Stirling and I were forced to spend some quality time together. We hired a car and sped off into the sun before minds were changed and ice creams finished.
Driving cross country and exploring the island, we spent the morning on the west coast on a sandy beach soaking up the sun and quiet. The very same beach featuring in For Your Eyes Only no less, although no danger or outrageous plotlines befell us. Later we ventured back towards the east side of the island and stopped for lunch at the winner of our affections, a small family-run taverna called Kalami. Perched on the edge of the sea, a jetty runs out into the clear green-blue water where the restaurant’s fishing boat lands a catch each morning, and from this we chose our lunch. Eating freshly caught, freshly cooked sea bass served overlooking the Ionian Sea was a delight. I miss the girls when they are not with us but on this occasion the chance to enjoy the company of Lady Stirling without interruption added a wonderful calm and relaxation to the moment. My check list for a family holiday is slightly different from that of a solo adventure – namely, less scotch and high-kicking Folies Bergère dancers. At the top of the ‘PG’ list is usually ‘a good swimming pool’, or in the case of the Marbella Hotel five swimming pools. Each of varying size, depth and fun, all located close enough to a bar to grab a quick drink or snack, and only a short walk from the rooms. The top pool proved to be the favourite, being large enough that when busy you didn’t feel cramped, next to a tiny pool for toddlers and the saltwater pools – all deliciously cool. We frolicked and splashed, played ‘Here comes the shark’ and ‘Who can drown father’. Luckily no one won that game.
A change, a freshen up and off to dinner. There is a wide and varied selection from the hotel buffet both morning and night, the latter described as ‘Full International Dinner Buffet’, almost certainly to cater for the difference in taste between the various nationalities who frequent the hotel. You can have a daily special cooked in front of you at the grill or, if you want to go off piste, the hotel has an a la carte restaurant called Cascade that serves authentic Greek dishes. After dinner we took a long stroll back to the room. The air was cooling and the light was hitting the top off the mountains. The view from terrace is stunning with rugged coastline blending into beach and then sandy or shingle shorelines. Across the water you can see both the Greek and Albanian coast. One evening a storm blew in from the north and the tranquillity turned to brooding skies and lighting, Zeus had come to say hello.
Long gone are the knotted handkerchiefs, the deck chairs have been replaced with beach front loungers and table service. Fish and chips are still on the menu but you can pay that sin back with yoga in the shaded grove each morning – there is a varied and replete activities’ programme at the hotel. And with the children in Kids’ Club you might just remember what it’s like to be an adult again; dare I suggest romance will rear its head? With a 14 million Euros investment underway to improve the east coast road and the huge amount of work undertaken by the hotel over the last 18 months you will be hard pressed to find a better family friendly option for that Mediterranean beach break.