It's unbelievable to think we've been back for less than a week but, as we jumped straight back into the work and school routine, it already seems like a distant dream. Time to get the holiday snaps out and think back to our fab fortnight in the sun - and you lot can come along along for the ride ! First stop, our hotel. We were staying at Ephesia Holiday Beach (not to be confused with the sister hotel, the Ephesia Hotel, just a bit further down the road).
It's situated about an hour and a half from Izmir airport (depending on how many hotel drop-offs there are before you arrive) so, having flown out from Brussels at 6.30am, we arrived just in time for lunch. The hotel lobby is an open air counter which seemed a bit strange - normally you arrive in a huge, ostentatious, air-conditioned lobby - but personally, I thought it made no difference, although one couple were grumbling about the lack of indoor lobby. The Madhouse kids instantly spotted the "kids check-in" - a little staircase leading up to the end of the counter where there was a constantly refreshed bowl of little sweets, which I thought was a lovely touch.
The first thing we discovered therefore was the restaurant. You have the choice of indoor or outdoor tables and the buffet offered all the usual array of salads, dishes and desserts. I think I consumed my entire body weight in grilled fish while we were there but there was also a large choice of meat or veggie options, including some traditional Turkish options in amongst all the usual "international" stuff like pasta and chips. Lots of the food is cooked fresh in front of you and there was also a plentiful supply of fresh fruit and salads - they even had a small "diet buffet" (not much there apart from plain rice and boiled potatoes though !) and a kids corner with child friendly options and small tables and chairs.
This is the best thing about the restaurant though - every evening, you were guaranteed a front row seat for the most amazing sunsets we've ever seen.
Every single person in the hotel tried to get this photo at least once !
The colours went from bright orange and yellow ..
... to the most amazing deep red. Spectacular. Who needs TV? Which is just as well because some of the English guests we chatted to complained about the lack of English-language channels (you basically had CNN and BBC World news plus a music channel) - but who goes on holiday to watch TV anyway ?!
Staying on the foodie theme, the hotel also has four à la carte restaurants - a Turkish one, a Chinese one, an Italian one and a fish one. As part of the all-inclusive deal, you can eat in each of them once per stay but you need to book early as they fill up fast. We tried all of them except the Italian one because there was no space left.
It's all a bit more civilised and slower paced than the main restaurant which can be busy and a bit noisy at times, but the downside is, your meal will last until 8.30/9pm'ish, which isn't a problem unless you have young children (I'll tell you why in a second !). The food is great though and, although the choices are limited, you do get to sample a few local or exotic delicacies (including the very strange fried ice cream, that I'll tell you about another time!).
There is also a snack bar, something we usually avoid but this one had some great local options on specific nights. Monday night was baked potato (gorgeous - stuffed with your choice of cheese, olives, Turkish smoked sausage, macédoine de légumes (mixed vegetables in mayonnaise) - Pierre's favourite which surprised me !), Wednesday night was hotdogs and Friday night was hot Turkish sausage sandwiches. Alongside the usual burgers, chips, nuggets and pizzas, there were also doner kebabs twice a week and fab Turkish pizza made in front of you every day.
If the kids finished eating before us, they invariably headed over to the swings at the kids club. Ah yes, the kids club. This is the only thing we were a bit disappointed by. The first thing we discovered was that there was no maxi club (for teens) at all so Sophie didn't meet many people her age or take part in any activities. The kids club was in two parts, one (with special T-shirts, the most activity leaders, the most brightly coloured building ...) was reserved exclusively for people flying in with one specific Dutch airline. Everybody else had to go to the other building which seemed a bit strange.
Pierre totally fell in love with the lovely Tina though and spent a few happy afternoons playing with her and a few other kids. They have a kids club area in the building by the swings and also down by the pool which is handy. We originally avoided it because we were told that parents had to stay to supervise the kids (which rather defeats the whole object !) but apparently this was a "lost in translation" moment and you could leave them unattended, as long as you didn't leave the hotel.
You can't have a kids club without a mini disco and every night, from 9.15-10pm, we were in the front row, singing along to Agadoo and Gangnam Style ! Pierre found his beloved Tina again on stage - if he wasn't falling asleep in my lap ! Showtime was straight afterwards and the entertainments team did a great job, even if the comedy sketches were ones that we'd all seen before in other hotels.
Remember me mentioning the late nights at the à la carte restaurants being an issue for the kids? Every night, from 8.15-9pm, the free fairground opened its doors, much to Juliette and Pierre's delight (open to kids aged 5-11). It only had a few rides - a teacup (Pierre is on his own here but you could fit two or three in), a mini big-wheel, a racing car ride and a chair swing ride, as well as a fabulous carousel that was unfortunately out of order during our stay - but the kids excitedly ran off every night on the dot to get in quick and not waste a minute ! The entertainments team were all around to supervise before shepherding everyone off to the mini disco. There is an amusement arcade just next to the fairground, which is a paying option, but I was impressed at the prices in their internet corner - 1 Turkish lire for ten minutes so €1 would get you half an hour. (The hotel offers free wifi but we always go internet free on holiday.)
You can't have a hotel without a swimming pool and Ephesia Beach has SEVEN ! For the first few days, we went in the "family pool" just next to our room. This hotel has a fabulous feature I'd never seen in any other hotel before - rooms with direct access to the swimming pool and a little private swimming pool on the balcony. I wouldn't have felt safe with Pierre being able to fall in the pool but for slightly older kids, that's a great bonus.
We soon moved across to the slide pool though (Juliette spent the rest of the holiday here and with 6 slides to choose from, she didn't get bored!) just next to the main activity pool (with the animation box with music playing, the entertainments team coming round to get you involved in activities and just a lot more going on) and the kids pool, There was also a freezing cold jacuzzi and two other pools we didn't use.
There's also a small beach with a few water sports on offer.
Or just the chance to chill out under a parasol.
What really made the hotel special, though, was the entertainments team, so a special mention (and thank you) goes to them for giving us such a great holiday.
Extra bonus points go to Pikachu
and Iceberg - we didn't make those names up, by the way (although we might have made up our own nicknames before knowing what they were really called !). The most hilarious thing was seeing the Madhouse kids recreate the shows the next morning in the hotel room before heading to the pool - when they all suddenly appeared with pants on their head singing I Want To Break Free, I nearly died laughing !
Even the hotel photographers (there were half a dozen and they seemed to be literally everywhere !) ended up giving us lots of smiles, when Pierre starting following them round shouting "family photo?" back at them!
I'll tell you more about Kusadasi itself and the surrounding area in a separate blogpost. The hotel is on a direct dolmus (minibus) line to the town centre, which is very handy, and it's a perfect base for visiting Ephesus, which is only 1/2 hour away by organised excursion, taxi or even dolmus.
I headed off to Turkey this year saying it would be my last visit - after three holidays there (in Yalikavic near Bodrum, Manavgat near Antalya and Kusadasi this year), I figured we'd done everything there was to do. We ended up coming home saying that, for the first time ever, we'd consider going back to the exact same hotel, and that's principally down to the facilities and the entertainments team at the hotel. Finding a hotel with better slides and swimming pools is definitely going to be a tough call !
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