Travel: A family holiday in Kos turns out to be just what the doctor ordered
Fun, food and football is a recipe for holiday happiness for any family with young boys. Aeneas Bonner found all three on the Greek island of Kos
THAT great 20th century philosopher Homer Simpson once offered a warning to doctors tempted to abuse their position: "Remember your Hippopotamus Oath!"
It's a long way from Springfield to Kos, but the enduring influence of Hippocrates – even when wrongly pronounced – has given the idyllic little Greek island a special place in history of medicine, philosophy and civilisation itself.
The third largest of the Dodecanese islands, Kos was home to the 'father of modern medicine' who gave his name to the vows still taken by medical students around the world in the form of the Hippocratic Oath.
Back in the fifth century BC, tales of his skill drew kings and statesmen from across the old world to his school in the south Aegean Sea.
These days Kos still attracts visitors from across Europe, but it is the therapeutic effect of its fabulous beaches, climate and natural beauty that draws the crowds.
The Greek islands are enjoying a surge in popularity after a few years when the Mediterranean migrant crisis generated some negative headlines. The Mamma Mia! films have certainly done no harm, and there's still some great value to be had.
Only a couple of miles off the Turkish coast, Kos is about four hours by plane from Ireland. Holiday firm TUI flies direct from Dublin and is introducing new charters from Belfast next year.
For those with young children and more used to hops to Spain, the longer flight times are offset by short transfers island-side.
Kos is at the hotter end of the Med, with temperatures often in the mid-30s during summer. However, northern Europe actually experienced much worse heat this year and the highs of 29-33C during my visit in mid-August (plus a welcome sea breeze) were fine even for my pasty complexion.
My family, including two football-mad boys aged seven and eight, spent a week at the Holiday Village Atlantica on the north coast of the island.
First impressions go a long way on a short holiday. The hotel is sleek and modern and the friendly staff quickly direct you to your temporary home among the many two and three-storey blocks dotted around the huge complex.
No complaints about the rooms. They are spacious and sleep up to four, with air con and balcony/terrace as standard. A big bottle of water for the fridge each day is a nice touch.
The hotel is all-inclusive, with food and drink constantly restocked in a variety of bars and restaurants. Even arriving late at night, there was a buffet of burgers, chips, pasta and other staples.
The main self-service restaurant is huge and offers everything from pizza to fresh seafood, as well as a coronary-inducing array of desserts and ice cream. There's a lovely big terrace but stay indoors if you're put off by one of the island's many stray cats.
For a change of scenery, a visit to the resort's American and Greek-themed restaurants is included in your stay.
As a first experience of all-inclusive, there's something to be said for not worrying about racking up bills for drinks or meals that children suddenly decide they don't fancy. The various bars also offer unlimited soft drinks, local beer and wine and even slushies for the children.
The only downside is that your calorie intake over the week would make a Sumo wrestler blush.
To help work it off, the Holiday Village set-up (there are similar TUI resorts across the Mediterranean) offers a full schedule of daytime activities, from kids' clubs and football, swim or stage academies, to the usual poolside games and quizzes.
There's also tennis courts, beach volleyball, archery, basketball, a gym, spa, playground and even an aerial assault course for frustrated young superheroes.
Having been on TUI Family Life holidays before, I found the Holiday Village better suited to my (now) slightly older children.
They loved the morning football sessions on the synthetic pitch, which under lights at night resembled the parks of fond childhood memories where kids congregate for hours of epic, open-ended 20-a-side matches.
A special word for coaches Jake and Josh, who were great with the children. Swimming lessons are also available in groups or one-to-one, although both are not included in the package price.
For most families the main focus is the pool and there are three to choose from, as well as splash park with slides for younger ones.
Even better, this hotel has is its own private beach at the front of the complex, complete with free deckchairs and well-stocked bar.
There's water sports for the more adventurous but simply strolling along the quiet, sandy shore, gazing across the expanse of the stunning Aegean, provided the best R&R of the entire week.
At night the reps put on entertainment in an amphitheatre, from songs and cartoons for kids (the Koukou Move is still going strong) to West End-style shows for the adults. There were even fireworks on the last night.
It all takes place away well away from the accommodation, meaning it's nice and quiet late at night.
If you want to escape the hotel, the village of Marmari offers a few shops and restaurants around 15 minutes' walk away.
Be aware that all ATMs in Greece charge foreign cards a fee, so best use your card commission free at the airport before leaving.
To venture further, hire a car or buggy at the hotel or hop on the cheap, hourly bus service into Kos town.
It offers a charming mix of Greek and Roman remains, earthquake-damaged churches, and narrow streets full of welcoming little shops and restaurants. It's all very relaxed and easy-going.
The chief archaeological attraction is the Asklepieion healing temple, while the Hippocrates Plane Tree is where the great man taught his students.
For souvenirs, the island produces beautiful scented soaps and honey as well as the usual leather goods and jewellery.
And if my boys are anything to go by, a highlight is stocking up on the latest football kits at a fraction of the price at home. Seek out Vangelis at his Champion shop – he's a legend among tourists and a lovely guy.
The town's stunning harbour with its many bars and eateries is also a great base for a boat trip to any of the other nearby islands or Bodrum on the Turkish coast.
Elsewhere on Kos, a highlight is a trip inland to the mountain village of Zia, which offers breathtaking views over lush forest from its blue-and-white tavernas. It is also a spectacular setting to catch the sunset.
All in all, there's everything here a family could need. It's not loud or brash like some other Med locations, and if you can live with the flight and heat, the reward for venturing slightly further along the package trail is a week of all the fun, food and football you fancy.
As Hippocrates (or Homer Simpson) might say, just what the doctor ordered.
Seven nights, all-inclusive, at the Holiday Village Atlantica Kos is available from £1,909 for a family of three, flying out from Belfast on June 9 2020, or for two adults and two children from £2,479. Flying on July 4 from Belfast, prices start at £2,389 and £3,139 respectively. Transfers included. For further information see tui.co.uk or visit your nearest TUI store.