When I answered a brief questionnaire for travel operator CLC World Resorts & Hotels at Alicante airport last year, on the promise of being entered into a prize draw to win a free holiday, like most sceptics I never believed I might actually get to go on that holiday. So finding myself here, in sunny southern Spain, sat with my legs in a warm pool watching my two little boys shriek with delight as they splash contentedly in the water front of me, is all the sweeter knowing this precious week of family escapism is not going to hit our bank account too hard.
Of course, there is no such thing as a truly free vacation – there was the sales appointment in London which my husband and I had to attend to get here and we also paid for our flights. But as we were required to fly to Malaga on the Costa del Sol, there were plenty of budget flight options and CLC World arranged the rest. We even received £75 of high street vouchers just for our time. The on-resort appointment was painless enough, we viewed the accommodation and facilities, and learned about CLC World – one of Europe’s largest independent resort operators and developers, with resorts in locations all around the world – and their tailored membership scheme which can give you access to 50 resorts over a minimum period of 3 years.
Last week we arrived at CLC Club La Costa World with cautiously optimistic expectations, having been wowed by promotional videos showing luxury resort amenities, lush tropical gardens and beautiful people. First impressions were immediately pleasing – and being a seasoned travel journalist, I suppose I might not be the easiest to impress. Once through the ‘Club La Costa World’ archway up a hillside just outside the small port town of Fuengirola, some thirty minutes down the motorway from Malaga, you are immediately treated to panoramic Mediterranean views. Inside the resort there are plenty of palm trees, smart, spotlessly clean sandy-coloured buildings, smiling staff and, to the boys’ excitement, the CLC World ‘train’ parked right outside the ‘California Beach’ reception, at CLC Santa Cruz Suites, where we were staying.
The train proved the best way to get our bearings in this vast resort, which is like a village in itself. There are 800 apartments spread out over a total of 950,000 square metres, 21 pools, six bars and restaurants and two mini convenience stores. As all accommodation has its own kitchen area, we liked the fact you can stock up on food and there is no pressure to eat out every night, although the food on-site is very good – the paella at Safari and fajitas at El Rancho being particular highlights - plus there are children’s menus offering plenty of variety for the fussiest of little eaters.
As you would expect from a large resort, there was entertainment provided every day and we discovered the early evening events for children which included a Paw Patrol parade and some marching Minions. Hearing our boys’ laughter and watching them reach new heights ‘bungee trampolining’ at sunset, between making friends in the hill top play park, created holiday memories to treasure.
Most of our days were spent pottering around, relaxing and re-charging around our two-bed Santa Cruz Suite, perfectly situated close to two large family-friendly swimming pools, which we practically had to drag the children away from at the end of each day. Our suite was of a high spec in a contemporary design with ample space for us all, and there were handy amenities including a washing machine and large TV, plus a whirl-pool spa bath in a large open-plan master bedroom for mum and dad. The suite opened into a small garden with a hot tub, seating area and loungers, ideal for whiling away a lazy afternoon.
Although you could quite comfortably spend a week inside the resort, we were keen to spend a little time venturing further afield to experience some of the real Andalucia. The children loved our morning spent sailing with ‘Captain John’ on his Bombay Sapphire boat from Fuengirola port. Exploring the picturesque ‘white village’ of Mijas is a must, for the jaw-dropping views down to the coast, arty shops and many cafes. And we all enjoyed a Jeep Safari tour – our ranger, Graham, delighted the boys with his knowledge of local plant life and tackling all kinds of terrain as we off-roaded around the Spanish countryside. The Ranger’s Tour included lunch at a traditional tapas restaurant, and all logistics were arranged seamlessly by CLC World’s helpful Guest Services.
With the facilities and accommodation hitting a high standard, I was keen to discover more about whether the membership scheme genuinely offers value for money, so I spoke to long-time CLC World members Helen and Phil Harris while I was at the resort. The Harris’s have been members for 17 years and have holidayed in resorts all around the globe – including Buenos Aires and an Antarctic cruise – as well as the luxury UK hotels owned by the travel giant, which has access to more than 3000 resorts worldwide courtesy of its exchange programme with Interval International.
‘First of all, you think, is it really going to look like the brochure?’ Helen admits, ‘But every time, it really does. Everyone thinks there’s a catch – and the only catch is you get a fantastic holiday.’
But fantastic holidays come with a price tag, and if you’re spending a sizeable amount on a contract that will last a minimum of three years, you need to ensure you’re getting your money’s worth.
‘It’s a big holiday investment,’ explains Phil ‘And it’s only good value if you use it and get the most from it – that’s what we do. I don’t think there’s anything we’ve asked for that they couldn’t deliver.’
‘The quality and consistency you get at CLC World means so much to us,’ adds Helen, who reveals the couple now holiday once a year in the same Signature apartment in the Spanish resort. They have brought Phil’s mother on holiday with them this time, ‘She burst into tears when she took in the view from the balcony,’ Helen reveals, ‘She was so blown away. It’s a home-from-home for us, there’s no stress. We’re welcomed back here like long-lost friends.’
It’s all very convincing. So, would I sign up? I’ve never considered a holiday membership scheme before, but, like many people, I have often day-dreamed of the possibility of owning a pied-a-terre somewhere sunny for easy family holidays a short hop from Britain. I can see how CLC World appeals to this market – it offers a close alternative to that ideal, none of the hassle of maintaining your holiday home or dealing with rental agents in quieter months. Plus, as my CLC World free holiday has shown me, you couldn’t hope for a safer environment for families or lone holiday makers, with friendly staff on hand almost everywhere you look.
We will soon find ourselves bound by the school holidays and a CLC World membership can take the stress out of finding a suitable family holiday during that busy – and very expensive – school holiday period. I’m tempted.