Costas, our taxi driver, tells us we’re heading for the best hotel in Corfu and as we approach the hotel, cradled by the coastline amongst lush olive groves, cypresses and kumquat trees, I begin to understand. The following three days exploring the expansive property help cement this view.
MarBella Corfu is a luxury, five-star resort, which opened in 1972, undergoing significant refurbishment in 2014. Set between verdant landscaped gardens and the pristine blue flag beach at Ágios Ioánnis Peristerón it affords dramatic views across the sea of mainland Greece and Albanian coastal mountains within a relaxing atmosphere.
Corfu itself is a dream destination for people from the UK. This idyllic isle of the Phaeacians, second largest of the Ionian Islands, is geologically, culturally and architecturally diverse with grand palaces and museums and is well worth exploring. The stunning clarity of light throughout Greece – said to have played a role in the development of its ancient architecture – will lend itself to some of the best holiday pictures you’ve ever taken.
We visited during Greek Orthodox Easter, a spectacle of pot-smashing, egg-cracking, candle-burning and fireworks (April the 16th next year, if you fancy it), which sees the population of the island expand from around 150 thousand to close to 1 million – many of them Greeks from the mainland or other islands, wanting to experience something unique to Corfu.
Visiting the old town in Corfu city should be on your list of things to do to get a feel for the culture and ancient history (it’s on the UNESCO World Heritage list) and it’s simple to hire a car from the hotel or take a taxi or bus into the city of Corfu, but I can certainly recommend letting the hotel arrange a boat directly from their private jetty.
When you tire of tramping through the cobbled streets, travel through the old fortress on its rocky prominence to lunch at the sailing club restaurant. There, the hot sun is tempered by the cool sea breezes and you can sample traditional Greek food (cuttlefish for me) and beers accompanied by orchestral rigging.
Just as Corfu’s history is long and varied so, too, is that of the hotel, with more than 40 years in the business it has retained the charm of family-owned, while offering stellar hospitality. A property so capacious that even at close to full occupancy it never felt crowded.
Choose a room with a private pool, terrace or hot tub, views of the sea or garden – there are at least 15 room types in all – with soothing stone and earth-toned aesthetics.
I stayed in a junior suite in with a private pool, (thoughtfully lockable) mini bar, a bed I was loathe to leave, ample pillows, robes, slippers and essentials such as coffee and WiFi. Plenty of room for four thanks to the separate lounge/twin sofa bed area with its own TV.
Spring for an all-inclusive package to take full advantage of the many dining options: The hotel has six restaurants (including Greek food, Italian food and a beach restaurant) and four bars. Babysitting is available so you can spend a few nights enjoying a moonlit cocktail on the terrace or a glass of local wine gazing at the stars from the beach with the scent of Jasmine in the air and gentle cadence of the waves.
Unwind beside the freshwater heated pool or the stunning sea water infinity (with attached jacuzzi). If you’re with the youngsters at the time, choose the splash park and baby pool. As well the ubiquitous gym, get the blood pumping occasionally with tennis, archery, volleyball, aerial yoga or even strike out on a walk through the wooded hillside (accompanied hiking tours are every Wednesday and Friday).
A short subterranean passage connects you to the private beach where you can gaze at the fish in the turquoise-tinted Ionian sea, swim, relax, eat, paddleboard or even work on a dive certificate. While away pleasurable hours trying to spot dolphins or flamingos if sitting and watching is more your thing.
The comprehensive children’s services are provided in collaboration with Worldwide Kids Company (https://worldwidekidscompany.com), there are a wealth of age-specific activities and clubs, including a (paid) crèche from 4 months to 3 years and then (free) kids’ and teen clubs up to age 18. These, crucially, can be pre-booked online before you go.
Families are clearly a priority here rather than an afterthought, with well-compiled children’s menus and a host of entertaining activities from the staples of playground games and toys, pool play, crafts and beach games to more imaginative activities like teddy bear’s picnics, an on-call mermaid and scuba diving (from age seven). A football academy runs between May and August with daily professional coaching.
So by all means delight in activities as a family, but don’t miss out on a few hours alone to avail yourself of the extensive spa menu using natural Apivita products or convalesce in the hammam room and sauna. I went for the Queen Bee firming treatment, a relaxing and sensatory facial experience, and the smell of honey now takes me right back to that room.
We heartily recommend this beautifully situated hotel as a place for your young ones to have fun and for you to join them or relax while they are competently looked after.
You need never leave the confines of the resort; the breadth of activities to enjoy, the myriad accommodation choices, the sparkling sea view, the abundant dining options, the therapeutic spa treatments along with the water sports adventures ensure you won’t become bored but, should you feel the urge, a trip to Corfu old town is certainly worth it.
With flights around three hours (EasyJet behaved admirably) and a tiny time difference of two hours, it’s well within the ideal family-travel-window preventing major travel-related whinges and with minor routine-upheaval. Lounge access will really improve the airport experience, too.
A truly versatile resort for a memorable holiday; get married here, honeymoon here, spend time with family here.
Classic Collection Holidays (0800 294 9315; classic-collection.co.uk) offers 7 nights at Marbella Corfu Hotel from £949 per person in September. Price based on 2 adults sharing on a half board basis and includes return flights from London Gatwick (direct flights also available from 8 further UK airports and Dublin) and private transfers.
Lounge Access available through Dragon Pass (en.dragonpass.com.cn)