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The great escape; Going off the beaten track to the small town of San Pedro del Pinatar is so rewarding, with its value-for-money bars, restaurants and accommodation. DEBORAH BEATTIE.

When we flew to tourist favourite Alicante, which is, of course, a hugely popular Spanish resort, we were keen to try something different.

A friend who lives in the area suggested San Pedro del Pinatar, very close to Murcia, nestling on the Mar Menor, the natural lagoon created by the La Manga strip.

It's a lovely little town, hugely popular with Spanish holidaymakers but practically unknown to Brits - exactly the sort of thing I and my husband Michael wanted to explore.

We had little in mind other than relaxation, so the thought of escaping from it all and getting lost in the real Spain was immensely appealing.

We flew with Jet2.com, a quick, smooth and easy flight from Glasgow that was a breeze. No hassle, a hefty 22kg luggage allowance and a relaxing, quiet flight meant we arrived refreshed and ready to rock.

We had an absolute nightmare collecting our hire car, having tried to be clever and sourced it online through a "bargain" agency.

However, a ridiculous wait was followed by a stack of hidden charges that meant we paid a fortune in the end. Lesson learned - we'll book it via the airline next time.

Once we eventually hit the road, we had a shortish drive of around 85km to San Pedro del Pinatar and our hotel, the Thalasia Costa De Murcia, again recommended by our pal.

Initial impressions are that it is going to be a nightmare, as it seems to overlook a busy dual carriageway, but those impressions are wrong. As soon as you enter the tranquil, spacious, air-conditioned lobby, those worries melt away. Our room wasn't quite ready so we had a short wait on the terrace by the pool. It was here that we realised just how Spanish the resort was, as the pool bar staff spoke little English - luckily a friendly dad at the bar spoke good English and helped us.

We were glad he did, as the array of authentic tapas dishes on offer instead of the usual burgers and chips was brilliant and incredibly cheap.

Drinks, too, were ludicrously cheap for a good hotel's pool bar - a bucket of six Heinekens was five euros, with a cocktail the same price.

Our large, comfortable room had a view of the central courtyard area rather than the salt flats as hoped, but we didn't plan on spending much time in the room so it was no big deal.

There's free wi-fi throughout and not the unusuable nonsense many hotels provide, so that's a big plus.

We quickly headed back downstairs and spent a lazy day lying in the sun, enjoying those bargain drinks and the very occasional dip in the blessedly cool pool.

We were tempted to stay in the hotel for dinner but in the end went for a wander and took the recommendation of the helpful receptionist to try a new pizza place that had just opened. It served excellent fare at budget prices.

We were beginning to realise avoiding British tourist spots is wise for more reasons than we thought.

Strolling back to the hotel in the warm night air, along quiet streets with only the occasional dog walker for company, we had found exactly what we wanted - peace.

Day two and it was time to check out the hotel spa, a key point in our choice to stay there. Attached to the hotel, it's a huge complex with amazing saltwater swimming pool with jets, a hot tub, plus massages and body treatments of all sorts on offer. Even the treatments are surprisingly cheap - my massage was just 60 euros and was sublime. Before we knew it, another day had flown by at the poolside, so thoughts turned to dinner. We opted to take a taxi (we were feeling lazy) down to the little marina area near the hotel, along a road cutting through the salt flats directly opposite the hotel, complete with flamingos.

We wandered around the different bars and restaurants, eventually settling on one we'd noted on TripAdvisor reviews, Mar De Sal.

What an inspired choice - in a stunning setting, tranquil and beautiful, with a little playpark for kids if you're a family.

The setting was fantastic and the food more than lived up to the surroundings - although as always in Spain the service isn't hurried.

Plentiful portions, great wine and all at very reasonable prices.

The food is in a different league and for 100 euros we had a great meal for two with wine.

I have to recommend the steak, which was absolutely sensational, while the seafood dishes also looked and tasted incredible.

Our final day brought yet more sunshine so we did a little exploring, wandering around the town itself, which is just along the main road from the hotel. There's loads to do, from hitting the area's excellent beaches to water sports, golf, cycling or just strolling on the promenade.

For us, it was a bit of shopping and a look round the market El Sal to keep that authentic feel going.

Then back to our spot by the pool for the last few hours of sun and a deliciously lazy room service dinner and a good night's sleep before heading home.

Before we knew it we were boarding our Jet2.com flight home sporting tans and promising to return to this delightful area as soon as possible.

Travel info | We flew courtesy of Jet2.com, who offer friendly low fares, great flight times, and a generous 22kg baggage allowance to Alicante from Glasgow Airport. Flights start from PS46 one way including taxes. For more information, visit www.jet2.com or call 0800 408 5599 | We stayed at Thalasia Costa De Murcia, which we booked through Expedia, or you can go direct at www.thalasia.com

"Getting lost in the real Spain was immensely appealing"

CAPTION(S):

LAGOON Nearby La Manga and Mar Menor

HOTEL Thalasia Costa De Murcia was perfect

SALT FLATS Beautiful walk right in front of hotel

RECOMMENDED Mar De Sal restaurant
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUSP
Date:Jan 31, 2016
Words:1001
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