Travel Director Sally Stileman gives us her feedback  on travelling to Greece during the pandemic.

Many months ago at the end of 2019, in those halcyon, pre-COVID-19 days, the hubby and I booked ourselves a trip to Ikos Olivia on the peninsula of Halkidiki in Greece.

We needed a holiday more than ever this year, so as the chaos of 2020 unfolded over the months preceding our August holiday, we remained positive throughout and stood firm in our resolve that, as long as our hotel and flights were operating, we were going too. We started our holiday with a stay at the Hampton by Hilton at Gatwick, which is attached to the North Terminal, making our rather anti-social departure time of 5.30am seem slightly less gruesome. When we arrived the night before, the airport was like a ghost-town and we were lulled in to a false sense of security that a normal two-hour check would be fine in the early hours; oh boy, were we wrong! 

​As we emerged in the North Terminal at 3am, there were excited travellers everywhere.

Thankfully though everyone was wearing masks and obeying social distancing rules. The check-in process took longer than usual as EasyJet diligently checked everyone had completed their QR form (a ‘protocol for arrivals’ form which must be completed 48 hours prior to departure), so I would really advise leaving yourselves at least three hours for this process as we ended up running for our flight (not at all fun with face-masks on!), although with the benefit of hindsight we were happy for the extra exercise given the amount of food and alcohol which was to be consumed over the next two weeks. 

The flight was three-quarters full, with everyone on-board obeying all the new rules of wearing face-masks...

...And, where possible, keeping their distance: the general consensus and mutual, yet silent, agreement being that we were all desperate to make it on holiday and stay on holiday. The flight was over in a flash – just shy of three hours and we’d landed in Thessaloniki! The new social distancing rules meant each row was released row by row which made for a pleasant change from the usual scrambling for bags and edging forward before the doors have even opened. We’d paid for upfront seating which I’d highly recommend as we got through to passport control swiftly. Once through, we were asked for our QR forms which were checked by an official before we were sent on our way to claim our luggage (no test was taken). We had nearly made it! A few folks on our flight were tested but we were not contacted again, meaning our flight was clear of COVID-19.

​Once we had our luggage, we headed straight out of the airport and were met by an Ikos representative who showed us to our waiting vehicle. It was all so very easy.

Just 45 minutes later we arrived at the entrance of Ikos Olivia and before we could step out of the vehicle our temperatures were taken. No-one had a temperature, so off we went to reception where we were met by the ever-happy Ikos concierge staff who explained that our luggage would now be disinfected whilst we were all taken to the medical centre to be tested for both coronavirus and the anti-body for COVID-19 – just a quick pin prick test on our middle finger (not the children) and then a 10-minute wait for the results. We were asked to keep our masks on until the test results were given, and I have to say the wait for our fate to be decided was antagonising! Nerves were high, although we were eased by the staff that if we tested positive we could still stay in a specially reserved area with its own pool and have room service so worst case scenario, it wouldn’t be so bad! 

Finally, the doctor emerged with the thumbs up sign – we were all negative!

Prosecco followed in celebration and masks could finally be discarded into the bin – we had made it to our holiday and could now relax in our new beautiful haven, safe in the knowledge that everyone here had been tested… priceless! Where in the UK can you go where such measures have been taken? Everything was so seamless and straightforward. We later learnt that not one single guest at Ikos had tested positive (by 16 August). Once we’d settled into our beautiful Beachfront Suite we began to forget about the global pandemic – suddenly we had the choice of a beautiful beach to use with endless amounts of space (nothing like the scenes we have witnessed in Bournemouth and Brighton) and a huge free-form pool which must have been at least 50-metres-long ensuring there was always ample space per family. 

The measures the hotel had taken felt natural in such an environment...

…Like all dining options being outside (not a buffet in sight); a structured and efficient pool/beach service meant you never had the need to go to a bar to get grab a drink; sun-loungers were spatially distanced; hand sanitiser readily available; menus were all available on apps; and families stayed in their bubbles with friendly small-talk in-passing. The only true reminder was that all the staff wear masks the whole time, but to be honest, after a few days this just becomes the norm… it was refreshing however not to constantly hear newsflashes and media reports about coronavirus all the time.

What did we miss out on?

The indoor spa pool and steam/sauna were closed but on a family holiday you’d be lucky to use those facilities if travelling with small children so there was no loss for me this time anyway! This is a measure all hotels are taking. No parties or shows in the hotel were allowed, but again I’d be lucky anyway to get to one of these. The hotel did however manage to have live singers and bands playing in various locations every day. Did we feel like we’d not had the full experience? Not at all. The hotel was amazing and pulled out all the stops to make sure everyone who took the risk to travel had the best experience possible. It was one of our best ever family holidays… in fact, thinking about it, it was the absolute best. 

The journey back home was a lot more straight-forward than it was when we left.

We filled in the UK plf form which was very straight-forward two days before we left which is the maximum time before you can complete it. Thessaloniki Airport was calm and peaceful and the check-in and security process took no more than 20 minutes. We had ample time to browse the duty free and have a drink before our flight. In contrast to our outbound flight, the inbound was practically full with holidaymakers all rested and relaxed having taking the risk to travel. Then there was the usual landing into Gatwick – and that overwhelming feeling of your stomach sinking as soon as you see the grey, wet weather approach… and you’re reminded again that the risk was more than worth it! There were longer than normal queues at passport control due to the new checks but they managed to get them moving a lot faster than on the way out for sure. And that was it, we’d been on holiday during a pandemic and apart from the UK Airport being a bore either side, we’d had the time of our lives – Greece was a winner on all fronts!

Find Out More...

  • Ikos Olivia Sithonia, Halkidiki

    Heralding a new breed of all-inclusive luxury to Europe (yes all-inclusive – luxury – in Europe!), the thoroughly-modern IKOS Olivia is most certainly ‘one to watch’.

    Call us on 01244 567 000 to start planning your next holiday.

    View this property

Request a call back

Or get in touch 01244 567000