30 October 2017
The scene before us is the stuff travel dreams are made of. It's what my husband and I have spent the past two years waiting for.
Sunshine. Whitewashed villas. Aqua waters. Pebble beaches. Ear-splitting tantrums from our three young children running circles beside us…
Ah yes, that's right.
“A family vacation to Greece with two kids and a baby!” people repeated with wide eyes and a slight chuckle when I told them of our July plans. “You guys are brave, aren't you?”
Not exactly. But when the travel consultant is begging you to confirm your party of five booking across half the width of the plane before it's lost forever to the travel gods, all mental images from your previous 21-hour flight of fellow passengers wanting to hurl your 13-month-old out the window just to STOP THE CRYING have long been replaced with Instagram snaps emblazoned in your mind of other toddlers frolicking adorably in the Mediterranean. Click! Holiday booked.
Long gone are my much-loved Greek summers of old: sitting on an island at the beach every day with a frappe in hand; hitching a ride into town on the back of a motorbike to go dancing and drinking watermelon shots off the bar until sunrise; volunteering entire summers to work on archaeological digs.
A sarong, for instance, used to be the most important item I owned for travelling. Now my trips to Greece involve booking a minivan at every stop to fit three child seats and nine pieces of luggage, interconnecting hotel rooms or a three-bedroom apartment that accommodates the five of us plus an au pair (aka my mother), and bringing approximately triple the amount of standard clothing changes necessary. (Hot tip: packing cells changed my life.)
It's usually at that point I start to wonder: is going to Greece with a young family really worth it? Why do we keep going back for more?
Well, my roots for one thing. That water for another.
Greek beaches are truly a child's paradise, on both the mainland and the islands. Umbrellas are provided at most of the popular beaches for a fee (which doubles in busier spots like Mykonos) but they make a good base for a day's activities and you can order that club sandwich or frappe straight to your lounger.
Still hungry? You can't beat the local no-frills taverna for child-friendly meals in Greece, a plethora of amazingly well-priced, delicious, home-cooked local food and most of it located within a stone's throw from your umbrella. That is, if you can tear yourself away from the local souvlaki shop, of course. (Much harder than it sounds.)
A good rule of thumb when island-hopping with kids is: the lesser known the island, the more enjoyable and affordable it will be. So consider beauties like Tinos, Andros, Milos and Ithaki.
That being said, if you're itching to give one of the famous islands a crack, beautiful Crete is pretty good bang for your buck. Pretty Mykonos is fabulous for a few days too - steer clear of the party beaches and stay at one of the many family beach resorts or town hotels instead. Just be sure to allow extra in the budget for Mykonos prices on everything from fuel to frappe.
Back on the mainland, despite what you may have heard, making time for Athens is a must. It might be a little dirty, it might be noisy, but once you're up on the Acropolis it all makes sense. Fossick through the flea markets of Monastiraki, people watch in Kolonaki, catch a flick at the outdoor cinema in Thision and visit the magnificent museums. If possible, always book accommodation with a pool in summer. A quick dip will make all the difference to weary, young travellers who are, unsurprisingly, lacklustre about being dragged to see the Parthenon in the heat.
Lastly, don't be shy about taking the kids on a night-time outing either. The chic Galaxy Bar on top of the Hilton Athens makes for an amazing spot to watch the sunset over the city; so book in early, get the kids' glad rags on, order them a mocktail to share, pull out the activities and soak it all in.
Because as far as family vacays go, Greece has them beat… until the ear-splitting tantrums start up again, anyway.
All images: Marie-Christine Sourris