Review of Mark Warner Holidays Paleros Beach Resort
Founder of School Guide and mum of two teenage boys, Victoria, visits the beautiful family-perfect resort of Paleros and discovers the secret to a safe and hassle-free family holiday during travel restrictions is to let Mark Warner holidays take the strain
• Why the extra travel admin is 100% worth it
• How to book and make preparing to travel easy
• Mark Warner's complimentary kids clubs get 10/10
• Shake off lockdown with all-inclusive fitness activities
• It's not too late to escape before the kids go back to school – and save £££s
Fly-away family travel in a pandemic can feel daunting, and even finding the headspace to plan a trip can be a challenge. But it doesn’t have to be.
The secret to a safe and stress-free summer holiday this year is to travel with a company who have thought of everything – so you don’t have to.
My two teenage boys and I have just returned from a Mark Warner holiday in Paleros on the Ionian Coast of Greece, and I can’t believe I even hesitated to book.
Honestly, please don’t be put off by the travel traffic light tick boxes and tests. If you have the slightest inkling you’d like to switch your staycation brolly for a bikini and bottle of Factor 50 this summer, I’d warmly recommend that you let Mark Warner Holidays hold your hand every step of your getaway.
Yes; there is extra admin. Yes; it’s 100% worth it.
I’ve always loved Mark Warner holidays for their all-inclusive activities and kids clubs but this year the company has really come into its own. They have taken all the fuss out of family trips to the sunshine with pre-travel checklists, straightforward explanations of government guidelines and step-by-step PDFs to guide you through the form filling.
Travelling to Greece Made Easy with Mark Warner Holidays
Travel to Greece is currently quarantine-free if you are double-jabbed or under-18. Double-jabbed adults don’t need to do a PCR or rapid antigen test before travelling, either. Under-18s do need a certified rapid test result but Mark Warner send a list of recommended online testing companies including discount codes, so you can quickly click and book. We used DocHQ who tested Team GB pre-Olympics and offer idiot-proof 30-minute rapid test video consultations (£32) and send your fit-to-fly certificate by the end of the call. You can read more information about testing options and pre-travel checklists on our Facebook page ('Getting To Greece') but here are my top three takeaways:
1. Online testing package still require a test pack to be posted to you so make sure you have a delivery window of around 3 days or opt for next day delivery if it's available. Otherwise, book a local testing centre that issues fit-to-fly certificates and make sure the test date is within 48 hours of LANDING at your destination (not take off time).
2. All passes and forms are digital and have QR codes so you can, in theory, show all your documentation on your phone. However, take screenshots of all the codes and emails in case the wi-fi fails at the airport. Better still, go old school and print everything out on paper.
3. Masks are a definite for the entire journey and the paper medical ones are ideal as you can take spares and change them after a couple of hours. Guidance says that medical disposable masks last for up to four hours but time in airport plus flight plus transfer to resort makes a quick change sensible – and you feel nicer too.
We flew to Atkion (Preveza) airport on mainland Greece – it’s the airport that serves Lefkada and the Ionian islands, and Mark Warner's Paleros resort is just a 20-minute journey along the coast. Our British Airways flight was incredibly smooth and I have never seen such an immaculate airplane. All surfaces are professionally sanitised before departure and mask wearing is mandatory even when sitting in your seat. Ground staff in the UK check all your documents before you are issued a boarding pass. In some ways, it felt easier than pre-pandemic travelling when school summer holidays usually signal chaos and long queues at airports.
From the outset, we really did wonder why we had been so uncertain about travelling overseas this summer. And that was before we even made it to the resort.
First Impressions of Paleros Beach Resort – Just Wow
Arriving at Paleros Beach Resort was nothing short of magical. Natasa, the wonderful resort manager, was there to greet us, and we instantly got a sense that nothing was going to be too much trouble. All we could see was pretty whitewashed buildings and glistening pools. The sky was bright holiday blue and everything seemed to sparkle. And then it happened: my teenage boys stepped out of the taxi and started to beam. Two smiles appeared that seemed to erase all the challenges of school closures and missing out of the last eighteen months.
I wish I could have bottled the way I felt in that moment. I’d exhaled even before I'd got to our room, and could feel my shoulders unhunching for the first time in many, many months. We spent the whole afternoon on the beach relishing jumping in out of the crystal clear water. We only stopped for a huge plate of tzatziki and pitta bread in the hotel's shaded beach taverna. After a few hours at the hotel, we felt like we'd been there for a few days.
