Modern family: Greece with grown-up kids

A decade after a first family holiday in Greece, Martin Love heads to Paxos and finds it wonderfully unchanged

The five of us stretched out on yoga mats with our toes pointing towards the sea. Above us the breeze stirred the leaves of the ancient olive trees. Emai ed, intoned Sophie. In Greek that means, I am here. She continued in her gentle voice. I am here in Paxos. I have arrived. I have moored on this rock surrounded by sea

Sophie was training to be a mindfulness teacher. When we lay down Id have bet my favourite Speedos that wed soon be in fits of laughter, but not one of us so much as sniggered. We lay in still, neat rows, like sardines, as her soothing words washed over us. After a while, Sophie brought us up from the depths. I hope you are now at one with this island, she said. Wed been on Paxos for less than half a day yet I had the giddy sensation I might just chuck it all in and stay here forever.

Paxos map.

Thats what happened to Sophie. She has now been here for 30 years, moored in Paxos. Back then, she said, there was only one road and just three cars. There dont seem to be many more than that now. Aside from being a mindfulness teacher she is also the owner of Villa Zoe, the house we were staying in. It sits on a cliff overlooking the sea and was built by a captain more than 200 years ago. Today its all wooden shutters, high ceilings and shady terraces, with plenty of quirky features, like an outdoor kitchen and an open-air shower. Its greatest asset, however, is the astounding view an immense sweep of sea and sky. I must have spent half our week gazing towards the glittering horizon.

Greece holds a special place in the list of our favourite family holidays. More than 10 years ago we went there on our first proper trip. We rented a house in Lefkada with a cool pool and drove around in a knackered old car. The kids were 12, 10 and five. Every night we dined in a different taverna. With burnt shoulders and washed hair, wed sit at pretty tables, ordering grown-up food and then, when the children didnt like it, feed it to the stray cats. And here we were again a decade later, with the kids on the cusp of adulthood and almost off our hands. Wed bookended their childhood with holidays in Greece. Would this be the last time it would be just the five of us? Their boyfriends and girlfriends are waiting in the wings.

The
The indoor kitchen at Villa Zoe

But what a bookend Paxos is. Its a craggy idyll garlanded with the bluest water youve ever seen. After much discussion we decided it was the exact aquamarine shade of Listerine. Its the smallest of the seven Ionian islands, 10km long and 4km wide. You cant fly there, you catch a ferry from Corfu, which takes about an hour. Its this last hop which has preserved Paxos from the excesses of mass tourism and, despite a few flash new villas erupting down its eastern flank, you get a sense that not much has changed in years, probably even decades.

To say the pace is unhurried would be an exaggeration even a gang of lethargic sloths would get fidgety here. But you soon adapt to the relaxed starts, long lunches and afternoon snoozes. Whats the rush, anyway? Other than the dazzling blue sea, the first thing that strikes you about the island are the olive trees. They are everywhere. The Venetians first planted them in the 13th century as a source of lamp oil, and now the trees cover 80% of the island. At the last count there were an estimated 250,000 thats about 100 trees for every member of the population.

Terrace
The villas terrace

Most people live in one of three small towns. Gaios is the capital a hilarious notion considering you can walk from one side of it to the other in five minutes. It unfurls itself along a natural anchorage with two tiny islands guarding the entrance, each with its own church. We strolled the length of the quay, ogled the posh yachts and ate ice creams (a fantastic peanut-butter flavour for one child and a disastrous lemon and chocolate combo for me). If you are into people watching this is the place to be. My daughter kept telling me to stop staring. The other two towns are Lakka, built around a horseshoe cove on the islands northern tip, and Loggos the smallest and, everyone agreed, prettiest. All three have quays bustling with traditional tavernas.

The towns are on the sheltered eastern side of the island. Villa Zoe, where we stayed, was on the more rugged west, near a beach called Erimitis. After our mindfulness session, the thing at the front of our minds was to have a first swim. There is little sand on Paxos most beaches are made up of sun-bleached pebbles and the effect, combined with the milky-blue water, is like swimming in a huge aquarium. We dived into the waves as the sun turned the cathedral-like cliffs of Erimitis a delicate pink. We bobbed about in the clear sea, marvelling that wed flown out of Gatwick that morning.

