26 MAY 2007, Page 66

All in the family

James Delingpoleexplores the hidden, unspoilt treasures of the Costa Blanca ‘D o you think we’ve made a terrible mistake?’ I said to the Fawn as we studied the map of Spain’s Costa Blanca (the bit between Valencia and Alicante), trying desperately to find stretches of coast that weren’t dominated by tower blocks, cement factories and wrbanizacións. We’d paid the deposit, booked the flights, allocated the precious week’s holiday time. But what we hadn’t done beforehand, as perhaps we should have, was to make sure that the area we were about to visit wasn’t a complete toilet.

The thing was, the place we were going to stay — Caserío Del Mirador — looked so ravishing on the website that we couldn’t resist. It’s situated (well away from coastal development horror) at the top of a remote and beautiful valley above Xaló (Jalón) at the foot of a jagged mountain, with fantastic views down to the sea. It’s surrounded by olive and almond trees on terraces built over a thousand years ago by the Moors. The rooms are gorgeously done — spacious, decent bedlinen, no tack. And it’s quite brilliantly run by a delightful family team — laid-back, amiable Johnny Robinson and Sarah, his powerhouse of a wife who used to run Bloomberg’s London office and now dedicates all her considerable energies to feeding you good food, stopping your children dying and making sure your holiday is absolutely perfect.

So, no complaints on that score. But what about the rest of the Costa Blanca? The key here is not to look at a map or read any guide books because if you do, you won’t want to go. Not 40 minutes’ drive away is the highrise hell of Benidorm and even the nearer coastal resorts — such as the old fishing village of Calpe — have been comprehensively trashed by overdevelopment. Round and about you will come upon places like Gert And Daisy’s Pub — ‘The Original Fawlty Towers’ and Supermarket Lyn y Dave. You will shudder at the accents of the kids your offspring befriend on the beach.

Now I’ll explain why it’s still worth going and why you’ll love it. Number one attraction for me is the hidden-away pebble beach in the cove at Barraca — as beautiful and unspoilt as any I’ve seen in the Mediterranean. The water’s clear and great for snorkelling — except when the waves are up and the surfers move in — and on the cliff overlooking it is a restaurant which does the most fantastic paella and tapas for next to nothing. Every time I’m there, I pinch myself in disbelief.

Farther up the coast, on the way towards Valencia, is my other favourite beach at Oliva. This one is much more Atlantic in style — very long (ergo not too crowded) with tremendous breakers which are fun to jump with small children and to body-boardsurf with older ones. There’s a restaurant nearby called Tasca Olivense which does a cheap fixed-price menu of proper local food, but if you can’t find it, don’t worry: in my experience any restaurant in these parts which isn’t on the tourist strip and does a menu of the day is going to hit the spot.

I haven’t mentioned the walking, which is the other big draw. Besides the thrilling razor-back ridge directly above Caserio del Mirador — on the other side is a famously picturesque pass called Col de Rates — there are several first-rate hikes within half an hour’s drive. There’s the Rock of Ifach in Calpe, the Montgo and the Bernia, all offering exhilarating climbs rising sheer above the coastal plain and the most dramatic views.

The other place I must mention, because both my kids declared, quite unprompted, that they thought it was the best thing they’d ever done ever, is the waterfalls called Fonts del Algar. In peak season, I gather, they’re beyond dreadful because they’re right on the Benidorm trail. Out of season, though, they’re a paradise of cascades and grottos and deep pools you can excitingly dive into and river trails you can scramble up. Seriously — go!

Though I can imagine young or old couples having a pleasant off-season walking holiday there, the thing I’d most recommend Caserio del Mirador for is a very reasonable, low-effort family holiday. Your children will almost certainly form a gang with the other (nicely brought up) children in the neighbouring apartments (five in all), leaving you free to get gently sozzled by the pool. If you can’t be bothered to self-cater, Sarah — for a bit extra — will do all your cooking for you, while Johnny keeps re-charging your glass with the local organic red wine. They push the ‘organic’ line a lot on their website, because that’s the sort of guff the punters like to read these days. Quite unnecessary, though. Caserio del Mirador is so wonderful it doesn’t need marketing.