When was the last time you took a vacation that was truly about just switching off and relaxing?
Since my last family holiday with my parents —in 2002!— I don’t think I’ve ever gone away with the sole purpose of doing absolutely nothing. ‘Holidays’ since then have been all about exploring as much as possible; cramming as much as I possibly can into every single day of the trip, and returning home in desperate need of, well, a holiday!
I first visited Casa Cook Rhodes back in 2016, on a European press trip to celebrate the soft launch of the hotel, one of the first of its kind in the emerging ‘concept hotel’ sector at the time. A press trip is most definitely not the same as a holiday, before anyone suggests that, but the few hours I did get to spend leisurely lounging at the hotel back then (in between mandatory trips with the other journalists out to Rhodes Old Town and Lindos to review tourist excursions), convinced me it was a place I wanted to return one day.
So, having been convinced by my boyfriend that we needed a holiday with absolutely no pre-determined plans this year, it was a little bit of a no-brainer as to where we should book. I could still conjure up the feeling of complete peace I’d felt the first time I set foot in the resort and prayed that in the intervening years, Casa Cook hadn’t lost any of that laidback bohemian charm that had me so captivated before.
Conceived as “an adults-only destination for ‘bohemian spirits’, aimed at young modern travellers seeking respite from the rigmarole of urban life, without wanting to compromise on the creature comforts of home,” the boutique property is located in the beautiful hillsides of Kolymbia, a small seaside town on the eastern Rhodes coastline, nestled in between a stretch of rocky hills. The raw natural beauty of the landscape provides a stunning backdrop to the mid-century modern architecture; all crisp white lines and sparkling expanses of turquoise pool against an unapologetically wild, untamed surrounding.
late at night in the early hours of the morning —far later than originally planned thanks to an 8 hour delay at Manchester airport— so it wasn’t until we awoke mid-morning from a much needed slumber that we were able to properly take in the beautiful surrounds. Of course, having visited before I knew what to expect, but pulling back the curtains to our swim-up pool terrace still managed to take my breath away once more. And the twinkle in my boyfriend’s eyes as he surveyed the rocky landscape from the patio said it all. We had arrived in paradise!
The last time I visited there had been maybe 40 people total staying on-site; a small group who attended breakfast and dinner together around large open dining tables, since most of us had travelled alone.
Now it was wonderful to observe the types of couples who had chosen Casa Cook for their holiday; for it feels primarily like a couples resort, with a number of mother-daughter and (seemingly) female friend pairs thrown in for good measure. I’d been concerned it may be thronging with hipster twenty-something couples, constantly posing for selfies by the sparklingly clear pools but, it turned out, most seemed to be more in the 30s, 40s and 50s age brackets, all drawn in by the calm —almost zen-like— vibes of the space and, for the most part, keen to keep to themselves. Since my previous trip, the resort has almost doubled in size, adding a second pool and daytime restaurant, alongside a ‘spiritual wellness’ spa sanctuary offering ayuverda treatments, full body massage, facials and scrubs. There’s even a signature wellness suite, with double therapy beds and a private pool/jacuzzi, for the most romantic of couple retreats.
We were staying for four nights, and it was the first time I’ve ever booked to stay somewhere on half board, with an intention to not really even leave the resort, save for a short wander down to the nearby beach to be able to say we’d dipped our toes into the Med. I think I’d have been really hesitant to do this had I not previously visited —and enjoyed such delicious dishes— given that food plays such an important role in how I usually plan my trips.
Of course, it was still a huge risk, given that my previous visit had been a press trip where impressing us with the quality of the cuisine was of utmost importance, but I’m very happy to report that pretty much everything we ate at Casa Cook was utterly delicious.
The half board offering encompassed a buffet breakfast, which covered every British, Americian, Continental and Greek offering you could imagine, and a 4-course daily dinner on a rotating weekly menu, delivering a soup appetizer followed by three different sharing mezze platters per couple, a choice of two main courses (typically one fish, one meat) and a dessert. Of course, there will also have been vegetarian and vegan options that could have been requested when booking. To say we were stuffed every night would be an understatement! I only wish I’d taken more photos of the dinners but, since we were dining outside by the pool by candlelight —and caught up, living in the moment— I’ll have to rely on my memory to recount just how delectable each dish truly was. The arugula salad with grilled halloumi and pomegranate, and fava with caramelised onion and sea fennel were personal favourites amongst the mezze platters we enjoyed, while the grilled seabream was a standout main.
