HISTORY is never far from the surface in Murcia.
In 1905, six years before the Titanic went down in the icy north Atlantic more than 500 people perished in Spain’s worst marine disaster.
The tragedy happened when an Italian steamer, the Sirio, hit the notorious submerged island Bajo de Feura off the coast of Mar Menor.
Its wreck is now a top scuba diving destination and just one of hundreds of stricken vessels lying around the Costa Calida.
Few British people beyond the diving community will have heard this tragic tale, but as I lay floating in the bath water warm lagoon of Mar Menor with Spain’s equivalent of the Red Arrows presenting me with my own personal acrobatics display I wondered how this up and coming region has remained hidden for so long.
The locals like to call the region of Murcia ‘the home of the sun’ as it boasts more than 300 days of sunshine a year, with temperatures averaging over 20°C (68°F), even in mid-winter.
You may have heard of La Manga for its golf and tennis and for its hosting of the England football team.
But the absence of Red Lion pubs and burger bars mean this unspoiled sandy peninsula is still popular with Spanish and Portuguese tourists, making it the perfect place for a quiet family break.
For culture vultures and adventurers the rugged sierras of south-eastern Spain conceal more than 3,000 years of history and some of Europe’s best walking and adventure sports.
For those not keen on checking out the prehistoric cave paintings found in the high peaks of Moratalla, the bustling city of Murcia or the crystal clear waters and immaculate beaches of Águilas might be more suitable.
Our trip started at the Cavanna Hotel with a morning of watersports in the shallow waters of the Mar Menor. Kayaking, windsurfing and pedallos were all offered, but I went for the easy option of a short lesson on a small catamaran.
My instructor, David, told me he often sailed home across the bay for an extended lunch and a siesta; a far cry from my usual 20-minute quest for a soggy sandwich.
After a doze on the sparsely populated beach and a caña, a small beer, the first of many marathon tapas meals was taken before we headed off to the gothic city of Murcia.
A dichotomy of dusty Baroque facades and trendy fashion boutiques can be found scattered across the narrow back streets and modest plazas.
But in these devoutly Catholic lands it is the opulent Santa Maria Cathedral that Murcians are most proud of.
The cathedral, begun in the 14th century, is a mix of Baroque and Gothic styles and the heart and the entrails of the Spanish King Alfonso X the Wise are said to be under the main altar.
A coalition of Christian kings expelled the north African Muslims from Murcia in the 13th century and converted all the mosques into churches. But a few reminders of the city’s Arabian heritage are still evident.
Our guide, Maria, took us on a surprising little detour into La Muralla cafe, a subterranean restaurant juxtaposed by the ruins of a Moorish wall.
After being lavished with another array of authentic cured meats, fresh fish and creamy desserts, our party headed coastward bound again, this time south to Mazarrón and Águilas. This region of Spain was key in defending against invaders and is littered with relics of its maritime past.
But it was our next hotel, the luxury Sensol Resort, that many of our party were most interested in. This new resort consists of an 18-hole golf course, four-star hotel and a five element themed spa.
My pre-treatment anxieties were soon washed away in the ‘Agua’ element as I was pummelled with a variety of powerful water jets and asked to hop between an icy cold plunge pool and a lovely warm jacuzzi.
An array of sensual oil showers, a sauna, steam room and ice shower followed, taking me through purgatory, from suffocating heat to refreshing cool, rejuvenating my body from the rigours of sight seeing.
On the final day, a short boat trip from Águilas (Spanish for Eagles) revealed the beak-shaped cliff this charming little resort is named after and the unusual sight of an Edwardian wrought iron rail pier built by the British for shipping the region’s valuable minerals around the Commonwealth.
We left the Costa Calida fully convinced that the home of the sun will continue to shine and grow into a popular destination with Brits for many years to come.