I never thought I would book a vacation at an all inclusive resort. There's the cheesy reputation -- sad buffets of slowly congealing scrambled eggs and watered-down fluorescent cocktails -- but also the stifling lack of imagination. I generally don't travel abroad to stay tied to a connection.
Nevertheless, my nerves were at the end after two exhausting years. I needed a vacation without alarms and surprises. One that could be paid for and then simply enjoyed, where the choice of sun lounger was the only decision.
What ultimately made me book was the lure of unbridled luxury. In recent years, a new breed of upscale all-inclusive resorts has sprung up across Europe and beyond -- utopian-sounding places where champagne and Pilates come as standard and sea bass ceviche come at no extra cost. Their style is more "boho beach club" than Benidorm, with service that's skilful rather than reserved. Hotel giant Marriott has certainly caught on to this trend, with plans to more than double its number of luxury all-inclusive resorts to 33 by 2025. Of course, there are some longtime veterans of the genre, particularly in the Caribbean (such asBodyHoliday in St. Lucia), which may now be welcoming a new crowd of guests who had previously overlooked the joy of flying and stylish flops.
A pioneer of the premium concept in Europe is Greek brand Ikos, whose five properties in its home country and in Spain (soon to add two more next year) have skyrocketed in the wake of the pandemic, perhaps due to its heady offering of luxury and Reliability, the latter being in short supply lately, especially in the travel world.
Certainly not a cost-saving solution - nightly room rates fromAndalusian Iconstart at £344 but tend to be much higher - there's some peace of mind knowing you've already settled all of your holiday expenses. No nasty surprises when you look back at your credit card statement next month and face the reality of how much you've spent on dining out. The nagging voice telling you to order the cheaper bottle of wine instead of the one you really want is silenced, and the indulgence can (and does) run wild.
So, after paying an invigorating upfront payment, I went to Ikos' outpost on the Costa del Sol. A happy week was spent meandering between the many pools (hiding a glass of champagne in a cabana in the late afternoon) and six a la carte restaurants, where long lunches typically consist of grilled sardines, mezze platters and a Cup of homemade food included ice cream. All the lounging would have made the ancient Greeks proud, but it was punctuated by a game of tennis, beach volleyball and a rather embarrassing encounter with a canoe. I found that I quite liked this life and by the end I was already planning my return.
To ensure smooth operation and footfall, Ikos prefers to pre-book your dinner for the duration of your stay, leaving little room for spontaneity, although you may have given that up when you signed up for a resort vacation. There's an opportunity to dine at a local restaurant one evening when cabin fever sets in - and some resorts have invested in ways to add a dash of local culture to the schedule, such as B. Cooking classes and discounted museum passes.
Holidays now have higher stakes and must be a guaranteed hit, which might explain why more and more of us are drawn to the posh all-inclusives.
Here are 20 top-notch resorts around the world, from new generation to classic, that will change the way you think about the "all-inclusive" concept. This requires a complimentary champagne toast.
Each of the five Ikos properties has its devotees, but as the high-quality food, facilities, and laid-back beach-club style are the same everywhere, it's really where you decide the setting.Arietrickles down to the beach of Agios Stefanos, where light (and slightly coarse) sand is lapped by clear, gentle waves. Charming basilica ruins lie on the shore and within swimming distance is the island of Kastri, a rocky massif housing only a blue and white chapel. Back on land, guests can explore Kos for the day with a complimentary Mini Cooper before enjoying freshly caught grilled fish and exploring the extensive wine list at one of seven superlative restaurants. Doubles from £222 (0808 111 0131;ikosresorts.com)
The distant rumble of a jet ski and the hiss of crickets are about the only sounds you'll hear at this retreat surrounded by citrus-scented pine forests overlooking the sandy arch of Karavostasi Beach.The 146 open roomsspan a dozen categories, though all have balconies overlooking the inky blue Ionian Sea and the nearest islands (Paxos and Corfu). There are four restaurants (breakfast at the main sea-view restaurant, Saffron, is a really good buffet with great waffles), but the best for dinner is Pearl, with its new take on Greek culinary classics. Perks for ultra all-inclusive guests include multiple a la carte dinners, unlimited access to an ice cream bar (and cocktails at the three bars), and a £45 credit towards spa treatments. Doubles from £231 (00 30 26610 71183;marbella.gr)
