EGYPT: A Sharming way to get the hump

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THE position was a little precarious, perched six feet in the air on a slightly wobbly saddle.

I’m a veteran of donkey rides from my much younger days - but camel riding seemed an entirely different proposition.

However, I soon relaxed and it turned into an experience to savour as we passed through the rocky Sinai terrain, the sun setting low on the desert horizon scarred with mountain peaks.

No bucking in store - the only hairy moment was a near side-on collision with one of my holiday mates.

It was one of the more unusual highlights of a trip to explore Egypt’s Red Sea coast - more commonly-renowned for snorkelling and diving among the coral.

We had been whisked away from the swanky hotels and bright lights of Sharm-el-Sheikh to experience an evening with Bedouin tribal folk.

The camel trek took us through the desert to their camp.

On arrival, a simple but tasty, traditional meal was laid on in the open, of salads and meat dishes. We even had the chance to have a go at making bread and cooking it on a hot stone, heated by fire.

Sitting down on rugs to tuck in by candle-light, we were able to admire the stars, clear above in the darkness.

A total contrast - but just as spectacular an experience as snorkelling around the reefs, where vivid colours were the order of the day.

Shoals of fish, in a range of species and colours, were visible just a few feet below the water.

Safety permitting, due to the recent shark alerts, snorkelling comes highly recommended and, along with diving, is what has made Sharm the popular resort it now is, having only been established in the 1980s following Israel’s withdrawal from the peninsula.

A number of boat companies offer to take you out to the reefs just off the coast. We went with Camel Dive, whose staff took us out around half a mile from the coast to a number of prime sites.

I counted several dozen types of fish listed on a card we were given of marine life in the area, from black and white-striped Scissortail Sergeant Fish to deep blue Angel Fish, which have distinctive yellow markings across their bodies.

Then there were Stonefish, their craggy features and greenish colour allowing them to blend in with the coral.

Some members of our group also had the delight of getting relatively-close to a Manta Ray.

We snorkelled at three different sites, had food laid on, on the boat, and sunbathed - a day of relaxation and discovery.

Hospitality in Sharm-el-Sheikh is to savour - with staff bending over backwards to be helpful. I stayed at the brand new, five-star Melia Sharm hotel, about a mile from the main entertainment area of Na’ama Bay. Like many hotels in the resort, it is in a seafront location with its own beach and well-tendered gardens.

The rooms are in blocks stretching down from the main area of the hotel to the beach, set around a number of swimming pools and outside bars. There are three different places to eat - a large buffet, Italian and a grill restaurant - to give variety for guests staying on all-inclusive packages.

Rooms were very well-appointed and huge, those on the ground floor - like mine - with sliding doors to a pool right outside, while people upstairs had their own balconies.

If you want to explore, Sharm’s Na’ama Bay is the best bet for lively bars, restaurants, shops and entertainment, open late into the night.

An alternative is Soho Square, a glitzy complex of more exclusive restaurants, bars and shops - even an ice rink and night club - within the Savoy Hotel complex.

Sharm-el-Sheikh is one of two Egyptian resorts promoted by tour operator Jet2 Holidays.

The firm has also started to fly from the UK to Hurghada, on the opposite side of the Red Sea.

An Egyptian town rather than just a resort, as well as the hotels and tourist haunts, there’s a real bazaar where you can go haggling and grab a bargain.

I came away with goodies including an ornate sheesha pipe, wooden carvings and artwork, all for less than twenty quid.

Away from the bazaar, there’s a more modern marina featuring fairground rides and fantastic restaurants such as the Sardina, where we feasted upon huge portions of fish.

Our hotel - the five-star Marriott - was older than the Melia in Sharm but luxurious, too, having its own beach and a bar on an island in the water. Hurghada also offers the opportunity to go diving and snorkelling, with boats taking hundreds of tourists out into the warm, clear Red Sea each day.

Some boat trips also include a stop on sandy paradise island, where you can go swimming, enjoy a buffet lunch and drinks

Hurghada, being an established town, is more cramped than Sharm, where each hotel has been developed in spacious grounds. For the resort experience, El Guona is a marina half an hour to the north, packed with millionaires’ yachts, or there’s Makadi Bay to the south - with larger hotels which are more popular with the masses.

Whilst on both sides of the Red Sea, our activities were arranged through Marhaba Tours. They can also take you on trips to the pyramids from Hurghada or famous sites on Sinai from Sharm-el-Sheikh, such as Mount Moses, where it is believed Moses communicated with God and received the ten commandments.