Over the pandemic I sat in my house and dreamed of a holiday. I sat in my house, the same chair, the same view, the same arguments over the same toys, and over the months I honed this dream. Some people fantasised about trekking through the Himalayas. Some about exploring jungles, or paddling on a secluded beach, or dashing through Manhattan. I wanted somewhere I wouldn’t have to cook. I wanted a holiday where every decision was made for me, where we could make up for some of lockdown’s panic by lying worriless in the sun, some of lockdown’s lack of childcare by sending the children to play in a room that did not also contain us. I wanted an all-inclusive family resort, somewhere warm, and I wanted it badly.
So, having started idly scrolling options in 2020, two treacherous years later there I was, on a package deal to Corfu. We hadn’t been on holiday in three years: a lot was riding on this. I was travelling with my family, including a toddler born at the beginning of the first lockdown, who had never had a holiday in his life. We were curious to see what he would think of swimming pools, of other people, what he would think of the sea, and of being lifted 31,000ft into the air while beside him a stranger watched Friends without headphones. Turned out the answer was: liked it.
The resort was called MarBella (pronounced with a hard L) and it sat on the southeastern coast of Corfu, a sprawling complex of buildings surrounded by various lavenders and rosemaries and crowned with a colourful waterpark. Every 10 minutes or so a giant bucket of water would topple and spill from the waterpark’s peak, soaking those below the slides, whose delighted screams would trickle down the hillside to the two other swimming pools, one discreetly placed at arm’s length from all the shenanigans, where only adults were allowed. My partner and I eyed it greenly.
The morning after our arrival we were introduced to the hotel’s “dining concept”, by which I mean the buffet. I’d experienced the life-changing joy of a breakfast buffet in the past, but never had my family been lucky enough to go all-inclusive before, which meant, never had we done “dinner buffet” too. It’s difficult to come back from that, I’ll be honest. And for all the child-centred entertainment laid on – a kids’ club, pottery sessions, the water slides, Lego robotics classes – for my children the prospect of gliding independently through three aisles of potential dinners beat it all. Those first days for them were just clockwatching between buffets. There was a make-your-own sundae bit, and a whole dessert aisle – the big child would take the little child waddling through the restaurant and hold him up to gaze upon the puddings. They’d return with a tasting menu of cold things in small pots, often cream-based, sometimes lovely. I did feel sorry for the chefs – catering for a hotel stacked with British families, their local dishes were largely shunned by every person under 16, each of whom ate plain pasta with cheese every single evening. But despite this, everybody there floated on a similarly magical all-inclusive cloud: after all those months of lockdown meals, being cooked for was an oddly moving experience.
The aim was to relax. I had a vision of lying down very still in dappled shade, a state of lobotomised serenity. There were moments when I almost managed it, albeit with a sleeping child draped sweatily across my bikini, or on the balcony quite late at night. But for all the gorgeousness and enforced delight, I realised on day three there is only so much a hotel can do, unfortunately. They can provide good food, they can clean the rooms, they can plant bougainvillaea so it climbs across arches, they can set up a little counter by a swimming pool where fresh towels are available on request, but the rest, well, it’s up to you. On a family holiday, you can escape your home but you can’t really escape your family. So after a couple of days we gave up trying; we were so unpractised in the art of relaxation that we decided to wake up from the all-inclusive dream and chuck ourselves into a different kind of holiday altogether.
We left the compound and took a bus to Corfu old town with its wide, white marble pavements, slippery under a sandal, and its warren-like lanes, and its rocks leading down to the Adriatic sea, and its ancient fortresses, and its ice-creams. On our return to the hotel we shunned the buffet and adventured to tavernas up the coast, where we ate grilled fish beside the water. And eventually we shunned the pool and its jolly aerobic classes too, scrabbling down to a stony beach nearby, where, in the fantasy, I would have ripped my dress off and leapt shrieking into the sea. In reality I had to apply everyone’s sun cream, and then take a series of long minutes to clamber down the little ladder and then moanily submerge myself in the cold navy water, but it was worth it. I swum out, a modest distance, and looked back – one way I saw the hotel, white and shimmering in the heat, the other way mountains, covered in green and lilac bush. The best of both.
Fantasies ran rampant in the pandemic, shaking marriages, shifting careers and sending people like me to the long sandy beaches in their heads.
As the world saunters back to life, I predict a shift, away from holiday rentals and toward the all-inclusive holiday, where one can be looked after in a way we’ve missed out on. The issue with chasing a fantasy is that the reality is never quite what you imagined. But sometimes it can be even better.
A 7-night holiday with Jet2holidays at MarBella Corfu costs £649pp half board, based on 2 adults and 1 child (aged 2-11) sharing. For more details go to (marbella.gr)
July 24, 2022 at 03:51PM Eva Wiseman