But a few years ago - we think we found one. An elusive hidden gem. A beach holiday nonetheless - but a beach with a difference; Not a tourist to be found and the entire stretch of beach all to ourselves.
Here's how we found it:
Gems are treasures and everyone knows that to find treasure, first you need a map. So we looked at the map and decided which country we fancied visiting. It was going to be the children's first holiday abroad so we desperately wanted to get it right.
Spain was the choice. But where in Spain was the treasure hidden? Recalling memories of Spain as a child, all I could picture were swimming pools packed with people, beaches filled with row upon row of sunloungers, noisy hotel restaurants where meals were far from relaxed. Did I really want my children to experience this? All they wanted was a beach to play on and sand to build sandcastles with. How could we achieve this without having to put up with all the noise and hustle and bustle that is found on beach holidays?
So we did what every wise explorer should do when they come to a dead end. We asked the advice of a trusted wise elder (in the form of my big sis who lived in Spain for many years and brought her children up there during their early years). And you can't beat local knowledge when it comes to finding those all elusive hidden gems.
She told us of a magical place where two seas meet. On one side the 'open' Mediterranean sea - the water colder, and rougher but beautiful white sandy beaches and quite literally on the other side of the road, the golden sands at the edge of the 'lagoon' side of the sea with stiller, warmer water - perfect for the little ones to paddle and play in.
Could it really be true? Surely such a place would be heaving with tourists? Beach. Sand. Sea. Surely that was an equation for thousands upon thousands of sunloungers to fill the shoreline leaving not an inch of space for the children to play?
I guessed that time would soon tell as we booked our flights and made arrangements for accommodation. Much like Tuscany Now, we were fortunate to find an organisation that represented apartment owners directly and so we knew we were getting a high standard of accommodation. If it is nice enough for the apartment owners to holiday in themselves then that was a good sign. And that proved to be CLUE No.1
CLUE No. 2 was the taxi driver picking us up from the airport having no idea where our holiday accommodation was. Now that might sound like a disaster - but we found it strangely reassuring. If the local taxi driver had not needed to shuttle visiting holiday makers and tourists to and fro - then it was likely to be in a quieter location. That takes us on to CLUE No. 3
CLUE No. 3 We searched the whole town and found only a single shop. A little store selling groceries and other essentials. Perfect. That was all we needed. The bread van stopped by each day at lunchtime and the children raced down and returned to the apartment balcony with a fresh baguette for lunch each day. Alfresco dining on the balcony looking over quiet streets each day made us feel like locals. We got a glimpse into life living there in the sunshine, near the beach, with a pool to dive into whenever we felt like it.
Then it was time for the real test. The acid test if you like. The make or break moment. Had we truly found a hidden gem in the form of the little town of Islas Menores or would we be sorely disappointed. It was time to check out the beach!
So here was our final clue. CLUE No. 4 The moment of truth! Day after day we had the pick of the crop. Beach after beautiful EMPTY beach. We literally found we had the whole beach to ourselves. In fact, we had the whole stretch of beaches to ourselves.
We followed the treasure map. We found the clues and at last, we had truly found our hidden gem.