“ Location: Kassandra, Halkidiki / Tel: +30 210 32 25 891 / Rating: 4 Star / Info: Previously called Villa Princess Theophano „
During the 1970s I had been fortunate enough to get a taste of Greece whilst spending a day there while on school cruise. All my fellow trippers seemed to agree that Greece was somewhere rather special. I had for many years wished to return to Greece. When my family were young, we holidayed in England, mainly due to cost. I have four children and going abroad with more than two can prove very costly. Well, my elder two had great family holidays in England, but it was the younger two who were able to enjoy holidays abroad from a younger age. Twice we took up the kind offer of the use of a friend and neighbour's time share in Spain. Well this refuelled the wish, again, sample the delights of other countries; one being Greece. At first my husband for some strange reason, probably a misconceived opinion, of Greece, (and possibly hearing of the plumbing limitations there and the need to use bins for lavatory paper rather than the used to method of flushing it down the toilet) was reluctant to holiday in Greece. However as he became a more seasoned traveller I managed to convince him to travel to mainland Greece. As usual before booking, I did some research, though nothing too extensive. I knew that the hotel I had in mind was very close to the beach; had a long transfer time from the airport; air conditioning was included; that facilities could be shared with its sister hotels, The Hotel Pallini and the Hotel Athos Palace. I believed that as it offered shared facilities, then my two older teenagers would find enough to do during our two week stay. And so off we went for a two week height of season holiday in Halkidiki, to stay at the Hotel Villa Princess Theophano. At this point I will mention that this hotel was booked by us through First choice Holidays as a package tour. I don't think it is now one of their featured hotels. I believe this hotel has been upgraded to some extent and now offers a more exclusive luxury type of holiday. It is now called Theophano Imperial Palace Hotel but was formerly known as Hotel Villa Princess Theophano. Looking at photos it doesn't look much different, apart from; I see that some downstairs rooms seem to have patio areas offering small private splash pools. TRANSFER /RECEPTION We flew with First Choice from Gatwick airport to Thessaloniki in Greece. We were directed to our coach and even though it was evening we still managed to enjoy the sites from the comfort of the air conditioned coach. My family never mind a long transfer to the hotel as it provides a good opportunity to see some of the area we are visiting. The transfer took around two hours and, although evening, as this was Greece, there was plenty to see when driving through towns and villages, as Greece is something of a night owl. Once reaching our hotel we were quickly checked in and directed to our rooms. Reception weren't particularly friendly. We had a problem with our room (their mistake) and the bed allocation. It seemed as if reception staff forgot their former linguistic skills when approached by us. This problem was only sorted out by the First Choice rep who was very active and persistent on our behalf, putting in a lot of time and effort to resolve the problem. Throughout our stay we weren't particularly impressed with the friendliness or the helpfulness of reception staff at this hotel. They seemed aloof in their manner which is quite different to reception staff encountered in Greek island hotels. ACCOMODATION To get to our rooms we had to ascend some steps and then walk along stone corridors, which had unglazed windows cut out of the stone here and there, offering wonderful views of the hotel grounds and beyond. One of our rooms looked out into the hotel's gardens and was delightful-greenery and flowers abounded. We could see a field occupied by some horses in the not too far distance. The other room, being on the other side of the corridor, looked onto the pretty swimming pool and the grassed area around it. Rooms were over two floors. Ours were situated on the first floor, some distance form any lift. Our rooms, when sorted, had three 'proper' beds in each. Beds were adequate in comfort. Soft furnishings were pleasant and mostly matched. We paid for the facility of the room safe (can't remember how much) in one room. Air conditioning worked well. The bathroom was pleasant and of average size. Some toiletries were supplied and were replenished (soap, hand wash, shower gel) during our stay. SWIMMING POOLS We mostly used the pool at our own hotel (although there were further pools we could use in the grounds of the sister hotels. These were close and easily reached). The pool here was pretty and the atmosphere relaxed. The water temperature was always warm as the pool was in a very sunny spot. Sunbeds were placed around the pool, either on the patio area or on the grass. Parasols were available but sometimes we chose beds placed in the cool of a willow tree. There was no animation team around this pool and it was very much an area to relax and read between swimming up to the pool bar and enjoying a cool refreshing