The resort makes it that easy to switch off and leave the United Pingdom behind.
All-inclusive Kids/Teen Activities
The boys’ smiles became pretty much a permenant fixture for the next two weeks – even if their company was not. They headed off at the first opportunity to Kids Club (10-13 years olds) and Indy Club (14-17 years olds) respectively, and spent most daylight hours in activity bubbles with new mates.
Mark Warner is famous for its award-winning childcare but it’s not just younger kids who benefit from the all-inclusive activities. My boys were familiar with the routine of checking the daily planner for activities from previous Mark Warner holidays and knew they could sign up for as many – or as few – things as they wanted to. Paddle boarding, beach volleyball, kayaking, tennis, windsurfing and sailing were all on offer, as well as evening dinners, quizzes and games.
Truthfully, you either LOVE the idea of your kids being endlessly occupied all holiday long – or don’t. I am firmly in the first camp. After three lockdowns and the long winter ban on sports and PE, I couldn’t have been happier that my boys were taking part in the complimentary activities. They could dip in and out and spend time in the room watching YouTube if they wanted to – but they didn’t. I have never experienced less cajoling to get hormonal lads out of bed and off their phones than on a Mark Warner holiday.
Part of the appeal of clubs is that they are run by British-trained activity staff, and all of them have an infectious give-it-a-go enthusiasm which seems to cut right through any teen eye-rolling. My sons gained real confidence in a range of the waterfront sports, and it was amazing to see how quickly they picked up things like windsurfing when the conditions were perfect and they had mates to learn with.
My older son had previously gained his Level 2 RYA sailing qualification at Mark Warners resort in Rhodes and this time relished the freedom of being able to sign out dinghies and skim along the shore of the resort with friends.
My younger son, who I’d struggled to motivate to do daily exercise when all his beloved team sports had been cancelled due to Covid, was so busy bombing around the resort with his Kids Club mates that he didn’t even realise his fitness was being seriously reset. This was stealth PE at its finest.
The unexpected star of the holiday show, however, did not involve any sports kit. It was the social interaction. It was an absolute joy to see my children make new friends once again after months in dark bedrooms talking only to screens. All the old rituals returned on the first morning: the sussing out, the eyeing up, the tentative monosyllabic teenage chit-chat and, finally, the banter. In the wide-open spaces of the resort, where every activity except for sleeping is done outside, they could be themselves once again. Mark Warner lets kids be kids.
Rather brilliantly, however, it also turns out that mums don’t have to be mums. This mum relished every second of NOT having to cook (there is a fantastic buffet for breakfast and dinner – all Covid-safe with plastic disposable gloves for every guest); NOT having to clean (housekeeping staff even dealt with the teenage floordrobes); and NOT having to nag the kids to exercise/eat healthily/do something that didn’t involve Snapchat.
What this mum DID do was swim, snooze by the adult pool, read, go on a cycle ride, take a HIIT class, sign up for sunrise yoga and progressed from sitting on my middle aged knees on a paddle board to standing up. I even developed a new skill of which I am exceptionally proud: ordering a banana slushy from the pool bar with NO MUM GUILT WHATSOEVER. Bliss.
"I know foreign travel isn’t for every family this summer. But I would warmly encourage anyone who has an inkling to escape to the sun to not be put off by the extra admin."
Paleros Beach Resort – Perfect Laid-Back Luxe
So, now for the picture postcard bit: sun, sea, sand and a little bit more about this stunning 5-star resort. Fully-refurbished in 2019, it’s a beautiful low-rise hotel nestled right next to a sandy beach with the Acarnanian Mountains as its backdrop. I’d describe it as low-key, laid-back luxe. Parents feel spoilt but they also don’t have to worry about their kids going free range.
The rooms are all situated in low slung buildings with whitewashed walls and traditional Greek dry-stone accents. Terracotta roof files glisten in the sun and rooms are separated by white laser cut panels that look like they are straight out of the pages of an interiors magazine. Doors and pathways are strewn with hot pink bougainvillea and deep green Yucca plants, and palm trees and olive trees mix effortlessly across the lush gardens. Without doubt, it’s one of the most beautiful and comfortable places I have ever stayed. It’s modern and spacious with just the right amount of Mama Mia to make you feel like you want to pinch yourself.
