As autumn truly sets in and the weather takes a cool turn, you may, like us, be dreaming of your next sunny trip abroad. Greece has always been one of Europe's touristic hotspots, understandably so for its mouthwatering cuisine, mesmerising islands and the warm hospitality of its people.
Luckily, at the time of writing, the country is still safely on the travel corridor list with the exception of some islands. And as tourists are advised not to visit the likes of Santorini and Mykonos, Corfu may see even more of a rise in travellers. It certainly ticks plenty of boxes with its myriad of beaches, its natural beauty and its stunning Old Town (a UNESCO World Heritage Site no less).
MarBella Corfu is perched on a hillside in the south-east of the island
In September, while summer was drawing to a close in the UK, I jetted off to the beautiful island for one last dose of sun. My home for a few days would be the family-friendly resort MarBella Corfu, conveniently located just half an hour's drive away from the Old Town and the airport.
Tucked away in the south-east corner of the island at Agios Ioannis Peristeron, the five-star hotel sits on a hill surrounded by lush greenery, with views out to the breathtaking Ioanian Sea. The first thing that struck me about the property was the sheer size of it. You can easily spend ten minutes walking from your room to the reception, or stroll around the grounds that boast tennis courts, a mini soccer court, three swimming pools and even a chapel.
The decking area by the sea is one of the hotel's highlights
The all-inclusive packages are perfect for the fly-and-flop traveller. One of the highlights, and my favourite part of the hotel, was the private man-made beach. It isn't your typical sandy beach, but rather a decking area that has dozens of comfortable sun loungers and umbrellas and steps that lead into the sea. Perfect if you don't like getting your feet too sandy! The sun hits this idyllic spot for pretty much the whole day, meaning you could easily while away a few hours here. Plus, there's strong Wi-Fi and a restaurant and bar that serves snacks and lunch, so there really is little reason to move from your spot.
The more active guest can take advantage of the water sports on offer, such as kayaking and paddleboarding, or go hiking and mountain biking in the nearby area. As for swimming, the hotel boasts two large pools, one of which is fresh water and the other sea water. Playing a game of tennis or football is also possible; you just need to book the courts in advance. For families, there is a dedicated children's area that features the very vibrant Splash park with water features and a rainbow slide, as well as a toddler's pool and additional playground. There's also a mini market, a boutique and an ATM conveniently located on site if you fancy a spot of shopping.
Paddleboarding is one of the water sports on offer
Understandably, some of the facilities were closed during my stay, such as the gym, sauna and hammam although health enthusiasts can request a fitness kit to be delivered to their room for home exercises.
If you really want some R and R, you have to visit the spa and wellness centre. Treat yourself to a facial or full body massage – after all, you are on holiday! This was my first massage during COVID times, and while wearing a face mask during the treatment may not sound like the most comfortable experience, my therapist was brilliant. I instantly felt relaxed within minutes and it was hands-down one of the best massages I had had in a while.
The hotel lobby is a peaceful place to relax
Amid the pandemic, the hotel reopened its doors at the beginning of July and while it is not allowed to operate at full capacity yet, there were still hundreds of guests staying during my visit – proving just how popular the all-inclusive is. The hotel is sprawling enough to accommodate the throng of visitors though, whether that's in the slick, modern lobby, the outdoor Belvedere Bar or the dozens of deck chairs lined up around the pools and separate sunbathing terrace.
The lobby, which underwent a €1.5million renovation in 2018, is a pleasant place to curl up with a good book or enjoy an aperitif. Featuring earthy colours and made from marble, stone and natural timbers, it's a chic and sleek welcoming area. The adjacent Belvedere Bar that boasts views out to sea is also the perfect spot to watch dusk set in, with a cocktail in hand.
A suite with a private pool and garden view
The hotel offers a range of rooms and suites and during my stay, I was treated to a large Junior Suite whose pièce de résistance was the private pool, which even came with its own inflatable! While having your own pool isn't necessary given the hotel's man-made beach and large communal swimming pools, it was a real luxury and perfect if you want to splash out for a special occasion. The terrace also featured sun loungers and a shaded seating area.
The suite featured two rooms and one bathroom, all kitted out with modern and minimalist furnishings. Given the pandemic, the mini bar is only filled by request, but the other regular facilities were available such as luxury Gilchrist & Soames toiletries and a flat-screen TV. One of the main benefits of the suite was its quick and easy access to the beach, allowing guests to use the subterranean passage instead of crossing the busy main road.
The main La Terrazza restaurant offers a buffet service
Most guests either opt for a full or half-board package during their stay at MarBella Corfu and I would recommend the half-board. While the food wasn't the hotel's selling point, the main La Terrazza restaurant has been transformed to be as safe as possible for guests during the pandemic, plus the friendly staff really make you feel so welcome. Instead of a traditional buffet service, the dishes are presented behind glass walls and a server plates up your food, instead of you serving yourself and handling the crockery. You can still go back up as many times as you want, although unlike some all-inclusive packages in other hotels I've stayed at, no drinks were included in the half-board option, including water.
There was definitely enough of a variety of food, both Greek and international cuisines, although it didn't always feel five-star quality. At breakfast, I would recommend queuing up for the pancakes, crepes and omelettes that are freshly made on the spot. There's also a fry-up every morning should you be missing home comforts. And if you decide to dine outside of the hotel one night, you can always swap your half-board option for lunch instead of dinner.
The main restaurant was always heaving at night, so for a quieter option, you can always have your allocated meals in your room at no additional cost. Or, you could opt to pay extra and book into one of the two à la carte restaurants – Comodo, an Italian eatery or Platea, a Greek one. A €10 discount per person is applied to your bill.
The hotel's two large pools - one with sea water and the other with fresh water
Generally, throughout my stay, the hotel was buzzing with guests and for brief moments it did feel like I was back in normal pre-COVID days. Of course, MarBella Corfu has taken extra measures to ensure the safety of its staff and guests, starting by providing sealed disposable face masks and antibacterial wipes in your room when you arrive.
Social distancing and the wearing of face coverings in public areas are encouraged, hand sanitiser is dotted around, and communal areas are regularly disinfected. Guests can also download the hotel's free app to use for checking in and out, plus scan the various QR codes around the hotel and in your room for the restaurant menus, hotel directory and such. In-room cleaning only takes place once every three days to limit contact with staff, although you can have your room serviced more frequently if you ask.
While the countries on the travel corridor list are constantly changing, let's hope that Corfu remains on the safe list and visitors continue to enjoy the island's natural beauty and warm Greek hospitality.
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