While I applaud those of you reading this prior to traversing Morocco’s High Atlas mountains with four under-fives and a donkey, to others who are perfectly capable of losing their mind, their boarding passes and the toy rabbit their toddler can’t sleep without before they’ve even reached the departure lounge, I’ll say that Mousses could be just what your therapist ordered.
First up, it’s a doddle to get to. Yes, Lefkas is an island, but it’s so close to mainland Greece you could paddle over on a lilo. Just 30 minutes after leaving Preveza airport and one floating bridge later (“Yes kids, a floating bridge!”), we were up to our necks in the vast pool that’s the focus of this pretty little complex. Once the family’s olive grove, it has just 10 small houses, all but two semi-detached but each with its own private terrace, nestled in amongst the fig, lemon and magnificent gnarled old olive trees. Virtually identical in layout, they’re functional rather than fancy but sweet enough, with beamed ceilings and little tiled murals, and more than adequate for our needs. Besides, we’re weren’t planning to be in much...
No matter how strung-out or overprotective a parent you may be back home, Lefkas in summertime forces you to unwind. Undoubtedly, it helps that Mousses has a purpose-built, air-conditioned crèche and kids’ club, squirreled away behind the bar in its own secure garden and catering for ages six months to 10 years. The fully qualified girls who run it are brilliant at finding inspired ways to keep kids happy and as adept at calming fractious babes as entertaining the older kids.
Our child-free afternoons gave us the chance to explore the mountainous interior with its timeless villages. Local olives and thyme-scented honey, sold from shaded doorways and unattended roadside carts with honesty boxes, represented the sum total of ‘souvenirs’ on offer. Other times we did absolutely zilch – the chance to lie uninterrupted by the pool was too good to miss. Maybe it was the heat (during our stay the mercury hit 40°), or maybe it was the lubricant effect of the island’s olive oil, or, more probably, its Vetzamo rosé. But as one day oozed slowly into the next we felt ourselves uncoiling.
When we did manage to extricate Joe from his newfound friends, we pottered from one beach to the next. Some of fine shingle, others with miles of blinding-white coarse sand, they all had astonishingly clear water that, seen from the mountainous coastal road above, appeared to extend in swirling bands of blues, from Maya through to cobalt.
Some of the best – Egremni, Porto Katsiki, Agios Nikitas and Pefkoulia – involved a hike down the west coast of the island. Others were a first-gear trawl (and almost a knackered axle) through bumpy sand dunes littered with beehives. One of our nearest, Gira, while not the prettiest, scored highly thanks both to its ramshackle taverna serving up chargrilled sardines and calamari, and to the tiny fish who teamed around us as we swam, nibbling lunch’s leftover bread from our oily fingers.
At other times we watched the kite-surfers (seasonal winds make Lefkas a Mecca for extreme-watersports fanatics) risking life and limb at nearby Milos beach – home to Milos Beach Bar and the best seafood spaghetti I’ve tasted outside Tuscany. Kite-surfing too extreme for us, we’d spend the afternoon trying to burn off the calories by ‘wave jumping’ the big rollers.
Still, the lure of getting out on the water proved impossible to resist. A half-hour drive down the east coast took us to the island’s tourist hub, Nydri, where we hired a little motorboat and pootled, somewhat haphazardly, along the coast. Quite how we got our anchor entangled with another boat’s, I’m unsure.
More successful was the day-trip on the galleon Odysseia, not least because she was the spit of an ancient Greek warship (vitally important when you’re six) and because her captain, Gerry, was suitably ‘piratey’. Kids duly enlisted to help with hoisting the sails and manning the wheel, we sailed out to the neighbouring island of Meganissi, stopping to snorkel into the sea-cave of Papanikolis and off deserted beaches, including that of Onassis’ private Scorpios Island.
The route home took us through the sleepy little fishing village of Lygia. A handful of tavernas line the harbour here, specialising, unsurprisingly, in fish caught just hours earlier. Over plates of Gavros (fried anchovies – AKA Greek Fish Fingers for those of you with picky eaters) and grilled dorado, we watched as the sky turned from peony rose to an inky black, punctuated only by the twinkling lights of the squid boats setting out for that night’s catch.
By contrast, the island’s capital, the harbour-town of Lefkas, came alive at night, its narrow streets bustling with local families out for an evening’s promenade. All but destroyed in the earthquake of 1948, it’s a colourful mishmash, with Venetian churches rubbing shoulders with fishmongers and sophisticated bars shacked up by ice-cream parlours. The main drag is largely pedestrianised by night, making it ideal for families. We’d feast on Lefkas’ equivalent of fast-food – souvlaki (skewered meats), gyros (meat-stuffed pitta) or crepes – at one of the pavement cafés spilling into the main square, then sit back and watch as Joe joined forces with local kids and other junior Mousses residents for impromptu games of It and football. At times like this, it seemed remiss not to share a glass of two with some of their parents.
That we did feel like socialising so much was largely testament to Mousses’ magic. Within days of arriving, most families seemed to be on first-name terms, and many a late afternoon around the pool merged into a relaxed evening around the bar. Armed with an aperitif, we found bliss in the simple pleasure of watching our kids just being kids, revelling in their apparent independence as they ran wild through the safe and secure gardens. Greece through rosé-tinted glasses? Possibly. But thanks to Mousses, sanity had been most definitely restored.
Find out more more about family holidays at Mousses including an exclusive discount for Take the Family readers.