Stella Island Luxury Resort & Spa
This stylish resort, built around one of Europe's largest lagoon pools, is an adults-only aquatic wonderland with a tropical "Love Island" vibe. The style is minimalist: all white with lots of light wood, canvas and bamboo. Narrow bridges cross the huge pool; Couples relax in sunken seating areas or on islands dotted with beds and hammocks. The food is brilliant; especially the mezes (try dakos rusks with tomatoes and grated graviera cheese, or vegetarian laxanika cakes that come hot out of the oven). Certain ground-floor rooms have decks with direct pool access, but best for privacy are the nine South Pacific-inspired overwater bungalows. Popular all-inclusive packages include room service, minibars, and a wide range of drinks in all bars. Doubles from £227 (00 30 28975 01701;stellaisland.gr)
Olympic Lagoon Resort
As well as being just a 10 minute walk from Paphos town,this welcoming seaside hotelhas an abundance of facilities, a cool aesthetic, and restaurants offering menus packed with local flavors that have kept it at the top of its game. Floor-to-ceiling sea views, crisp white decor sprinkled with splashes of colorful abstract art, and the soothing sound of water lapping over pebbles are just three design features that greet you as you step inside. Continuing the upscale yet contemporary theme, the rooms, spa, and restaurants surround a spectacular array of lagoon-style pools surrounded by gardens and terraces -- including an adult-only pool. Entertainment facilities, clubs for young people as well as a tennis and soccer field complete the offer. Note that drink charges apply after 11:30pm. Doubles from £188 (00 357 2527 4590;kanikahotels.com)
Roca Nivaria Grand Hotel
Costa Adeje, Tenerife
This upscalefamily orientated hotelis situated on a spectacular headland in Playa Paraiso. The staff is attentive and unobtrusive, and facilities include a spa, pool, and tennis court. The Double Rooms have the kind of floor space that would be considered a suite in many hotels, and come with walk-in closets, small lounge areas, king-size beds, and private patios. Breakfast offers a spectacular range of healthy and indulgent options, with many made-to-order sections such as an omelet station and fresh juice bar. Lunch can be taken by the pool, either on a terrace or in a whimsical man-made cave area. All-inclusive guests can dine a la carte at no extra charge and have access to drinks and snacks outside of main meal times. Doubles from £275 (00 34 9227 40202;adrianhoteles.com)
Zafiro Palace Alcudia
Hafen von Alcudia, Majorca
The chic and sophisticated five star hotelZafiro Palace-Hotelhas skillfully managed to combine luxury with child-friendly facilities. The majority of guests opt for the all-inclusive stay, which gives them access to four a la carte restaurants. All are stylish, from the Asushi restaurant to the Mediterranean eatery with Mallorcan specialities. The nearly 400 rooms include two-bedroom family suites and a new swim-up suite with direct access to a patio, pool, and Balinese beds. Penthouse Suites offer a fabulous rooftop terrace with Jacuzzi and sun loungers. Doubles from £381 (00 34 9718 97696;www.zafirohotels.com)
Iberostar Selection Playa de Palma
Beach von Palma, Majorca
This established resort is situated right on the beach with easy access to Palma and the airport.With contemporary luxury designand the option to stay on an all-inclusive basis, it appeals to couples and families looking for a premium seaside vacation experience. There's a large outdoor pool, fitness activities include aqua aerobics and Pilates, and the spa has a nice sauna and steam room. Food at the Playa Blanca restaurant is of excellent quality and includes island specialties such as frito mallorquín (roasted meat and vegetable dish) and roast suckling pig. Doubles from £337 (00 34 9712 66450;iberostar.com)
In a secluded bay on Turkey's Aegean coast, a mile away from the small town of Özdere,this chic beach retreatis home to four swimming pools (one infinity pool, one with a giant waterslide), a spa and hammam, an art gallery, and two private beaches scattered over about 45 acres of palm, pine, and olive trees. It's a far cry from a generic all-inclusive, handcrafted linens and Turkish Pestemal towels hail from the town of Buldan, while slate-tiled bathrooms are stocked with organic toiletries. The quality of the food in the tavernas is excellent, with around 30 per cent of the produce coming from a nearby organic farm (think fruit and vegetables, olive oils, pomegranate and fig molasses and organic wines). Doubles from £285 (00 90 23279 76364;clubmarvy.com)
