This little-known Egyptian resort, just a five-hour flight from Gatwick, is the perfect winter escape. If snorkelling, scuba diving, golf or just lazing in the desert sun appeal, head for Taba Heights
Plenty of people are now going to Egypt, yet Taba Heights remains a little secret. Nestling under the Sinai Mountains on the Bay of Aqaba, close to the border with Israel and the resort of Eilat, it is more exclusive than its busy sister Sharm-El-Sheikh. It comprises five hotels, an impressive golf course, a marina and a dive centre. This is a calm, relaxed complex where you can walk without worrying about getting lost or being hassled as only those staying or working here are allowed access.
Complimentary open-sided buses link the hotels, all of which are of a good standard, to the golf course and the dive centre. They run every 15 minutes, so there is no need to walk – and in fact you may not want to do so in the heat. The InterContinental Taba Heights Resort (www.ichotelsgroup.com/intercontinental, then look for Middle East) is the closest to the marina and the golf course, while the Three Corners is the furthest from the beach. There are shops and bars at the Three Corners where they also hold the El Wekala street festival every week.
We stayed at the Hyatt Regency – the furthest hotel from the centre, though this doesn't matter because of the shuttle bus. The hotel is on a large plot of land overlooking the sea and the rooms are in various small blocks around heated pools, one of which is ideal for lane swimming. There is also a sea water lagoon. To compensate for any overindulgence in the restaurants, there is a continual daily exercise programme with activities in various locations and a well-equipped gym. There is safe access to the coral reef via two solid pontoons, so there is no need to worry about treading on nasties in the sea.
The hotels have an arrangement between them whereby you can dine in any of their restaurants and enjoy any of the entertainment on offer. On one night each week, the Hyatt has a special Beduoin event with food and dancing in the village. Everybody who attends dresses in traditional robes!
The weather in Taba Heights is wonderful, in May, the air temperature is in the mid-30s and the sea temperature 23C. It is an ideal place to learn to snorkel or scuba dive as the beach at the dive centre, Red Sea Waterworld, www.redseawaterworld.com slopes gently to the coral reef and there are no tides to worry about. I was bowled over by the diversity of marine life so close to the shore. On my very first dive, a shoal of squid swam in front of my group, changed colour and swam off in the opposite direction when they saw us. Learning to dive, quite rightly takes some effort but any swimmer reasonably fit and over the age of 14 years can do it. Becoming certified requires, classroom study, pool exercises and of course open water practice. It can all be done in resort or the theory and pool work can be done in England. This is the way I became certified, and can recommend Indepth www.indepth.net in Hertfordshire who charge £275 for the Open Water Referral Course, I then did the four open water dives in two days with Red Sea Waterworld.
Taba Heights golf course is definitely worth a visit; it is a championship course and can appear daunting but as it has five sets of tees at each hole is playable by the average golfer. Between the tranquil islands of green are stretches of barren land and incredible water features that demand accuracy but attract unexpected birds to the desert. There are also magnificent views across the bay where the hills of Saudi Arabia and Jordan hover romantically on the horizon. Even if you go along only as buggy driver, the experience will be rewarding.
It only takes about five hours to fly from Gatwick to Taba – the small airport is in the desert, about 40 minutes by coach from the resort. The road winds its way through rugged scenery with several dramatic photo opportunites of the cliffs and bay. In short, Taba Heights is a great place for winter sun and winter fun.
We went with Longwood Travel, http://www.longwoodholidays.co.uk/egypt/TabaHeights/TabaHeightsHolidays.aspx who arranged the golf and diving for us at time of booking.