Sani Resort, Greece
I am not a number. I am a free man. Suggestions of The Prisoner may not be the most flattering comparison for a holiday destination but: a) that was my first reaction on seeing the sprawling, orange-toned “private village” of the Sani Resort; and b) five minutes into the stay, you realise you’re anything but a number and, even if you were, you probably wouldn’t mind seeing out your days within the confines of this well thought out resort.
Open from April to October, on that ‘E’-shaped headland at Halkidiki (about an hour from the well-served Thessaloniki airport) Sani is a collection of what some slick-haired, irony-free, real estate whizzkid would probably call “vacation spaces”. The main reception may feel like a luxury hotel lobby but is effectively the hub for the various experiences on offer. Further along the coast lies the actual hotel, which is the “mass appeal” part of the resort.
Around the reception building and its network of pools, terraces, restaurants and bars are some of the “apartments”. If that suggests something vaguely tacky, think again. These are beautifully appointed, spacious and blissfully quiet, even for a resort so clearly family friendly. They are a little bit “beige” as a result – odd, given the vibrant colour of the resort as a whole – but then perhaps you don’t want to be visually challenged by your hotel room when you’re trying to sleep. A short stroll from these rooms is the marina and PortoSani Village, a “recreated” Greek village so perfect, it’s surprising Hollywood haven’t shot Mamma Mia II there. Restaurants jostle for space with boutiques, cafés and a well-stocked supermarket, and all overlook some terribly impressive yachtage. Further up the coast, but still within the “confines” of the complex, is the beach resort, with its (elegant) spa, charming coastside taverna, and sporting opportunities. Reading this back it sounds terrible and fake and hideously artificial, and like it’s trying too hard to be all things to all people. In fact, Sani is none of the above.
Even if it was, I’d forgive it more than that for the 10 days in May when it turns its various restaurants over to the world’s finest chefs for the “Sani Gourmet Festival”. Last year, the theme was female chefs, with meals prepared by the likes of Cat “Iron Chef” Cora, Cornelia Poletto, Montse Estruch and Reine Sammut – and that’s five Michelin stars right there. I enjoyed dinners from Clare Smythe – of Gordon Ramsay fame, add another three stars – and, particularly, Maria Elia, formerly of Whitechapel Art Gallery and Delfina, whose Greek heritage and deceptively simple approach squeezed intense flavours from the excellent local produce. She’s opening her own place in London this year, on this evidence a very good thing. This year (May 13-22) I’m reliably informed it’s the French street food and back to basics movement, so expect a couple of weeks of stunning bistro food and calorific nostalgia.
Sani is up there with the best. Pretension-free chilling, effortless service and, for 10 days in May at least, the best holiday catering imaginable.