The tennis courts, bike centre, fitness studio and spa are all within a minute or two walk of each other. The waterfront centre, where you can take out sailing boats, paddleboards, windsurfers, canoes and kayaks (all included), has its own dedicated area on the beach and there's also a section of sun loungers and tropical-style rattan parasols – all with easy access to the beach bar for ice cold drinks and snacks.
Beyond the resort – should you actually be able to drag yourself away – the local town, Paleros, is an unspoilt gem with a really lovely mix of traditional tucked-away tavernas and stylish little bars right on the beach. It’s a 20-minute walk or 5 minutes (5 euros) in a taxi, and visiting was a real holiday highlight. My boys and I sat on bean bags at the Paleros Yacht Club and ate gyros under a dappled canopy while we watched the boats in the marina come and go. Resort-based holidays are superb, especially when safety is such a huge consideration, but a visit to Paleros satisfied my old school wanderlust and made me feel like I’d experienced a little bit of real Greece.
Covid-Safe Sunshine & Returning Home
A word on important Covid safety in resort. Staff are all vaccinated and tested three times a week. Guests have to satisfy the vaccination or testing entry requirements to enter Greece, and every single person that comes into the hotel must wear a mask and is temperature checked on arrival. Once here, the resort is spotless and meticulously cleaned. The Mark Warner Operations Manager, Jamie, told me there were 90 staff in the resort and 120 guests the week we stayed. They are not taking any risks in making sure guests escaping from the United Pingdom have the safest and happiest time in Greece.
The other brilliant aspect of Paleros is that they were open in 2020 so have a proven track record of ticking every single Covid-safe box under the sun. The Greek Hotel Manager, Natasa, has been here since the resort opened in 2019 and there isn’t a single thing she doesn’t know or can’t help you with. She’s warm, reassuring, experienced and super calm. She’s exactly the person you want to have your back when you are 2,000 miles away from home in the middle of a global pandemic.
And while no-one wants to think about going home from holiday before they have even arrived, you do need to plan your return tests for re-entry into the UK. Everyone – regardless of age or vaccination status – needs to have a negative rapid test before you leave Greece and within 48 hours of arriving back in the UK (landing time). You can book to do this online before you leave and take tests in your suitcase. But at Mark Warner Paleros they make it even easier: a local doctor visits the resort, and issues your fit-to-fly certificate. It costs 25 euros and means there is even less to plan pre-departure. On safe arrival back in the UK, everyone in your party who is over 12 also needs to book a Day 2 PCR Test and this does need to be booked before you leave as you will need to add the booking confirmation number to the UK Passenger Locator Form.
"While my sons loved all the sport and activities, the unexpected star of the holiday show was the social interaction. It’s was an absolute joy to see my children make new friends again after months in dark bedrooms talking to screens. Here, kids can just be kids."
Last-Minute Escapes this August
Finally, it’s important to say that I know foreign travel isn’t for every family this summer. But I would warmly encourage anyone who has an inkling to escape to not be put off by the extra admin. We met a number of families who had booked their holiday last minute – some as late as Friday for a Sunday departure to Paleros – and this shows that the testing and form-filling doesn’t have to be a mammoth task. There are some brilliant last minute deals to be had too.
We also met families who had booked for a week and stayed for two: extending their holiday because they couldn’t quite believe how safe and wonderful it felt to be away.
My boys and I did the same. Natasa set everything up for our extended stay and made it feel like the most natural thing in the world to refuse to go home. See: I told you this place was magic.
For us, the resort felt like the perfect place to be in 2021 but we will undoubtedly be back in 2022.
Paleros Travel Details & 2021 Family Holidays Still Available
For more information on the all the facilities and room types at Mark Warner Paleros Beach Resort including interconnecting rooms and family suites, visit Mark Warner Holidays or call their friendly travel experts on 0330 3114 989.
There are also fantastic last-minute deals including flights, half board and all activities in a family room from £884 per person still available in August. The resort is also open all the way up to October half term, and there are still complimentary childcare places available.
Victoria paid for her own travel to Mark Warner Paleros Beach Resort and had a discount to stay at the resort.
If you are interested in discovering more Mark Warner holidays, you can also read:
Victoria's Mark Warner Paleros Resort Video Walkthrough & Photo Album