When I told my friends where I was taking my two young children on holiday the reaction I got was one of amused scepticism: "No Kids Club? No creche? No baby listening service?" they said. "OK, well good luck!" Anyone would think we were going backpacking in Brazil, but all I was suggesting was a cheap package holiday to Greece where the only "facility" was a beach.
Even if you were to take your tribe to the Amazon these days, you would probably be greeted by some bubbly young thing in a yellow T-shirt whose reason for living is face-painting. Holiday childcare is, it seems, as essential as factor 45. But life is hard when you're a pre-schooler, and my two were suffering from activity overload, so putting them into what is basically a glorified nursery didn't really appeal. They needed a chance to chill out and, dare I say it, amuse themselves. Ignoring everyone's advice, my partner and I embarked on our quest for sun, sand and not much else with Billy (4) and Mimi (18 months). Was I deluding myself or could we really survive a fortnight armed only with buckets and spades?
The fact that there was only one other child on the two-hour coach transfer from Preveza airport, coupled with comments from fellow passengers about how very quiet the resort was, didn't bode well. But staring pointedly out of the window while bribing the children into silence with sweets, the scenery convinced me I'd made the right choice. The twisting road led us past olive groves and wild flowers on one side, and coastline dotted with cove after cove on the other.
Sivota, on the north-west coast of the mainland, is a classic Greek seaside village. Busy in August when Italians and Greeks descend, in June it was practically deserted with locals far outnumbering tourists giving it a genuinely unspoilt, undiscovered feeling.
On our first morning, after establishing that Billy's spotty face was the work of mosquitoes, not measles, we hired a water taxi. With several tiny islands just offshore there were so many beaches to choose from we could "order" our perfect location. You want an enclosed space that even a wannabe rock-climber can't escape from? No problem. Somewhere so secluded that no one can hear them singing "Bob the Builder" repeatedly for an hour? I know just the place.
On days when we felt like more company we went beach-hopping round the larger bays in nearby Zavia and Perdika. Most were accessible by car and buggy and had tree-shaded tavernas for ice-cream fixes. Pebbles and fine shingle proved ideal for castle-building. The lack of other English children to play with wasn't a problem: Billy hardly seemed to notice that the Greek, German and Italian children weren't speaking the same language. But the biggest selling point for us was the sea. Who needs baby pools or aqua slides when there's calm turquoise water and gently shelving beaches that even a toddler can handle?
Although the children were utterly content on the beach, we felt we had to explore for at least one day. While the combination of carseats, sticky children and flaky pastries fresh from the bakery usually equals divorce negotiations - "No, you have custody" - driving in this area was a pleasure. On empty roads, the smell of wild herbs everywhere, we travelled 40 kilometres inland to Gliki and the Acheron Springs. Believed to be the place where the boatman took souls to Hades, the crystal clear river winds through dramatic gorges and widens into azure blue pools shallow enough to wade across. The landscape creates a natural playground of stepping stones and forest paths. Billy chased the damselflies, which Daddy told him were fairies, and Mimi pottered happily around scrounging olives from people sitting at the riverside bar. We spent all day there without a single whinge.
There was one point about which I had to concede my friends were right. As much as I wish I could say we ate out en famille every night, we gave up after a few tries. Sivota's curving harbour front is lined with a dozen or so friendly restaurants where you could sit and watch elegant yachts mooring while a fireball sun set over Corfu. I say "could" as we actually spent the whole time running after Mimi who was intent on throwing herself off the quay. Instead, we managed to find an exclusive stress free eatery - OK, our balcony - where we ate delicious taverna takeaways and enjoyed the same views from a safer distance. We did cheat one evening and arranged a babysitter locally - a young Greek god called, aptly enough, Apollo, and that sure as hell beat the pants out of a baby intercom service, at least as far as I was concerned.
By the end of the holiday the children had transformed into miniature lotus-eaters with the usually hyper Billy pointing at a sunlounger and announcing "I think I might just have a little sleep here." I managed to relax for, ooh, at least five seconds, and my partner discovered exactly why he finds me locked in the garden shed muttering to myself at the end of a normal day at home. Would we go back again? Definitely. But next time I'll pack a full-time nanny. Just in case.
The writer stayed at the the Panorama Apartments in Sivota. Booked through Greek-Tourism Travel Ltd (www. greektourismtravel.co.uk; 020-7437 0218), prices start from £350 per person per weekReuse content