“Seriously? You have a bath and a kettle in your room?” I said to new Club Med friend Els. “It must be a deluxe one: I was told they’d done away with most of them in the refurb – part of an economy drive around water. I agree with that – but I do love a soak in the bath after a hard day’s table tennis and lounging by the pool.”
It was the first of many changes I spotted during my week at Da Balaia. It seemed that like some of its guests and the world at large, Club Med is also partial to an identity crisis: Rooms are refreshed; a newly decorated bar upstairs is all blonde wood; the nightclub area bright and airy, however in the communal areas the same old comforting carpet greeted me – a little tired around the edges now.
I followed crowds of beards from a tech company visiting for a conference to the dining room for lunch.
Ines, a Gentil Organisateur (G.O.) tore me away from frowning at chipped plates and cups, and the large round table next to me of eight French bloggers superglued to their ‘phones.
“So, how was your morning?” she asked, smiling. I told her what I’d done and hadn’t done and we found shared experiences to bond over.
Afterwards, I took a scoop of chocolate ice cream to go and headed to the poolside bar.
“Do you trust me to make your usual?” Emanuel one of the G.O.s serving asked.
“Go on then” I said. “Give it your best shot – although you have a tough act to follow: Irina’s café au lait is superb!”
I sat on a seen-better-days cushioned bed beside the new ‘VIP wine tasting’ area and took a sip. Hadrian walked past and grinned at me. I glanced up at him: “I know, I’m sorry, I’ve missed two days of tennis now.”
“Don’t worry!” he said charmingly. “But make sure you come tomorrow at 2pm so you can play with the champions – Julie Coin and Thomas Levet – it’s part of Lacoste week.”
I headed to the Zen pool: The fanciest pond I’ve ever seen, resplendent with white lilies floating, and birds chirping in the grounds around. A made to order smoothie after a peaceful dip at anytime o’clock reassured me I was on holiday.
Later that day, I rang Els’s room. “What’s the dress code tonight – do you know?”
“Well the App says one thing and the TV another. Does it matter, does anyone do it?”
I shrieked, horrified: “Yes they do! It’s a very important feature at Club Med – it’s another key ice-breaker for conversation with a G.M. (Gentils Membres/guest) or G.O.”
While digitally enhanced and slickly choreographed evening shows entertained us, by the end of week I was oblivious to the new Club Med and fully ensconced in the one I know and love.
“May I join you?” Danilo, a G.O. from reception asked at my last lunch, adding “By the way, you look much lighter than when you arrived – like something’s been lifted.”
I took in his smiling face, smart red polo shirt with name badge, and hope that as Club Med continues to search for its soul it is mindful of the value of human kindness – its founding principle, and the one that raises it above the rest.