Egypt is a land of antiquity, but why go to Cairo and Luxor when when you can experience living history a few feet beneath the surface in the warm buoyant waters of Sharm-El-Sheikh?
Sharm-El-Sheikh has become the destination for British holiday-makers seeking the sun. It's full of hotels, clubs and bars along the shoreline but it is more than a hot Southend on Sea, it's full of life under-water too.
Beautiful coral gardens fringe the coastline here, comprising tiny delicate marine invertebrates that have taken years to grow. Staghorne Coral is among the fastest-growing at an average of 15cms a year. So when you look at a coral reef, you really are looking at living history. The reef is teaming with fish so varied and colourful that it takes your breath away. As you slip into the water, they swim up and it makes you wonder just who is watching who. We saw parrot fish, unicorn fish and octopus - too many to name or remember so we bought an identification card from a tourist shop for about 35 Egyptian pounds and ticked them off like children.
Although there was bountiful snorkelling near the beach, we went on a great boat trip to Ras Mohamed National Park. The snorkelling guide was brilliant; he gave every one a life vest and kept a close watch on all the swimmers whilst taking time to dive down and point out interesting fish and types of coral. He even took us to a shipwreck. The water was so clear it was easy to see the cargo laying in all its' glory on the seabed - I never thought that toilet basins would be so enchanting.
It is also possible to visit the National Park by Jeep and just as fascinating. It was extraordinary to see an inland lake with mangroves in the middle of the desert; it was created by an earthquake not too long ago. At the road entrance is an inspiring sculpture of rocks. The guide told us they were laid out to depict the word "PEACE" in Hebrew and Arabic to mark the end of the war between the two countries.
The centre of Sharm-El-Sheik, Na'ama Bay, is very busy, hundreds of people flock to the bay to enjoy the sun sea and sand. If like me, you seek a more tranquil atmosphere venture about 10 minutes drive south of Na’ama Bay to the Renaissance Golden View Beach Resort Sharm El Sheikh. It is a beautiful hotel set on a rock overlooking the Red Sea. The large airy rooms are in small blocks on terraces around swimming pools leading down to the sea. The pools are great, one of them is heated so there is no problem swimming in the winter and the staff will helpfully reserve a sun bed for you in your favourite spot every day. Being on a hill there are loads of steps, but you can order a chauffeur-driven buggy from reception to transport your luggage or give you a lift. The main hotel restaurant, Coast, is buffet service with an excellent selection of international dishes, but there are others. Our favourite was Acapulco Joe's, which serves Mexican-style food by moonlight.
A flexible pontoon leads from the hotel beach to the reef, enabling access to the sea without damaging the coral or hurting your feet; it is tricky to walk on at first as it moves under foot but good fun when you master it, particularly when a boat passes by. You will be rewarded for the effort as the fish are so close to the surface you can actually see them without getting wet. If you want to observe the reef on its own terms, try scuba diving, I can recommend Dive In (www.diveintravel.it), the diving centre based at the hotel. Have a look at their web site,the prices for Open Water Diver and Advanced Open Water Diver are good. If you are unsure whether to learn they offer free pool sessions and a trial dive for about £40 (55 Euros). They also organised the fantastic boat trip to Ras Mohammed with lunch too.
The hotel can provide lots of excursions including a visit to the Pyramids and, of course, everyone must try camel riding at least once. I recommend doing these in the winter, (the temperature was over 30c in February), as the Egyptian summer is far too hot for sightseeing. The cost of excursions varies so it is best to check them out with the hotel and your tour rep when you arrive.
If you like shopping, there is an authentic street market about 10 minutes walk north from the hotel at Alf Leila Wa Leila and of course, the market at Old Sharm, a short drive away is a must visit. You will need to haggle with the traders, as nothing bears a price tag, but that’s all part of the fun. If you prefer to see the price visit Il Mercato, lots of shops and a MacDonalds! I recommend ordering a car from the hotel rather than hailing a taxi in the street as the drivers have an unusual take on the rules of the road.
Finally, if you love dramatic sunsets, there is a romantic little bar, five minutes from the hotel beach called El Fanar; it is near a lighthouse hence its name. At the end of a hot day wander over there and treat yourself to a beer overlooking the sea, it's awesome. As well as boats returning to the harbour you may spot a school of dolphins swimming by.
Do go to the Red Sea, you will love it, not only did we escape the British snow and have a relaxing winter break, but the magnificent brightly coloured underwater life recharged our batteries and had us jumping into the sea time and time again.