While Jordan and Egypt are in many ways the obvious answers, particularly for those who wish to continue their cultural adventure, we understand that many travellers are looking for a chance to bask in the sun, admire stunning views, eat exceptionally well and generally relax. Let’s face it, an Israel tour can be pretty content, emotion and experience heavy, and having a quiet chance to absorb the immense diversity and complexity of one of the world’s most compelling destinations is sometimes just what is needed.
A best kept secret is the extreme ease of travel from Israel to Hellenic destinations. Here is our write up of some of our best ideas for families and for couples.
If you’re looking for a chance for all the family to relax following an intense Israel tour, Cyprus is a great option. There are regular flights to Larnaca, and now flights to Paphos too. Cyprus is so close to Israel that the kids will hardly have a chance to spill their drinks all over their plane seats before arriving – the flight goes up and then comes down again before the kids have had a chance to ask ‘how long before we land’. Flights are more regular to Larnaca and luckily we have uncovered an excellent family resort just one hour away from the airport.
The Columbia Beach Resort is one of those places which manages to be both high end and super relaxed – what a relief with kids! The two bedroom suite (we prefer the sea view suites) is ideal for families – the clever design provides a spacious solution with master bedroom and lounge area, and then a kids bedroom and bathroom in one corner of the suite which can be closed off with heavy wooden shutters. Upon arrival the kids received their own welcome packs, and we loved the fact that their bathroom was stocked with kids shampoo and shower gel. Best of all was the kids club – the staff are all native English speakers, professional and charming. Activities included tennis, cricket, swimming and arts and crafts activities such as finding and then painting large, smooth beach pebbles, and making paper mache hanging jellyfish. All of these excellent kids activities of course leave parents free to lap in one of the two large outdoor pools, or enjoy the spa (complete with additional indoor pool), or read a book on a garden lounger looking directly out to the sea.
The resort offers several excellent restaurants – traditional Greek cuisine, excellent freshly caught fish, and even a sushi option.
For those flying to Paphos, you are within easy reach of Anassa resort. The hotel has a rather glam feel with a central sweeping marble staircase, well kept gardens, and some pretty upscale restaurants for evenings. Anassa also boasts an excellent kids club with both indoor and outdoor options and British trained staff, two fab swimming pools (one is smaller and shallower and therefore particularly comfortable for smaller children), and excellent breakfast and dinner buffets.
Santorini – it’s a classic and we love it! Famous for its views, sunsets and excellent cuisine, its reputation justified every step of the way. To make it clear – we would not recommend this as a family destination, especially for those who have younger children. It’s not just that the island has a more sophisticated feel – more importantly infrastructure is built on the edge of sheet rock cliffs around the islands periphery – which accounts for the stunning views and unsettling family set up. Getting from any one place to another in Santorini inevitably involves climbing up or down lots (and I mean lots) of steep steps, extremely stroller and toddler unfriendly – and also rendering it tough for anyone with mobility issues.
Warnings aside, Santorini is a deeply romantic and relaxing destination and we highly recommend accommodation which affords the very best views such as the Astra Suites. The view from our suite here was picture perfect : clear blue sea merging into clear blue sky, tiny, green land masses emerging from the former, circled by sea gulls and the occasional raptor. The hotel infinity pool area also shares this view with the pool itself flowing away into the sea. Breakfast is a private affair, served on your suite balcony, and the food generally at Astra suites was excellent (loved the seared tuna, asparagus and avocado salad!), as was the service.
On the topic of cuisine, Santorini is well known for having excellent restaurant options and we would particularly recommend West East for its sea views and Catch for its simply excellent culinary offering and conducive atmosphere in its sheltered garden. We loved the fresh sardines, totally original take on spinach cannelloni, fresh bream and snapper, and last but certainly not least, the inventive delicious cocktails and excellent local wine list.
Granted that this Hellenic exploration is predicated on the desire to relax – but relaxation does not necessarily mean doing nothing … possibly my very top tip for Santorini is to explore the island and its neighbours by private charter. We took a catamaran out for half a day and were excellently taken care of by our all female captain and crew. Being out at sea gives a wonderful sense of freedom and being at one with nature, and the views seem more spectacular with every turn. We also enjoyed the relative isolation (whatever Santorini offers, isolation is not one of them), and the feeling of privacy. The Aegean waters are warm and there are plenty of snorkelling stops to enjoy – the boat comes fully equipped with flippers, goggles, snorkels and towels – and we even saw a dolphin leaping through the waters in the not too far distance! The lunch we were served was truly excellent – fresh barbecued bass, seafood pasta, tzatziki, vine leaves, Greek salad and more, washed down with a light local white wine (it seems it’s hard to get away from the topic of food when regaling Santorini experiences!).
So whether you are travelling as a family group – large or small – or looking for quality couples time – it is well worth considering a Hellenic extension to your Israel trip. Please do ask us about it when we are mapping out your perfect experience!
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