drink whilst being half immersed in the pool. Wonderful! Bar staff were friendly and efficient. The other outdoor pools (there were indoor facilities too) were good. One was more a freeform type, and one was of Olympic proportions. This was the one where any animation took place. My son set himself the challenge of swimming a mile every day in this pool. This large pool was ideal for my older children who are both adept swimmers. They liked to go off for part of the day to have a 'serious 'swim. However, for me, being not so great a swimmer I felt that, although it was pleasant to sit around this pool it was a little deep for me. The third pool was used by families often with younger children as it had more shallow areas for the learner. All pools were close enough to wander from one to the others, and the grounds surrounding them all were attractive and authentically Greek and natural looking. RESTAURANTS We were able to use three dining areas on the all-inclusive package. One was by the Olympic sized swimming pool and this offered Al Fresco dining. One half of the menu was for all inclusive guests and the other was payable. Food was quite good unless you would want fast food. Pizza, Bolognese jacket potato was available but most food was Greek in style. Food orders were taken by a waiter and served to you at your table. One indoor restaurant was used for breakfast and lunch and the other usually used for dinner. Both were Greek in appearance. After finding your own table, a waiter would appear and take orders for drinks. Wine, beer, soft drinks and mineral water were available. Tea and coffee were available at the end of meals. Waiters were great fun; enjoying a laugh with all guests. They worked long hours in hot conditions but managed to remain charming. One always made a point of placing an extra unordered beer next to my husband at lunch times, as if it was a great joke to supply him with extra. Of course, my husband felt it would be impolite to refuse and so often needed an after lunch nap. Food was buffet style. The food seemed nice at first but during the second week I became a little bored with aubergines and peppers. There were plenty of meat dishes, fish and salads. One could choose to have lunch inside or out. We did both. Sometimes it was handy to eat by the pool as then this did away with the need to get changed. Restaurants were strictly no swimwear or vest top. A good thing, in my opinion. FACILITIES There should have been more facilities than could actually be found. For example there was supposed to be an over eighteen club/discotheque but this wasn't open during our stay which was a the height of the season. Pool tables were difficult to get onto there not being enough for the demand. But if wanting gym, sauna etc most could be found if taking into account all the sister hotels. ALL INCLUSIVE FACILITIES The hotel let its self down somewhat in the way in which its all-inclusive facility is available. I have stayed at many all-inclusive hotels and have got to say that this was the worst in limiting the all-inclusive. The evening entertainment for instance took place by the beach and the bar where the bar was exclusively a pay bar. One had to collect drinks from another bar a walk away, and fetch them to this area, avoiding the tiny baby frogs and uneven stone paths. That's why I stayed sober as my plastic glass was half empty! ENTERTAINMENT Daytime There was some pool games carried out during the day but nothing especially entertaining or to a great standard. We weren't particularly bothered by this. Evening This wasn't very good. Shows were mimed and often not in English. All entertainment was international but didn't really cater for English speaking guests who were well in the minority here. Bingo was called in many languages and was hard to follow, and lengthy. Also this seemed to be where guest from the three hotels came for the evening and was packed. The stage seemed too distant to most of the seating. We did strike up a friendship/rapport with a couple of families. We mainly made our own entertainment by playing cards, chess and dominoes. We also enjoyed evenings spent by the large pool where the drinks were served by waiters who all appeared to enjoy interacting with guests. Sometimes music was played, or an outside entertainer, such as a singer or keyboard player was brought in. This was never of a great standard but evenings here were very pleasant, owing to the beautiful surroundings. Sometimes we enjoyed taking a stroll outside of the hotel (not very much here though)or we went to one of the sister hotels where there were pool tables and some arcade type games. LOCATION Halkidiki is made up of three peninsulas on the Aegean Sea. As it is fork like in shape it's known as 'The Trident.' The peninsulas are: Kassandra, Sithonia and Athos. Kassandra is the most popular for holiday makers. In my opinion it is a great place for a chill out holiday in a beautiful location. I have heard reports of it being commercialised but we certainly never found this in the area where we stayed. It isn't designed for the British holiday maker specifically and will not have as many facilities to suit some as may be found in other holiday