What would make you return to a certain hotel for the second year in a row and spend the summer holiday there with family and friends? The number of stars, luxury amenities, its fancy restaurants or daring architecture? None of these. It’s all about the location, the professional service and the friendly staff who greets you with a warm, genuine smile every time they see you. It’s about feelings and moments, not things.
Despite being a frequent flyer, reaching some of the world’s most fascinating places on business or personal trips – New York, St. Maarten in the Caribbean, Japan, Nepal, Los Angeles, China, Dubai, Rio de Janeiro, to name just a few – I’ve never been to Greece up until June 2017. Many of my friends and business partners have been going there for years, so I said to myself I have to see, first-hand, what’s so special about Greece. And so I booked, through a travel agency, a 6-night family stay at Elea Village, a 3-star Acrotel property in Sithonia, Halkidiki, one hour drive from Thessaloniki airport.
As a petrolhead and former motoring journalist, I’ve arrived at the hotel after a long, but scenic drive through three countries: Romania, Bulgaria and Greece. Located on the coast of Elia, near the villages of Nikiti (10 km) and Neos Marmaras (12 km) and offering magnificent views of the Toroneos Gulf, Elea Village is surrounded by beautiful gardens with olive and palm trees, as well as various Mediterranean plants. Distributed across 8 traditional buildings, Elea Village – which will be upgraded and turned into a 4-star Plus hotel in 2020 or 2021 – offers 80 rooms: 36 Standard double rooms that accommodate up to three guests, 18 Superior double rooms (with extra bed) that accommodate up to four guests, and 26 family apartments that consist of two rooms with one double and two single beds. Each room features air conditioning, a refrigerator, satellite TV, bathroom with shower and a balcony or terrace. If last year I’ve booked a Superior Room with Sea View, this year I’ve opted for a Standard Room and a longer stay (10 nights).
Which is the one thing that almost always pops in your head when you think or speak about Greece? Many will say delicious food and tasty culinary experiences. Of course, eye-catching landscapes, that mesmerizing crystal-clear, blue water, interesting traditions and beautiful people (inside and out) also come to mind. At Elea Village, the menus were created with a fine selection of Mediterranean and Greek flavors. Votsalo, the hotel’s restaurant, located close to the main and kids’ pools, is a “restaurant with a view”, offering unforgettable vistas at sunset as you dine.
If you like to wander around, exploring the region by car throughout the day, then we recommend half-board when you book your stay. This way you can enjoy breakfast, then jump in the car and set off to explore new locations, have lunch at a tavern discovered along the way, and return at sunset, just in time for dinner. Elea Village also offers all-inclusive stays. To make new friends or simply to enjoy a cappuccino or a Greek beer with your closest ones, the hotel’s pool bar is the perfect place to do just that. Located next to the swimming pool and overlooking the sea, surrounded by a garden with olive trees, palms and flowers, the bar offers cold drinks, fresh juices, coffees, snacks, ice creams and cocktails. The music’s good, too!
Apart from the hotel’s restaurant, which awaits you with a wide variety of food that changes daily, you can also savour Greek cuisine at two taverns close-by. Right across the narrow road which winds in front of the hotel there’s Boukadoura (Akti Elias) tavern. It offers not only delicious Greek food, but also breathtaking views at sunset, when you can watch the sun going down at the horizon while enjoying a glass of wine and listening to chill-out music. Virginia is another cool tavern located further down the road, 2 km from Elea Village (next to Virginia Hotel), offering refreshing views over the azure sea, with some tables positioned right at the edge of the cliff.
Coming back to Elea Village, guests also enjoy themed events three times per week. The Greek Night unfolds every Friday evening in the hotel’s garden, close to the pool and bar, enchanting tourists with traditional Greek dances and music. Everybody feels good, so – at some point – almost all of those who watch the two Greek performers from the side end up dancing, clapping their hands or singing. During this year’s stay, Sunday evening was reserved for Piano Night, while jazz lovers gathered around the bar on Tuesday night for a live jazz performance.
During the summer season, Latin nights and other activities like pottery lessons are organized on the hotel’s grounds, which also include a playground for children. Elea Village doesn’t have a beach of its own, but you can reach one with sunbeds and umbrellas after a 5-minute walk, to the left of the property. However, our favourite beach – narrow and overlooking the amazing turquoise waters – was closer that that, almost 100 m from the hotel, on the right side of the road, hidden in the trees’ shadow.
The 10 nights I’ve spent at Acrotel Elea Village in mid-July went by quicker than expected. Time flies when you’re having fun, right? During this year’s stay I’ve also met and spoke with the hotel’s General Manager. Passionate about the travel industry and knowing a thing or two about running a restaurant, Efi was present almost daily in the middle of her team to make sure everything goes smoothly and guests are satisfied with the service. Fully committed to what they do, Pandora, Souzi, Marilena, Ria, Aleksandra, Roxy and Nikos – some of the staff’s young members – impressed me during the brief, yet interesting chats we had on various topics. Some of them want to pursue a career in hospitality, others are working at the hotel only as a summer time job. Either way, they’ve proved – once again – that being passionate about what you do and “wearing” a genuine smile makes a lasting impression.
If only more hotel employees and GMs were like this…