Why waste time lying in the sun? From quad-biking to snorkelling, there are plenty of ways to get an adrenaline fix in one of Egypt’s newest beach resorts
Dense plumes of dust choked my throat, tendrils of hair flapped in my face and my backside clenched momentarily as I took off from the ground, landing with a hard bump on the sandy trail. Hurtling between towering canyon walls at 52kph in the middle of the Egyptian desert was exhilarating, brain-rattling fun. This was my first ever quad biking safari – and I didn’t want it to end.
I was in El Gouna, one of Egypt’s newest Red Sea beach resorts. A gated complex built less than 20 years ago, it features tastefully-designed accommodation, from five-star beachfront properties boasting elegant Nubian domes, arches and pillars to luxury self-catering villas and comfortable three-star retreats. Tranquil lagoons swirl around 20 man-made islands, earning it the name 'the Little Venice of the Red Sea'. There’s also an 18-hole golf course, two glittering marinas (with a third under construction), 100 restaurants and bars, a casino, 200 shops and 10km of beachfront lapped by shallow, gin-clear waters.
Meticulously planned, El Gouna is a world away from the nearby resort of Hurghada, where high-rise hotels dominate the skyline and coaches disgorge package holidaymakers all year round. El Gouna is more sophisticated and eclectic. It’s also a natural playground for adrenaline junkies.
Wherever you stay in the resort, you’re not far from water. Fittingly, there’s an endless array of water sports to choose from, from boat trips, pedalos, canoeing, kite-surfing, windsurfing and wakeboarding to sailing, diving and snorkelling. I sampled some of the Red Sea’s shimmering marine life on a day-long boat excursion on board MS Galatea (€65) to sun-baked Gobal Island. Skirted by dazzling topaz waters and shallow reefs, I happily spent hours in the water surrounded by a kaleidoscope of colourful fish and coral. The highlight was when I swam into a coral-shaped bowl to encounter a giant spinning ball of fish. In a flash, the whirling shoal split in two, surrounding me. I pivoted furiously, my heart racing, trying to focus through my mask, but all I could distinguish were whizzing brown darts. It was unforgettable.
Back in El Gouna, I opted for more action by booking an hour on Dive Tribe’s sea-go. Similar in design to the jet-ski, the sea-go was in fact slower but no less thrilling. Gliding around the lagoons and out at sea proved to be a novel way to explore, and appreciate the resort’s scale.
El Gouna may be equivalent to the size of central London but it had a village-like ambience. If the heat doesn’t sap your energy, ramble around the Art Village, where market stalls and chic boutiques sell souvenirs, art, spices and western brand clothes. Alternatively, jump in a tuk tuk (50p per person), or use the resort ‘s bus service (£1.50 for a week’s unlimited pass), to get around.
When it comes to eating out, a clever 'Dine Around' programme ensures that full-, half-board and all-inclusive guests can substitute a meal in their hotel at a number of other participating restaurants. It means you can feast on everything from Thai or Egyptian to French and Italian cuisine, without compromising on quality. In particular, the seafood buffet at the Sheraton Miramar Resort makes this optional extra worth splurging out for.
Once you’ve sated your appetite, you’ll find that El Gouna’s nightspots are more sophisticated than the booze-fuelled antics renowned in other Egyptian resorts. Abu Tig Marina is sprinkled with a number of slick restaurants and bars and hosts a weekly Friday-night open-air party featuring whirling dervishes and singers. It’s a lively affair, akin to a street festival. You can also book an 'Oasis Dinner'. where belly dancers encourage diners to shake their hips under a giant bedouin-style tent while camel rides are available outside. Weekly oriental shows also take place in the main Tamr Henna Square, in the downtown area.
There may be a theme park quality to some of this merriment but what El Gouna inescapably offers is a sanitised beach resort experience within unpretentious surroundings.
As for the end of my quad biking adventure? As the light faded and the shadows lengthened, we emerged from the canyons into a relentless plain rippled with sand dunes and fringed by the jagged silhouette of the Eastern Desert Mountains. Alighting from our bikes, we watched as the sinking sun turned the skies pink and purple. You couldn’t ask for a more fitting finale than that.