At only three hours away from the familiar, grey criss-crossing of cars and passengers on the motorway to Gatwick Airport, a sunnier side of life comes to quick fruition on the runway at Thessaloniki. Touching down here allows lungs to fill with a warm herbaceous breeze and eyes to grip a skyline which projects cypress trees and terracotta-coloured roofs – bright hues akin to the colour of the wings on our still-cooling aeroplane. This is the gateway to Greece’s Halkidiki.
On a short hop in what must only be described as a quality European ‘disco bus’ from the luxuriant leather seats and in-cabin colour changeable lighting, we are introduced to the area via flat screen video – complete with Grecian-appropriate soundtrack. From the country’s second city, we travel south towards the three fingers of the Peloponnese – an area renowned still for its great philosophers, artists, poets and thinkers who’ve sprung throughout history from its lush green hills and dazzling blue water surrounds.
At Ikos Oceania, we arrive to a five star luxury resort hotel, newly renovated to offer what the company terms an ‘infinite lifestyle’ – their own creative philosophy perhaps in a nod to the area’s greater legacy, and, simply-put, means that everything here comes included. It is changeover day when we pull up outside the hotel’s imposing glass-fronted façade, so dozens of hard cases in an array of colours wait like dominoes against the freshly painted, tall, white Grecian columns.
We are ushered into the bar – swept up in a palette of soft blues and neutral tones, and an inordinate number of egg-chairs, once made famous by the Danes. The hotel staff greet us with a puppy-dog excitement whilst we, from our sixth floor perch, take a moment to admire the views down over the architecturally balanced swimming pools and onto the sea water below.
To aid our swift settling-in we make our way to lunch – served for us today at Provence – one of the hotel’s five on-site restaurants, all offering something a little different. This one, as indicated by the name, is French in essence, and all lunches here are taken in a buffet style overlooking the adults-only infinity pool. Today it is accompanied by glasses of bright pink Greek wine – a pretty Xinomavro from the Tsantalis winery in Greece’s more northerly region of Macedonia. While we go to pile our plates high, this is put to chill on ice.
One of the big draws for the Ikos resorts guests is indeed the dining, where restaurants are mirrored from one site to the next. Michelin-starred executive chefs preside over the a la carte evening menus at Provence (France’s esteemed Pourcel Brothers), and Greek-themed Ouzo (Lefteris Lazarou, Greece’s first Michelin-awarded chef). Back up the hill in the main building, more informal offerings can be found at ‘Flavors’ restaurant, and Italian inspired Fusco – one of the only alfresco options that is perfectly placed to catch sunset as it dips beneath the sea every night. And if none of these are fit to sate your appetite, 24hour inclusive room service also comes as standard.
In the Willy Wonka-style glass elevator we plunge down the side of the hotel’s main building against the recently fashioned living wall of greenery and picturesque waterfall. For such an imposing site on this steep hillside, the creative design team have done well to soften its edges in a number of clever ways. From beach level, guests can partake in activities such as sailing, kayaking, tennis, squash, table-tennis and cycling.
In the mid-afternoon, we try our hands at the latter on hotel bikes setting off out to the surrounding villages. It is spring when we visit, and so during our stay the area is only just waking up to the tourist season meaning the beach bars we pedal past are mostly yet to open. With the sun still strong on our skin however, what is most charming about this place at this time of year is that we have the long stretch of earthy beach all to ourselves.
The next day we are supposed to take a boat tour out onto the Aegean Sea to visit historical sites but a last minute cancellation for the weather means we are invited instead to investigate sister hotel Ikos Olivia on the pretty Gulf of Toroneos instead. Contrastingly low-rise to the Oceania, a little further along the coast, here sunny suites open out onto the water and offer seclusion and high quality adult living with an excellent kids club.
The detour gives us a welcome chance to explore a little while outside our ‘infinite lifestyle’ cocoon, passing through the village of Nikiti with its prehistoric heritage, set up high into the pretty surrounding landscape and prompting thoughts of buying inexpensive property and setting up shop here ourselves.
Come evening we find ourselves back closer to the hotel in the neighbouring town of Nea Moudania – a little resort town with a happy number of local tavernas. We dine out here as part of the hotel’s ‘dine out’ programme at Erodios, a restaurant whose name means ‘heron’ and comes well-appraised by previous visitors online.
If anything can be said for time spent at this well-photographed resort with high-end intentions, it is that life here is very much at ease. With spa treatments hotly fought over in between relaxing on the hotel’s beach or playing tennis with no other thought for competitive score, the final memory I take from Ikos Oceania is on our last day at quarter to seven in the evening.
Save for a few deckhands measuring the space between sun-loungers with their long reels of red string, I find myself by the main infinity pool all on my own. Two minutes later I am in the water, elbows resting on the edge. For many the magic here is the infinite lifestyle, for me it is a moment spent gazing out once again on to the infinite horizon.
Ikos Oceania originally opened on 27th March 2015 and was refurbished during the winter months this year, reopening and unveiling its refurbishment this April 2017. Ikos Olivia opened its doors on 1st May 2015 and has since expanded with brand new beachfront suites. For more information about Ikos Resorts, visit www.ikosresrts.com.
Travelbeam Luxury Holidays offers a seven night stay at IKOS Oceania from £695 per person, based on two people sharing a superior double sea view room in October on an all-inclusive basis. Price includes return flights from London and Luxury Private Transfers (www.travelbeam.co.uk; 0345 845 0145).