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Asterias suites and the Sani resort, Halkidiki

Pool Set in an ecological reserve on the unspoilt Halkidiki peninsula in mainland Greece, I'd been assured that the Sani Resort would undoubtedly make the top 5 of any list of perfect places for family holidays, requiring - amazingly - no compromise on either style or grown-up fun in return for happy children.
Julian Allason (from the FT How to Spend it supp) assured me that: "Porto Sani is one of maybe a dozen resorts in Greece that could be considered five star. Very few of these manage the Pine Cliffs/Forte Village trick of catering equally well to parents and children. Porto Sani Hotel is one of the best - a Greek Costa Smeralda minus the pretension and prices. I would certainly take my children there - and they range from 6 months to 23 years!"

High praise indeed, so armed with my 5 yr old and his grandparents, I decided to put the resort through its paces for babygoes2.

After a stress-free 3 hr scheduled flight from Gatwick and an easy 50 min taxi transfer, we arrived at the Asterias, to be greeted by staff and taken straight to our suites where check-in was painlessly completed. Minutes later we were sitting on our terrace sipping the complementary champagne, and tucking into the snack they'd thoughtfully provided, as our arrival was around 10pm. So far, so good.

Stylish accommodation
Accommodation Suitably revived, it was time for a good look round the rooms. The Asterias is the 5 star de luxe boutique hotel on the Sani resort, which also offers the five star Porto Sani Village hotel plus two other 4 star hotels. Our suite at the Asterias was spacious, comfortable and very stylish, with a huge bedroom and a large, separate lounge. Decorated in cool, neutral shades the suites are well equipped with sat TV in both rooms, dvd/cd in the lounge, softest Frette linen and Dr Hauschka products in the huge, contemporary bathrooms. Even better, they have a vast sofa-strewn private terrace with loungers, leading to a little garden which in turn leads to the pool or the beach. They are hard to fault. If pushed, I'd say that although child-friendly the hotel isn't of course child-safe - there are large glass-topped tables in the suites and on the terrace - so do take corner protectors if you have toddlers, or the hotel will remove the glass if requested. The little gates which open from the garden to the pool aren't lockable, so if you have resourceful toddlers able to open gates, you'll need to fashion your own locking device.

There is plenty of room for a family of 2 adults and up to 2 children, the huge terrace and little garden help are perfect for families with children. They are big enough to kick a ball round, and older children can let themselves out straight to the pool area/beach, whilst parents can supervise from the garden/terrace. The garden is ideal for toddler fun (with the gate proviso above), and for those with babies or toddlers still napping, they are perfect, as there's no need to miss out on the holiday fun cooped up in a darkened hotel room while your little darling sleeps away the afternoon - you can be out in the sun or shade in the garden, or even dipping in the pool/sea. The pool/marina suites are best for this.

Beaches, bikes, pools and perfect service
Pool So, the accommodation is a hit, but what about everything else? The pool area is lovely - a large free form pool, surrounded by loungers with rolled-up matching beach towels carefully placed at the foot of each, and there's a good sized childrens pool too. There's a moment when you first arrive poolside with your assorted, non-colour co-ordinated clutter when you fleetingly worry about disturbing the quiet symmetry of it all - but it passes quickly, or it did for me at least! The beach is great - fine white sand and very clear, turquoise water which shelves very gently and so is ideal for children. There's a large tree-filled grassy area behind the Asterias suites which is great for toddlers and children to run around and let off steam in, and perfect for babies to be wheeled around. Beyond this you can hire bikes for all ages - cycle trails abound and there is easy cycling for younger children around the marina and park areas. There are tennis courts close by with coaching, and the dedicated Melissa mini club (4-12 yrs) building is just beside these. And wherever you choose to put yourself - be it pool or beach, there's a army of attractive designer-clad staff ready to indulge your every whim - from extra towels to drinks or food, or even to adjust the positioning of your lounger, thanks very much.
It's very seductive. And very relaxing. It makes you want to live there, in fact.

