Probably the best beach in the world: A real slice of paradise in the beautiful Bahamas
I set out recently, at great personal sacrifice but for the betterment of science, on the challenging assignment to find what careful advertisers would doubtless call 'probably' the best beach in the world. Yes, there are beaches - and there are BEACHES.
From previous experience, I had the right general location - the Bahamas islands, home to some of the best sand from which I have ever propelled myself into water - but I needed additional practical research to uncover the contender for the gold medal.
Eventually I found it on Harbour Island, a short three-mile spindly twist of land off the north-east coast of Eleuthera. The island, an hour's flight from the Bahamas's capital Nassau, is so named for its pretty little port.
Harbour Island's eastern shore on the Atlantic coast has been blessed by the Gods of Tourism with a long deep beach that runs without interruption for three miles along the entire length of the island.
The locals call it North Beach but it is also known as Pink Sands, and here's what makes it a world beater: It's not your conventional sticky yellow sand, it's a pinkish, pulverised particle sand (product of centuries-old shells and fish poo!) that is incredibly fine, more like icing sugar by texture and as soft as an eiderdown to walk or lie on.
There's virtually no seaweed in or out of the water (I hate seaweed ... really hate it.) There is a total absence of cigarette butts, old beer bottles, cans, bits of Elastoplast, used tissues or other charming flotsam so often deposited on so many waterfronts.
There are no pebbles, sharp stones, rocks, trenches or dips at the water's edge, which means you don't have to clamber out of the water looking like a bow-legged fakir walking on hot coals.
Because this beach is the island's main moneyspinner, private enterprise and the local authority keep it spotlessly clean. The sea here is perfect for wading and shallow and deep-water swimming, and only changes colour from blue to deep purple a quarter of a mile out when it reaches the Elson reef, which protects the in-shore waters.
I've visited a lot of beaches during my hard life as a travel writer, but have never found anything as close to perfection as the pink sand of this gifted location.
To add to the attraction there's a high ridge at the back of the sands, slowly built up over the years by blown and drifting sand, now covered in places by coarse wild grass, lilies, bay lavender and sea oats, creating an attractive floral-walled backdrop. There's nothing ugly to look at here.
Better still, there's no stink of nearby industry and as the island has no stagnant pools or swamps, the prevailing south-easterly winds blow in a heady oxygen and ozone brew that is invigorating.
A report as far back as 1722 observed: 'Harbour Island is much courted for her pure, serene and healthful air (which can cure the sick) within 15 or 20 days.'
My lungs certainly emerged from this break feeling pinker than usual. The island has several good hotels and many villas but this is quite an upmarket location.
We stayed at the Pink Sands Resort near the capital, Dunmore Town. This is a first-class hotel run by Australian Mark Kitchen, a hands-on manager. He is up and about and inspecting all day - and it shows.
The location, within seconds of the famous beach, is a lush 20-acre home to 25 cottages, so even when it's full there are only 50 to 60 guests. Most cottages are private and screened and if, like me, you have a small portable internet radio, you can sit naked on your terrace listening to BBC Radio 4.
Now there's a thrill.
Privacy is de rigueur here, more so as guests have included Brooke Shields and Penelope Cruz.
The heart and soul of the resort for us was the restaurant overlooking the beach, where you can sit in your designer shades, sipping the first coffee of the day, shielding your eyes from the early-morning light refracting off all that gorgeous sand - while ignoring your BlackBerry.
What keeps the hotel's beach pristine? Simple, Mark pays two men to clean it daily between 5.30am and 6am; all seagrass they collect is bagged and used as mulch for road fill. Any beach rubbish (and there's virtually none) is removed as well.
Dunmore Town, with its charming collection of old wooden homes, high-end waterfront restaurants and a couple of old-fashioned, noisy and much cheaper bars with food for those who cannot afford the breathtaking costs at the upper end of the chain, is the heart of this tiny community.
Sadly, the town itself is plagued by dozens of noisy golf carts. There seems neither rhyme nor reason for them to be leased by the score in such a quiet location. We hired a couple of rusty old bikes for a few bob for touring around the little harbour and exploring the small island.
Fellow tourists included a large contingent of well-heeled old-money New Englanders in Brooks Brothers casuals and Bally deck shoes, plus a handful of savvy Brits who have also fallen in love with that big beach.
Activities on the island are limited - there are no historic buildings to visit - but there's plenty of golf, skin and scuba diving, boating, snorkelling and jet-skiing. Truth is, Harbour Island has three main attractions, the beach, the beach and the beach, offering lazy, languorous sunburned days, and sundowners in smart overlooking bars and restaurants.
This is not, broadly speaking, a vacation for children but if, like me, you need to melt the winter out of your bones, you'll never do better than those soft welcoming pink sands, one of Mother Nature's more generous free gifts.
Pink Sands (www.pinksandsresort.com) offers room rates from $495 (£317) per night for a garden-view one-bedroom cottage. Rates include transfers from the airport.
Bahamas Flavour (08700 669975, www.bahamasflavour.co.uk) offers a seven-night holiday from £1,999pp. This includes all flights, one night B&B at A Stone's Throw Away in Nassau and six nights B&B at Pink Sands Resort and transfers.