Kempinski-Hotel The Dome
This contemporary option, eight kilometers west of Belek, has everything a golfer could want with its two world-class courses, as well as enough non-sports facilities and nearby attractions to keep the rest of the family happy. On the ground floor, a Balinese-style spa shares space with a fitness center, and there's a large swimming pool in an attractive blue-and-turquoise jacquard pattern that runs the length of the hotel. Additionally, a private beach with cabanas and sunbeds leads to a wooden pier with an outdoor bar at the end. The food is consistently fresh, most of it locally sourced, and the chef was trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.The hotel operates on an all-inclusive basis, although there is an additional charge at certain a la carte restaurants. Doubles from £221 (00 90 24271 01300;kempinski.com)
Rixos The Palm Dubai Hotel&Suites
Palm Jumeirah, Dubai
One of Dubai's only all-inclusive options,Rixosis set amidst lush gardens in a secluded spot on Palm Jumeirah and scores with its fabulous kids' club, authentic Turkish hammam and great restaurants. It is well suited for both families and couples. Among the four pools, there is one adult-only pool and a separate children's pool. The many facilities include a water sports centre, as well as basketball and tennis courts. There are three restaurants and half a dozen bars and lounges. Make Abeline for Toro Loco for steaks, L'Olivo for pasta and Aqua & More for seafood. Here even crab thermidor is included in the all-inclusive offer. Doubles from £374 (00 971 4457 5555;rixos.com)
Grand Velas Riviera Maya
Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Most tourists come to Playa Del Carmen and never leave the luxurious bubbles of their all-inclusive resortsGrand Velas Riviera Maya— on a sprawling and airy lot next to the Caribbean Sea — is certainly no different. From the huge beds of pink bougainvillaea to the manicured 1,700 feet of private beach, this hotel seems to be run (and maintained) like the proverbial well-oiled machine. The food is exceptional, ranging from fine French and Italian to sushi and sashimi poolside - don't miss the lobster tacos at the buffet restaurant. The pools are gigantic; and there's so much space that, despite the huge number of visitors, the place never feels remotely crowded. Doubles from £302 (001 32 2226 8689;rivieramaya.grandvelas.com)
Spa-Resort Le Blanc
ThisCouple oriented hotelon the Hotel Zone's white-sand beach is one of Cancun's most acclaimed. The staff always manages to be one step ahead: they fill up drinks at the pool before you ask, wait with a clean towel when you step out of the pool, and the butlers go further, unpacking bags, preparing baths before and help to relax with the use of aromatherapy. You can request these services along with restaurant reservations, room service orders and spa appointments through the Le Blanc phone app. Doubles from £719 (001 88 8702 0913;cancun.leblancsparesorts.com)
oz of atmosphere
South Male Atoll, Maldives
Although this is aTop option for a luxury vacation in the Maldives, there is not an ounce of constipation. An island is the stepping stone to the overwater villas that meander across the turquoise waters, as well as the main restaurant, spa, and sushi bar. Grab a bike under a palm tree or hail a golf buggy and head to island number two, where a circular bar offers spectacular views over the infinity pool and serves drinks throughout the day. It's an easy journey from here if you're staying in a beachfront villa tucked behind tropical foliage. With four restaurants open for dinner and three for lunch, as well as a poolside pizzeria, guests really are spoiled for choice when it comes to dining. Doubles from £809 (00 96 0400 2222;theozencollection.com)
Who are you?
Thisintimate retreat with 15 villasis arguably the most lavish all-inclusive resort in the Maldives. Anything and everything is available anytime, anywhere. From unlimited spa treatments, excursions, personal training, private yoga sessions and water sports to gourmet dining (including an amazing cheese cellar), fine wines, spirits and champagne on tap, you'll want for nothing. Combine this with the discreet, intuitive service of your private butler and you have something that will impress even the most discerning traveler. The Japanese ryokan-style rooms all have expansive decks, private pools and private dining areas. Doubles from £2,500 (00 96 0662 2000;kudadoo.com). You can find more accommodation options in our travel guideBest All Inclusive Hotels in Maldives.
