Once a week, at quarter-past-six on a Saturday morning, there is a packed flight from Manchester Airport to a tiny Italian airport called Lamezia Terme. Never heard of it? Neither had I. What I found at the other end, when I travelled with my seven-year-old son, was one of TUI’s best-kept secrets: somewhere so special and memorable, we are already planning to return.

Lamezia Terme is in Calabria, in Italy’s far south. From Manchester, the flight time is a little over three hours. Calabria is the ‘toe’ of the country: close to Sicily and bordered by the Mediterranean Sea on three sides. It is hot, quiet and beautiful: mountains, woodlands and medieval towns sitting high above the blue sea.

TUI’s Magic Life Calabria resort is 20 minutes’ drive from Lamezia Terme Airport, on the region’s western coastline. Bordered by mountains on one side and the blue sea on the other, the hotel claims to “take all-inclusive to the next level.” It is an old Club Med place, renovated by TUI, which opened in May last year. The facilities include five pools, four restaurants, kids clubs, help-yourself wine and beer taps, various poolside bars, a beauty spa, a theatre and a dizzying array of daytime sports activities.

The children's splash park is one of five pools at the TUI Magic Life resort.

By the time we are checked in and I am given a magnetic grey wristband in lieu of a room key, it is nearly afternoon. We grab a quick lunch from the all-you-can-eat buffet and head straight for one of the two kids’ pools. With numerous water slides and splash pads, this is less of a pool and more like a self-contained water park. Adults aren’t allowed on, but are permitted to laze on sun loungers at the side of the pool, with a drink or two.

By the end of that first afternoon, my seven-year-old has decided he is in paradise. This is on three counts. The first is that all-you-can-eat restaurant, which includes a pizza bar, unlimited pop, a cake bar and an ice cream station. The second is that he has already forged new friendships with other children here on holiday. The third is the local wildlife: namely, the little wall lizards who zip across the pathways and peep out from the shrubs.

My son is besotted with these lizards. With his new friends, he takes to tracking them down across the resort. His diary of the holiday features some passing remarks about the all-inclusive treats on offer, but page after page about lizards: “Me and Violet found an incredible amount of Lizzeds in almost every single place. The Lizzeds were black, grey and green. They had lightning fast reactshons, but when we got close to them they ran off and it made the grass sway so all we had to do was follow the grass.”

The next morning, following a return visit to the buffet restaurant - where my son enjoys a hearty breakfast of doughnuts - it is time to try some of the sports on offer. Kids’ club reps whisk my son away for tennis practice, while I venture into the forest for an archery lesson.

Hammock in a Calabrian forest
Who wouldn't want to lounge in a hammock in a beautiful forest?

When I step into the forest, I feel like I’m in paradise too. Everything is suddenly still and quiet, except for the noise of cicadas. Calabrian sunshine stipples the ground below pine trees stretching up to the blue sky. The path through the forest is well worn, by hotel guests ambling towards the beach. Just a short walk from the path is a grove strung up with large, comfortable hammocks. The lesson doesn’t start for an hour so I settle in, rejoicing that I have a good book and a bottle of chilled water in my bag.

Like many of the TUI team our archery coach, Lena, speaks multiple languages fluently. On this morning she has English students and German students, so must coach raw beginners in both languages - but within 30 minutes, we are all confident archers, shooting with our heavy bows and in some cases, even hitting the targets. Activities such as this cost extra on a lot of “all-inclusive” holidays, but here they are all included in the cost.

Boy holding a bow and arrow
My seven-year-old son, enjoying his archery lesson in the forest.

In the afternoon I return with my son for a children’s archery lesson. Expecting a plastic bow and those little arrows with plastic suckers on the ends, he is thrilled to be given a wooden bow and “proper,” full-sized arrows. Fortunately nerves are held, nobody is speared and the session goes without a hitch.

The sand-and-pebble beach is on the other side of the forest. It is secluded and quiet, arranged with neat rows of sun loungers and parasols, all looking out to sea. Behind them, a help-yourself snack bar with wine, beer, soft drinks and ice cream cones. There is a hut filled with wetsuits, life jackets and anything else you might want for beach activities. One morning we we borrow a kayak and go whizzing across the still blue sea, before my son discovers the fun of jumping in, life jacket and all, and bobbing about on the waves.

The Flavours restaurant by the beach, which serves tasting menus of dishes from around the world.

One of the resort’s four restaurants, Flavours, is located here. Dinner begins with a tasting menu: a selection of starters from six different countries around the world, followed by a choice of chicken, lamb shanks or seafood stew for a main course, before we enjoy a tasting menu of six desserts. No children on screens here: instead, between courses, my son and his friends play on the beach as the sun sets. When we walk back to our rooms through the forest, strings of bulbs light our way.

Our family rooms at TUI Magic are spacious, spotlessly clean and carefully located: close to the splash park and the largest swimming pool, but far enough from the evening entertainments so that we aren’t disturbed at night. Staff keep the fridge stocked with drinks. Family rooms are set over two floors: the main bedroom and bathroom downstairs, with a second double bedroom up a small flight of stairs. Outside, the walls and walkways are festooned with flowers: carpets of marigolds and blazing pink bourgainvillea.

The fishing town of Pizzo, Calabria, is perched high on a cliff overlooking the Gulf of Euphemia.

The nearest town is Pizzo, ten minutes’ drive away. Set into a steep cliff, it overlooks the Gulf of Saint Euphemia. Attractions include a fifteenth century fort and little souvenir shops, selling shells and regional delicacies, set into narrow and winding streets.

However Pizzo’s real draw is its pudding: the celebrated tartufo . This is a large ball of chocolate ice cream with a molten chocolate centre, served at numerous gelateria in the town’s piazza. Variations on the tartufo originale include the tartufo al limone : lemon ice cream with a lemoncello centre.

A street in Pizzo, leading down to the piazza where gelateria serve the town's famous ice cream dishes.

Just as our tartufi arrive, accompanied by little bowls of baked biscuits and nuts, there is a delighted commotion on the piazza. A young bride and her groom have emerged from the nearby church. We raise our glasses of Aperol Spritz as they walk through the square, to applause from all.

Calabrian days are marked by bright sunshine: the average daily temperature is 18 degrees centigrade in May, rising to 26 in July. It is so hot that sliders or flip-flops are essential to get to the pools: the ground is so hot, it burns your feet. The hotter and dryer it gets, the louder the cicadas sing in the forest. However the weather in this part of the Mediterranean can be turbulent. There is no rain during the day but one night, there is a storm so loud and long that it wakes us up - and knocks out the electricity for the entire resort. The next morning, power has been restored and the sun is shining again. The only signs of the storm are the freshness in the air and the cicadas’ quietness.

Bougainvillea covering the walls of apartments at TUI Magic Life Calabria.

As we pack on the morning of our departure, my son has to be persuaded to drop plans to smuggle a lizard back to Manchester. Instead he begins planning our next visit. In the check-in queue at Lamezia Terme Airport, he talks about the family members we will bring, the pools we will play in, the ice creams we will eat and all the time we will spend shooting bows and arrows. Me? I’m still dreaming of that hammock and a lazy morning in a beautiful Calabrian forest. If you get there before I do, save one for me.

The facts

TUI offers seven night holidays to Italy staying at the 4T TUI MAGIC LIFE Calabria on an all-inclusive basis from £568 per person when booked online. Price is based on two adults and two children sharing and includes flights departing from Manchester, plus transfers. To find out more about this holiday or to book go to tui.co.uk, visit your local TUI holiday store or download the TUI app.