Cocktail
Cocktail hour Martin and daughter Liberty at Bens Bar. Photograph: Martin Love

The best way to take in Paxos is to hire your own speedboat. All three town harbours offer boats, which cost from 35 (30) for the day (plus petrol). It takes about 90 minutes to blast round the island, but youll definitely want to take all day as there are so many coves, cliffs and beaches to explore. We bought a picnic from the bakery in Loggos, packed sun hats and goggles and headed out. The children took turns at the wheel, carving white wakes across the azure surface. We nudged the boat into a huge cave, scared ourselves by swimming through a dark rocky cleft, and finally anchored in our own cove for lunch. It was a perfect day despite the fact ice leaked over the spanakopita and we had to dry the soggy spinach pie on the deck before we could eat it.

Also be sure to head to Antipaxos, a smaller and even more idyllic island a mile south of Paxos. Its home to a few sheep, and two of the most beautiful beaches this side of the Caribbean Vrika and Voutoumi. Its also quite funny to say: Actually, Im quite Anti Paxos!

Everyone you meet on Paxos asks which is your favourite beach as if your choice will give them some vital clue to your personality. There are dozens to choose from. For us it was a toss up between Mamari, which is lined by olive trees, and the stunning half-crescent of Kipiadi.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2017/aug/13/modern-family-paxos-with-the-grown-up-kids

Concrete thinking’s in fashion at Brussels’ brutalist Jam Hotel

Budget hotels always offer basic, boxy rooms, but not many are as creative as this alternative gem in the Belgian capital

Brussels is a city of grand townhouses and art nouveau. Yet plonked in the middle of the Belgian capital, on a nondescript street corner, has appeared a hotel that looks like downtown LA had it been swallowed by lava. An old 1970s art college has been redesigned and rebuilt, by people who usually make film sets, to become the oddest, most fashionable, most affordable stopover in Europe.

The reception desk is held up by a pair of motorcycles dipped in concrete above it rest maquettes, Paolozzi-like little bricks of angles and texture. Three guests under 10 years old leap joyfully between leather sofas and concrete benches while they wait for their parents to check into one of the Supra rooms which sleep five, one up by the ceiling, in what they call a cabine bed.

In my bedroom, the roughness of concrete and cement is softened by elegant plywood, glowing in the bright light of those office-wide windows. To the right of the double bed, above a built-in sofa, a ladder climbs up to what looks like a cupboard. But slide the doors open and here is the promised cabine bed. Its sleek neatness is pleasing, its promise of claustrophobia less so.

In a place where every corner hides a new, brutalist thrill, this is the most exciting aspect of the Jam Hotel. As well as the family rooms for up to six there is a boutique dormitory, a vast room of bunkbeds and Japanese-style cabins, their plywood doors in flashes of primary colours, and available for 18 (15) a night per person.

The
Lane swim the thin pool on the rooftop.

Upstairs on the roof, theres a pool. Nobody would call it a swimming pool. Its a long rectangle of water designed for plunging into on hot days, or for submerged drinking at night. The sunset is pink and yellow in the rooftop bar, which is alive with handsome locals from 6pm.

Huge slices of concrete tunnelling, once sewer pipes, decorate the wall by the terrace; at the other end of the room, windows look out on to a wildish garden. You see the trickling greenery from the restaurant, too, an old car park where lamps made from drainage connector pipes are held in place by luggage straps. Wood offcuts become cubist collages on the walls.

The food is Italian and good: vast bowls of pasta in the evenings, with a griddle for guests to fry their eggs at breakfast. Which is helpful because, at times, the staff can be almost as brutal as the design. This is not a May I take your bags to your room? kind of place, or even a sure, we have a plug adapter you can borrow kind of place, but its almost better for that casualness, which suits the brilliant, bonkers austerity of the building.

This is one of a group of alternative Belgian hotels that are run by Jean-Michel Andr, a hotelier aiming to innovate the industry. They offer experiences, he says. I note that as well as bikes, there are skateboards for guests to borrow.

Concrete
Tube planner concrete pipe sections in the bar.

The interior designer, Lionel Jadot, came up with the hotels name he was thinking of traffic. He said he treated the ground floor like a big constructivist sculpture and its an odd feeling, emerging from this romantic bleakness into streets of neo-classical architecture.

In one direction is Place Stphanie, which spiders out towards a strip of fashionable shops, with signs that urge you to Instagram yourself beside their displays and drink coffee among the handbags. In the other direction, a 20-minute walk downhill to Place du Jeu de Balle, is the Old Market. Its been here since 1854, a maze of blankets thrown down and strewn with masks and books and bartering old men.

