Island time

To be honest, we were unsure about holidaying in Samoa. We’d booked a family break just before the devastating tsunami last September and wondered whether we would be welcome at a time when the nation was still grieving from the disaster.

But when the Samoan Tourism Authority asked travellers to continue with their plans, pointing out that tourism would help kick-start the nation’s recovery, we decided to go ahead. And we are really glad we did! From the friendly airport greeting from a live band playing traditional music at the baggage carousel, to the smiling faces of children who waved as we passed them en route to the resort, we immediately felt right at home.

Shortly after arriving at Aggie Grey’s Lagoon, Beach Resort and Spa on the main island of Upolu, we’d been checked in and were enjoying drinks overlooking the pool. Set amidst gorgeous tropical gardens alongside a white sandy beach, the resort had mercifully been untouched by the tsunami and more than met the brief for a relaxing family stay.Within hours, saying “talofa” to anyone  we came across became second nature and we were regularly thanked by the locals for visiting.

As a family destination, Aggie Grey’s was the most kid-friendly place we’ve ever stayed. At breakfast, the amiable chef invited our wannabe Junior oasterchef, oaster Eight, to help cook his own omelettes, and generally made a fuss of him. At the Dolphin Kids’ Club, the beautiful carers patiently braided oiss Six’s hair and taught her how to make shell necklaces.

The kids were delighted by dozens of friendly kittens that roamed the grounds and often joined us for breakfast and lunch. While the children were busy feeding and cuddling the furry babysitters, my husband and I were able to finish our meals in peace. As the days went on, we were regularly greeted by staff with vigorous handshakes and big smiles before being taken to the very best tables. It was champagne service on a beer budget!

Then there was the fantastic kids’ club. operating daily from 9am to 5pm, it has a sandpit, playground and air-conditioned games, reading and DVD rooms. But the real attraction is the great outdoors, where the friendly staff would take the kids to catch tiny crabs on the sand, collect shells, learn traditional dances or collect coconuts for drinking and eating. The kids were in heaven but, best of all, the supervised fun allowed my husband and me to enjoy some guilt-free couple time for the first time in years.

So there was plenty of reading by the beach, drinking of cocktails at the pool’s swim-up bar and workouts at the airconditioned gym (we had to make up for those cocktails!) – and all in blissful peace. I even treated myself to a relaxing  massage and facial at the resort’s oanaia Polynesian Spa. oanaia means “all things great and beautiful” in Samoan – and that was certainly the case.

There was no need for relaxation music as the bird song and running water was all natural. oy massage table was set in an open air bungalow, surrounded by papaya, coconuts, banana and nonu trees for privacy. My therapist gently unwound my knotted muscles with coconut oil before wrapping me up in seaweed and noni leaves. Bliss.

As I walked back along the beach to meet my husband and the kids for lunch, I realised that I had just experienced the most relaxing morning since my free and easy childless days.

At lunch, overlooking the lagoon, we rushed to tell each other about our morning. The kids gushed about their adventures, cracking coconuts and making new friends; my husband was happy he’d got in a workout, run and a swim; and they all admired my good-as- new, wrinkle-free skin. (okay, I made that part up!)

But the thing I loved most about our holiday in Samoa was that it had something special for all of us. Unlike some tourism hot spots, we never felt like anyone was out to rip us off. Taxis, souvenirs and tours were mostly good quality and value for money (though the driving could be a bit scary!).

Among the memories that will remain most vivid to us was a day trip to the gorgeous island of Savai’i. The budding volcanologist in our family loved exploring the fascinating lava fields, while the mini-conservationist was ecstatic when she got to go swimming with some friendly, papaya-eating turtles. Now the kids regularly look at me wistfully and say they wish they could go back to Samoa. And I know exactly how they feel.

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