My Greek Odyssey; Some Holidays Are So Perfect You Never Want to Leave,as Radio4's Chief Inquisitor Reveals in This Eulogy to His Beloved Peloponnese, There's Only One Answer Makeit Your New Home
Byline: JOHN HUMPHRYS
SAND is something I've never quite seen the point of. When it's too hot, you can't walk on it without burning the soles of your feet, and when it's windy, it gets in the sandwiches.
S That is my sole abiding memory of sunny Saturday afternoons on the beach at Barry Island in South Wales when I was a toddler: jam sandwiches so full of grit they crunched when you chewed.
Yes, it's true that children enjoy playing with sand - but not for long.
You can dig only so many holes and watch only so many castles being knocked down by the waves. Very small children realise quickly that it's more fun to throw the stuff - preferably into the face of other very small children.
I grant you that sand can look pleasant from a distance, but close up it just looks like, well, sand. They say every snowflake is different.
Maybe it's true of grains of sand, too, but I wouldn't put any money on it.
And who could bother checking? A snowflake drifting gently to earth has a beauty and a grace.
A grain of sand is just a bit of grit that was once a bigger piece of rock.
Pebble beaches are something else again. I'm prepared to bet that every pebble on a beach really is different. Have you ever found two that look exactly alike? Precisely.
It's not just the shape - thin ones, round ones, long ones, chunky ones - it's the colours. A pure white pebble worn down to a perfect smoothness by countless years of being battered by waves is a thing of beauty.
And you can do things with pebbles. You can throw them into the sea: skim the small, flat ones and see how many times you can make them bounce, set up games of target practice and see who can land most in a floating bucket.
The possibilities are endless. OK, pebbles can be tough on the feet, but so what? You wear plastic sandals. Problem solved.
No, forget about sand: a pebble beach wins on almost every count. So where is this attack on sandy beaches taking us? It is taking us to one of the most glorious corners of Europe. . . to a place where the mountains really do come down to the sea. To a place so steeped in history you can scarcely round a bend without coming across another archaeological wonder.
To a place where local farmers make their living from cultivating olive groves of trees a thousand years old, sweet-scented lemons and oranges, pomegranates and figs and, of course,
peninsula south of the isthmus of Corinth that makes up the southern half of Greece.
It is easier to think of it as the bottom bit of Greece that looks like a hand with three fingers and an oddlyshaped thumb.
But what has this to do with my attack on sandy beaches? Well, I have left the most serious indictment of them until last. To misquote St Francis of Assisi: 'Where there is sand, let there be tourist development.' There is a simple equation in the travel industry. Golden sandy beaches plus sunshine, plus reasonable access by air from Britain, equals lots and lots and lots of holiday resorts.
Think Costa Brava. When I first went to Spain for a holiday 40 years ago, there were small fishing villages and a few tourist developments - by which I mean high-rise hotels, pubs selling British beer and grubby cafes offering full English breakfasts for a couple of quid. Now ... well, you know as well as I do what has become of Spain.
In the most beautiful areas of the Peloponnese, there are still small fishing villages - and that's it. No tourist developments at all.
BEING a total news junkie, I tend to judge a place by how easy it is to get a British newspaper.
If every shop in town sells them, forget it: you may as well holiday in Skegness.
If you have to spend the best part of a day trying to find a three-day-old copy of the Mail, the word 'unspoilt' can be applied without contravening the Trade Descriptions Act. …