Our days at Casa Cook definitely hold a sun-tinged sense of magic for me now, as I sit here recalling our stay with the rain lashing hard against my office window. They say you need at least 72 hours away from ‘normal life’ to truly switch off and improve your mental wellbeing but the moment we awoke at Casa Cook it felt as if any stress and worries we’d been holding on to (thanks Ryanair!) just melted away.
Staying at a resort like Casa Cook, where you really do have everything you need on-site, and a very friendly and attentive (but not overbearing) group of staff ready to assist with any request, it’s easy to relax straight into a much slower pace of life. One of the things that struck me was how quiet a place it was; a gentle background hum of cicadas in the trees and the repetitive lapping of soft waves against the terrace wall. An ambient soundtrack of lo-fi tunes —jazz, lounge, chill house— blended almost seemlessly into the background in the communal areas, and didn’t travel beyond the poolside; our room was right next to the bar and when we retired early for the night and shut the door, we were surprised to find we couldn’t hear a peep!
As I mentioned, save for a Kindle loaded with sultry summer reads I intended to devour by the pool, we have no plans for how we would spend our days at Casa Cook. Pure relaxation was the ultimate goal and, having now experienced such a blissful holiday and developed a newfound appreciation for ‘the art of doing nothing’, it’s safe to say I’m going to want to schedule a holiday like this in every year. Was this desire inevitable now that we’ve both crossed the threshold of our forties? Will I ever want to book a jam-packed city break again? Haha, I’m sure I will, but adding in a day or so dedicated to slowing down and ‘simply being’ will be a high priority.
Of course, just because I was on a mission to relax didn’t mean I couldn’t flex my creative eye on trip. I had no firm plans to ‘create content’ whilst I was away but even on those family holidays, all those years ago, I didn’t wander anywhere without my camera in hand. I would never call myself a photographer and yet I tend to always see the world through a photographic lens, even when I don’t have on to hand (although, we all have one to hand these days, don’t we?). I can remember several Spanish holidays when I was in my mid teens, consistently pestering my sister to pose for photos because I was on a real fashion photography kick. I’d probably just started reading Nylon at the time —anyone remember that mag? It was my absolute fave for years!— and was keen to capture stylistic, yet artfully candid, model imagery that replicated its brand of cool, offbeat style.
Thankfully Luis is similarly afflicted with the photography bug —although we see the world with very different eyes!— and he was equally keen to wander the resort with me, snapping away, and then venture further afield to see what visual delights the local town held. Kolymbia is a resort town caught in a time warp; all faded retro 80’s signage, folding metal sunloungers, tourist trinkets on loudly creaking turnstands and, sadly, many now abandoned restaurants and shops. It was evidently once a popular restort town but it now seems that tourists stick mainly to the hotel resorts, of which there were many —although we were visiting outside of the main tourist season, so it may be different at the height of summer. Regardless, it offered up plenty of angles to capture and had a nostalgic charm all of its own!
Next to Casa Cook there is now a newer hotel resort offering from a sister brand, Cook’s Club, which opened in May 2023. Another adults only offering, it feels like a place that would be great for bigger groups of friends to book, with the majority of the 271 rooms centred round the two resort pools, which are surrounded by comfy loungers and palm-leaved parasols. It has a similar ‘free-spirited’ atmosphere to Casa Cook, with a more organic, earthy-hued aesthetic compared to the clean white lines of its neighbouring resort, and far larger communal areas, both indoor and out. It also promises livelier evenings, with themed nights and parties scheduled throughout the season. While it’s not somewhere I think I’d book now, I can certainly see it as somewhere I’d have loved to stay in my twenties and early thirties —and definitely a place to book if you want to connect with other travellers and like-minded souls.
All photography © Kate Baxter & Luis Leiva.