If you kneel down and dig through the cardboard boxes, its even possible to find vintage ceramics similar to those that appear up the hill, like paint splashes on the hotels grey concrete surfaces.

However, if youre attempting to recreate the Jams interior, it will take a little more than a morning at the market.

Way to go

Dorm rooms cost from 18 (15) a night, while a room sleeping six costs from 150 (128) at Jam Hotel, Brussels (jamhotel.be). Eurostar operates up to 11 daily services from London St Pancras International to Brussels, with fares from 29 one way (eurostar.com)

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2017/apr/23/jam-hotel-brussels-belgium-review-budget-travel

Concrete thinking’s in fashion at Brussels’ brutalist Jam Hotel

Budget hotels always offer basic, boxy rooms, but not many are as creative as this alternative gem in the Belgian capital

Brussels is a city of grand townhouses and art nouveau. Yet plonked in the middle of the Belgian capital, on a nondescript street corner, has appeared a hotel that looks like downtown LA had it been swallowed by lava. An old 1970s art college has been redesigned and rebuilt, by people who usually make film sets, to become the oddest, most fashionable, most affordable stopover in Europe.

The reception desk is held up by a pair of motorcycles dipped in concrete above it rest maquettes, Paolozzi-like little bricks of angles and texture. Three guests under 10 years old leap joyfully between leather sofas and concrete benches while they wait for their parents to check into one of the Supra rooms which sleep five, one up by the ceiling, in what they call a cabine bed.

In my bedroom, the roughness of concrete and cement is softened by elegant plywood, glowing in the bright light of those office-wide windows. To the right of the double bed, above a built-in sofa, a ladder climbs up to what looks like a cupboard. But slide the doors open and here is the promised cabine bed. Its sleek neatness is pleasing, its promise of claustrophobia less so.

In a place where every corner hides a new, brutalist thrill, this is the most exciting aspect of the Jam Hotel. As well as the family rooms for up to six there is a boutique dormitory, a vast room of bunkbeds and Japanese-style cabins, their plywood doors in flashes of primary colours, and available for 18 (15) a night per person.

The
Lane swim the thin pool on the rooftop.

Upstairs on the roof, theres a pool. Nobody would call it a swimming pool. Its a long rectangle of water designed for plunging into on hot days, or for submerged drinking at night. The sunset is pink and yellow in the rooftop bar, which is alive with handsome locals from 6pm.

Huge slices of concrete tunnelling, once sewer pipes, decorate the wall by the terrace; at the other end of the room, windows look out on to a wildish garden. You see the trickling greenery from the restaurant, too, an old car park where lamps made from drainage connector pipes are held in place by luggage straps. Wood offcuts become cubist collages on the walls.

The food is Italian and good: vast bowls of pasta in the evenings, with a griddle for guests to fry their eggs at breakfast. Which is helpful because, at times, the staff can be almost as brutal as the design. This is not a May I take your bags to your room? kind of place, or even a sure, we have a plug adapter you can borrow kind of place, but its almost better for that casualness, which suits the brilliant, bonkers austerity of the building.

This is one of a group of alternative Belgian hotels that are run by Jean-Michel Andr, a hotelier aiming to innovate the industry. They offer experiences, he says. I note that as well as bikes, there are skateboards for guests to borrow.

Concrete
Tube planner concrete pipe sections in the bar.

The interior designer, Lionel Jadot, came up with the hotels name he was thinking of traffic. He said he treated the ground floor like a big constructivist sculpture and its an odd feeling, emerging from this romantic bleakness into streets of neo-classical architecture.

In one direction is Place Stphanie, which spiders out towards a strip of fashionable shops, with signs that urge you to Instagram yourself beside their displays and drink coffee among the handbags. In the other direction, a 20-minute walk downhill to Place du Jeu de Balle, is the Old Market. Its been here since 1854, a maze of blankets thrown down and strewn with masks and books and bartering old men.

If you kneel down and dig through the cardboard boxes, its even possible to find vintage ceramics similar to those that appear up the hill, like paint splashes on the hotels grey concrete surfaces.

However, if youre attempting to recreate the Jams interior, it will take a little more than a morning at the market.

Way to go

Dorm rooms cost from 18 (15) a night, while a room sleeping six costs from 150 (128) at Jam Hotel, Brussels (jamhotel.be). Eurostar operates up to 11 daily services from London St Pancras International to Brussels, with fares from 29 one way (eurostar.com)

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2017/apr/23/jam-hotel-brussels-belgium-review-budget-travel