hotspots, such as Cyprus, Corfu, Crete or Rhodes. But the scenery is to die for... Although the local area of Kallithea doesn't seem to cater too much for the British holiday maker, it was adequate for us, having a few bars where a game of football could be watched and a leisurely drink enjoyed. But I don't think this area would be that suitable for families with children above the age of toddlers or especially, teenagers. It isn't too commercialised, which is nice but, also means there weren't that many facilities for families as there are in other resorts which are more commercialised. There was a go kart track somewhere in the vicinity near but we didn't visit. Outside the hotel is the main road; not that busy but buses and taxis could be found here. During the day my husband and myself left our son and daughter to enjoy the company of their new friends (there seemed to be very few English families here so this meant that the few that there were soon spotted each other and became friends) and took a walk off the main road and uphill. Once we had travelled uphill for some way we took a much deserved rest at a restaurant. We looked down at the view of greenery and the blue Aegean; it truly made the hot walk worthwhile. The main road outside of the hotel is not scenic at all;one has to walk further and away from the road to find the beauty spots. WEATHER During our two weeks here in August, we found the weather varied. It was always hot but not as unrelentingingly hot as, for example, Cyprus. When we arrived it was raining. We experienced rain for an hour or two on several days of the holiday, sometimes heavy. But we always enjoyed sunshine for most of the day. The heat would soon evaporate any puddles and we all managed to obtain sun tans. It was hot enough that we didn't need cardigans or jackets in the evening, and we needed a refreshing swim during the day. BEACH For me one of the most, probably the most, important aspects to my holiday is that I stay close to the sea and can have a week or two drinking in the atmosphere to help store up good memories for the Impending British winter. Well, here I had my fill. I adored swimming in the warm Aegean Sea while staying in Halkidiki. The beach in front of the hotel was mainly sandy, if a little rocky on entry to the sea. Once in it was delightful and the water was calm. Along the beach could be found a deep pool filled with small turtles. It was one of the hotel guest's most popular entertainments, to go along to this pool after breakfast to feed the turtles. I too was fascinated by their tiny heads appearing up out of the water as the food became available. Water sports here were good and we all partook of them in some form or another. The sea looked so inviting and so, of course, that made the water sports very popular. DISABLED GUESTS I feel disabled guest could have an enjoyable holiday in this hotel, if first checking with the hotel. A ground floor room would be a must, I feel, owing to the fact that lifts are only available in the main hotel and don't really serve the rooms. However, the rest of the grounds aren't too steep, but the pathways are a little uneven. However there ARE paths in place over most of the hotel exterior. Outside of the hotel the area can be a little uneven. There are traffic lights outside giving safer access to both sides of the road. Most areas are paved. I think it is worth researching more to see if it is easily manageable, as each disability is different. As it is such a lovely area I certainly wouldn't discount it before getting some expert advice. HOLIDAY OVERALL My opinion of this hotel is mixed but I loved the area. It certainly wasn't the friendliest of hotels in regard to the managerial and reception staff, and most other guests. I usually nod or bid other guests a 'good morning' or 'kalimera' but found here I was repeatedly blanked. However, I can handle that and found the bar staff and waiters wonderful. I loved hearing their tales of their homes, often on farms on quiet, sometimes remote, Greek islands. One spoke of working at this hotel during its opening season for years, and then in the winter returning to his home on a peach farm on the island of Santorini. He used his earnings from the hotel to keep the farm going. He could earn far more from waiting on tables than he could as a farmer, although, by British standards, his pay was extremely low. I think the tips supplement their wages to a large extent and in my opinion they deserved every penny, or cent! We all had a lovely holiday but I wouldn't recommend this holiday to those with teenagers. There really isn't enough to do and many more suitable places can be found for a family holiday. However, now that for the first time since having a family, my husband and I are being allowed a little freedom from our offspring, I would consider returning. We are quite happy to enjoy a drink of an evening while enjoying the sea view and relaxing by the pool in the daytime and having an occasional excursion. This hotel certainly would fulfil all that criteria. In my opinion this hotel and others in the surrounding area make a good holiday choice for couples of all ages wanting a relaxing holiday in a scenic location.