Bearded, earnest, erudite, Theo the naturalist was surely the most charming character in The Durrells, the recent ITV drama inspired by Gerald Durrell’s memoir My Family And Other Animals. It was Theo who opened a young Gerald’s eyes to the marvels of Greek wildlife.
And now here we are being guided through a pine forest to the shores of Lake Stavronikita by our own Theo. Similar in appearance and temperament, George is describing to us the array of bird life for which this lake is, as he calls it, Piccadilly Circus.
Just back from the seashore in this divine corner of the Halkidiki peninsula in north-east Greece, the 272 acres of wetlands are an avian terminus between Africa and Europe where more than 200 bird species spend a warm winter.
‘Laze away by all means, but there is simply too much to do here to slump on a lounger all week’, writes Mark Simpson
So it is that we gazed enraptured — even our not-easily-pleased children, Toby, 15, and 12-year-old Isobel — at orderly crowds of little egrets, terns, marsh harriers and great cormorants by the dozen. We almost expected them to pull out little binoculars and stare back at us.
And there are more surprises. A flash of red and purple wings, and suddenly Isobel, who has evidently been paying attention, yells: ‘Isn’t that a purple heron?’ Even George is excited.
Set amid those fragrant pine forests, the Sani resort lies on a curving private bay in which nestle five — count them — five-star hotels, each with a distinct flavour. Some are more suited to families, others to couples seeking a peaceful corner.
You’ll find it on the Kassandra peninsula about 45 minutes east of Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city. At one end of the bay, a medieval Byzantine watchtower stands guard, its face set across the straits towards the peak of Mount Olympus, where the gods of Greece once ruled.
We stayed at Sani Club at the east end of the bay, where scores of rooms are dotted up the steep hillside. But who needs to walk when you can call a chauffeured golf cart at any time of the day or night? Toby and Isobel whizzed about even if they were just heading down to the pool.
Laze away by all means, but there is simply too much to do here to slump on a lounger all week. The place thrums with activity, from the early morning Pilates session on a hillside above the Aegean to biking along the coastal trail, sailing, football at the Chelsea academy or tennis at the new Rafa Nadal centre, where ranks of pristine clay courts ring to the steady pock-pock-pock of tennis balls. And new for this year is the Bear Grylls Survival Academy, aimed at teaching children aged six and upwards the basics of outdoor adventure. Lessons on camouflage and raft-building are on offer. Problem is, I think a lot of dads will sign up.
Isobel headed for the Sani Adventure Park, opened last year, which is like your own private Go Ape circuit with ropes strung high between the trees. She whooped with delight as she screeched down a zipwire through the branches, while her mum made rather more stately but determined progress through the treetops.
Another day, Toby and I hired beefy mountain bikes to explore ancient excavations, puffing up dusty paths and then bombing down towards tiny beaches.
Idyll: Dining by the sea at the Sani resort. There are 24 restaurants in total
Once, we dropped the children at the Ozone Teen club behind the swanky marina, where they loved the guitar jam session and a pedalo ride on the sea as part of the Sani Green eco-programme, in which they studied grasses on the seabed and peered at darting fish.
If there is one spur to get moving, it’s the sheer number of calories you can’t help shovelling in every night in any of the resort’s 24 restaurants.
There is a smart ‘dine around’ plan: from the classic Greek Ouzerie to a stunning new caviar place, it’s all a culinary joy. Our favourite was the Cabana restaurant on the beach, one of many where the menu is included in a half-board stay.
If you’re going a la carte, then a beetroot salad will set you back €17 — but this is a luxury resort and once you have accepted that your wallet will take a bit of a bashing, you can sink into the sheer indulgence of the place.
And, boy, did it feel worth it when the kids were pootling up and down the sand under the stars between dinner courses while we sat back and sipped a glass of chilled bliss.
Those gods knew what they were doing when they settled in this outpost of heaven on earth.
Destinology offers a seven-night family stay at Sani Club from £3,799 per family of four (two adults and two children 12 or under), sharing a Junior Suite on a full-board basis and including return BA flights from London Gatwick and private transfers (destinology.co.uk, 01204 474801).