Speaking of staff, the service at the hotel in general is very good. Staff are uniformly helpful and friendly (no surly glares or dismissive shrugs, or at least not in view of the guests), and there is both in-suite dining and massage. We took advantage of both - the in suite dining is a great solution if your children are sleeping and you want to eat restaurant quality food but want to stay close by. Having said that, the very chic bar (serves food until around 8) and restaurant are close to most suites, and if you have a marina front suite, monitors usually work, so you can enjoy a drink in the bar without forking out for a babysitter each time. The hotel has a limited number of baby monitors, so still best to take you own if possible, and ideally a digital one which will call your mobile.

Aside from the Asterias restaurant (which is quite smart), 5 min walk past the open air cinema takes you to the marina which has a whole variety of different eating options - from greek ouzeries to italian, to modern Greek.
The marina also has a wine cellar, art gallery, supermarket and a welcome array of boutiques with designer beach wear and accessories which of course, you MUST have.

Childrens club, activities and unique babe watch service
So aside from the pool, great beaches, tennis and bikes, what else is there for children? For babies, the unique 'Babe Watch' team awaits on the beach, ready to babysit your little one/s whilst you take a dip, stoll along the beach, or share coffee or cocktail at the beach bar. The Melissa Mini club for 4 to 12 year olds has a varied programme of activities for all ages - from sandcastle building to water fun, mini olympics, face painting and dancing. Staff are English speaking, enthusiastic and committed. The programme of activities is posted up each day outside the club and is on the hotel tv channel in all rooms, and the club can be dipped in and out of, as required. There's a selection of dvds at reception which are ideal for a bit of in-the-shade downtime.

Out and about
While the kids are happily occupied, what else is there to do for grown ups?
Well if you can tear yourself away fom the pure hedonism of the pool/beach experience, there are a number of other beaches within easy walking distance, plus trails through the woods and fields backing the beaches. We found this a great way to spend a cloudy morning. There are more taxing routes for serious walkers all around. There are plenty of other villages to explore nearby, and Thessaloniki itself offers a great day out - with lots to explore, sites to see, cafes to sit and watch the world go by in. In the summer, there's an arts festival on the resort.

Possibly the perfect luxury family holiday
Gardens We found that the resort definitely deserves all the praise that's been heaped upon it. It offers spacious and contemporary accommodation and the ambiance of a boutique hotel, yet you still have access still to all the facilities of larger resort - wide choice of restaurants and activities.
It's ideal for adults and children of all ages - and very good for families with a mix of generations as everything is so close by that everyone can do their own thing and meet up again within minutes. For those with babies looking forward to spending some relaxing time together it's perfect. The breadth of facility coupled with the excellent standard of accommodation and stunning location make the resort hard to beat. And everything is just so easy and SO relaxing. Of course, the very sybaritic lovelieness of it all isn't to everyone's taste - if you don't like to be in a resort environment and prefer to have to work a bit harder for your holiday pleasure, then it won't be your cup of tea. But it certinly is mine - we had a fabulous holiday, and will definitely return.

The 5 star Porto Sani Village is also great. It's in the centre of the marina and so you have a 5 minute walk to the beach (shared with the Asterias) but it has a much bigger pool with a bit more interest for children. Its suites (either junior of one or two bedroomed) have a simple kitchenette which offers a lot of flexibility - and still have good sized terraces, some with gardens. Also highly recommended.

Fact box:
Travel with Mediterranean Experience quoting babygoes2 - all bookings over £2000 total for 2005 and quoting babygoes2 will receive a free annual magazine subscription, to either Vogue, Junior, Conde Nast Traveller or Elle Decoration (full offer conditions click here)
Prices from £1146 per adult for one week in June/Sept in the Asterias suits and £914 per adult in the Porto Sani Village (one bed suite)

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