Anantara Maia SeychellenVillen
This exclusive 30-villa resort is nestled on a granite headland next to the idyllic Anse Louis Beach on the wild and beautiful south-west coast of the Seychelles' main island, Mahé. The villa experience takes center stage here, and most guests spend their time by their private pools or on the quiet beach. As a result, the main hub, home to the restaurant, bar, and dramatic black lava pool, is smaller than most resorts at this level and largely deserted throughout the day. Meals can be taken anytime, anywhere, and guests are welcome to customize their menus with the chef. Rates also include premium alcoholic beverages, non-motorized water sports, scuba diving, and exercise classes. Doubles from £2,034 (00 24 8467 7700;anantara.com)
Sunset at the palm trees
This laid-back adults-only all-inclusive option is more like a boutique hotel than your average Caribbean resort:The 85 rooms are tree houseson stilts and its Palm Grove Restaurant, the heart of the hotel, is open-air. Decor is Asian-inspired: Expect lots of carved wood ornaments and an abundance of tropical flowers in the common areas, from where meandering leafy pathways lead to charming rooms. The hotel's private beach club (located across the street) offers non-motorized water sports and has an open-air grill and bar. Guests can take traditional Jamaican cooking and bartending classes, and there are live shows nightly. Music – although it is rather reserved. A welcome perk is that guests receive quick processing through the Montego Bay Airport. Doubles from £345 (001 87 6854 8160;sunsetpalmsnegril.com)
St. John's, Antigua and Barbuda
What's not to love about a miniature Caribbean island set in a turquoise sea just 15 minutes from the airport off Antigua's north coast? Here, open spaces and tropical plants bring the beauty of the outside in, while the white marble bar and blue-painted walls convey a sea feel.The entry-level suites are delightfully spaciouswith bathrooms that flow outdoors, where a giant bathtub awaits under palm fronds. Dining here is top-notch, whether you opt for a private dinner on the beach under a fairy-light-strewn agazebo, a formal meal at the Estate House (try the local lobster ravioli), or a buffet lunch on the veranda. All-inclusive rates include meals, fine wines and champagnes, plus rum tastings, cooking classes, and water sports from Hobie Cat sailing to wakeboarding. Doubles from £1,841 (00 33 1 5343 4275;oetkercollection.com)
Wave Hotel & Spa
St. James, Barbados
This tastefully decorated property sits just above a quiet sandy beach on the west coast. The main beach section of the hotelfocuses on a large lounge bar and wooden deck with sofas, and there's an air of understated courtesy throughout. In the evenings, torches light up the deck, there's often live music, and you're expected to dress up. Pool and beach ambassadors will serve you at your sun lounger, complete with iced melon balls and cold towels, and the spa is a major selling point. In addition to meals and drinks, there's much more included in the rates, including water taxi service, a short daily water ski or tube ride, and non-motorized water sports. Doubles from £332 (001 24 6424 7571;marriott.com)
Gros Islet, St. Lucia
The well-run hotel is spread over several acres of beautiful tropical grounds filled with palm trees, ferns, ginger lilies and hibiscuseast windsis an inconspicuous and absolutely quiet oasis. With the rooms spread out in cottages throughout the tropical gardens, and the open-air lounge and swimming pool flanked by dense foliage, the entire hotel feels seamlessly connected to its surroundings. Rates include champagne in the bar and carefully selected wines with the four-course meals, as well as water sports and yoga and Pilates classes four times a week. Expect something of a house party vibe with a bit of socializing, especially before and after dinner at the bars. Doubles from £500 (001 75 8452 8212;eastwinds.com)
LUX* Grand Gaube
Grand Gaube, Mauritius
Thisromantic retreat, located on a secluded peninsula next to the village of Grand Gaube in the far north of the island, offers a good mix of everything Mauritius has to offer, from a pretty swimming beach, gourmet restaurants and a pampering spa to activities galore, inclusive Trips in the resort's own seaplane. British interior designer Kelly Hoppen created an eclectic, retro-chic look with thatched roofs, soothing whites, pops of color and cool lighting. Guests can spot turtles swimming over the coral on seaplane flights over the north shore, or take a private island-hopping tour aboard a wooden pirogue (traditional fishing boat). A studio for photography fanatics offers free workshops, and there's a plush cinema for rainy days. Doubles from £655 (00 23 0204 9191;luxresorts.com)
With contributions from hotel experts from Telegraph Travel