It’s ‘the largest swimming pool in the world according to Esther Williams and she’d know – she was the famous water-ballet star of Hollywood. And I’m sure that many of the people who flock to the Mar Menor in south-eastern Spain are just as adept as Esther at swimming in bright red lipstick and emerging from the sea looking as glamorous as they went in.
The Mar Menor, or Little Sea, is a huge lagoon with a depth of only 23 ft (7 m), cut off from the Mediterranean Sea by a 13 mile (22km) long, narrow sandbar. It’s surrounded by flat land punctuated by sudden high hills and even higher apartment buildings of holiday-makers and English retirees. During the off season months it’s quite deserted, but during summer the waterfront is crowded with ice-cream licking kids and their coffee drinking parents, and the water is full of yachts and swimmers.
The waters of the Mar Menor are high in salts and said to be beneficial to health – this also makes flotation very easy and swimming extremely relaxing. The northern end of the lagoon contains salt-flats, which are a protected haven for birds, including pink flamingos which spectacularly fly in and out at dawn and dusk to feed. Some of the most popular beach towns are San Pedro del Pinatar, San Javier, Los Alcazares, La Manga del Mar Menor and Cartegena, once an important Roman sea port. Don’t miss eating at La Encarnacion on the beachfront in Los Alcazares – one of the original and most authentic Spanish restaurants in town, it has café seating out the front and a wonderfully atmospheric restaurant inside and was the best meal I’ve had in Spain.