Sunshine and starlings in the pool at a Greek resort on a 1000-acre eco reserve
By Stephanie Cross
Sat squarely on Greece's Kassandra peninsula, one of three fingers of land reaching into the Aegean, just south of Thessaloniki, it is a 1000-acre ecological reserve, fringed with white beaches and home to wildlife-filled wetlands. As its acreage will attest, Sani is huge. It is made up of four distinct hotels: Sani Beach Club (the family one); Sani Beach Hotel ('the classic'); Sani Asterias Suites (the boutiquey one) and Porto Sani Village (the well-being option), where I'm based.
Stepping in to Porto Sani Village is my first step towards relaxation. A complex of small, blue, freshwater lagoons are filled from breakfast time onwards by delighted children, their parents spectating from loungers or the laid-back poolside bar. Accommodation is arranged around this central oasis - tasteful but rather anonymous family suites in sandstone villas and the whole place resembles an ad for utopia: glossy wood and marble, cream and beige décor.
Sani's marina is at its heart, a horseshoe of restaurants, bars and diminutive boutiques selling designer clothes and jewellery. Shoals of well-behaved children on hired mountain bikes cruise the waterside here and in the evenings the whole place assumes a bustling, affluent cosmopolitan vibe. The resort's most popular alfresco eateries are located around the marina, and no stay at Sani would be complete without sampling the Greek and Mediterranean fare at Tomata voted among the 25 best restaurants in Europe in 2005. I can also vouch for an evening cocktail at the elegant but chilled Sea Breeze beach bar, from where the view of the apricot sunset fulfils every romantic cliché.
But it is Porto Sani Village's USP wellbeing that I'm here to experience. There's no shortage of it on offer either. At the Spa Suites I'm talked through a compact little catalogue of treatments, settling finally on a 40-minute 'Anne Semonin Stress Zone' massage and another 45 minutes of reflexology. Both are very nice indeed. In fact, after an unashamedly sybaritic afternoon in candle-lit, aromatic and very Zen surroundings, I decide that I could happily subscribe to utopia Sani-style.
A resort-wide programme of activities changes by the week, with shuttle buses and buggies speeding guests through the eucalyptus trees and herb-scented landscaping. A typical week offers art classes, zumba, and water polo, with film screenings and open-air theatre performances each evening. There are clubs for kids and teenagers, a watersports centre, and a range of optiona excursions and cruises.
But it would be shame to overlook the riches on Sani's doorstep. As well as its 230-acres of wetland, the resort boasts stunningly beautiful hiking trails. The most picturesque one runs for 9km along pine-forested cliffs that fall away vertically to tiny, deserted beaches accessible only to sailors. (Those wishing to fulfil their private-beach fantasies can rent a boat from the marina.) The views of the Aegean here are breathtaking blue-glass water, leopard-patched with seaweed and the only sound, the pulsing rasp of cicadas. I can't help thinking that as a prescription for wellbeing, you'd be hard pushed to find better.
Of course, Sani is no eco-retreat: beach and poolside staff dole out a never-ending supply of brilliant white towels and sprinklers work overtime on the emerald grass. But my conscience is partly assuaged by Sani's Green Programme - water recycling, tree planting, a solar energy initiative. And it's good to know that Sani's glorious wetlands are safeguarded from development, too. Of all the memories that I take home, the sound of that buzzard's cry - thrilling in the sun-stunned, golden evening - will be the one that endures.
Western & Oriental offers seven nights in a Marina Junior Suite Room at Porto Sani Village on a half-board basis from £682 per person, including flights from London and private transfers.