Joanna Booth travelled to the diving hotspot on Egypt's Red Sea coast to find out what's new in the area for 2009, from new hotels to all-inclusive offers
Rain rarely falls in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. Residents will see a serious downpour only once every six years or so, so holidaymakers are virtually guaranteed cloudless skies.
Temperatures don’t drop below the early 20Cs even in December and January, and in the summer can rise to a sweltering 35C. The heat is dry and sea breezes bring relief.
Stepping off the aircraft from a chilly English winter, it’s a real treat to feel the warmth radiating off the runway. A second terminal opened in May 2007, so while still busy, the airport experience is definitely more pleasant than before.
Thirty years ago, Sharm el-Sheikh was a tiny fishing village, now it’s dedicated to tourism. Na’ama Bay is the most developed area, with bustling nightlife and plenty of shops, bars and clubs.
Other bays – such as Sharks and Nabq – are quieter and less frenetic, great for families and those looking for a more relaxed experience.
Many tourists come with no greater goal than to bask in the sun, but there are plenty of activities on offer. The Red Sea is rightly renowned for its diving, with beautiful coral, brightly coloured fish, dramatic drop-offs and large pelagics, including hammerhead sharks.
Even as a non-qualified diver, I was able to see vast amounts of marine life while snorkelling over one of the shallow reefs, including angel and butterfly fish, slim cornet fish and even a ray.
Many hotels have diving schools and some operators offer liveaboards and special packages for qualified divers, or for those who wish to learn on holiday.
Back on dry land, there are more excursions on offer. With sunglasses covering my eyes and a scarf wrapped round my head to keep the sand at bay, I took a quad bike out into the desert. Whizzing across stretches of bare sand is exhilarating, and you can get miles from civilisation. For a slower but more authentic desert experience, offer your clients a camel safari.
Sharm el-Sheikh old town allows visitors access to a slice of traditional Egypt in a very touristy area, but it’s also easy to take in the sights outside the area with day or overnight trips. A couple of hours of scenic driving into the Sinai Desert bring you to Mount Sinai, and to Saint Catherine’s Monastery.
This ancient, high-walled fortress was built in AD527 and has been functioning ever since. It attracts hordes of visitors, many of whom come for religious reasons – to see the burning bush or one of the famous icons housed in the museum.
I was fascinated by the Monastery’s history - you can see letters from both Mohammed and Napoleon Bonaparte here.
For those willing to travel further by road or air, Cairo, Luxor, Petra or Jerusalem are also easy excursions.
Hotel comparison: The Savoy and the Sierra
The Savoy Sharm el-Sheikh and the Sierra are sister hotels sitting side by side in the Sharks Bay area, a quieter, more secluded part of the coast a few minutes away from the bustling main centre at Na’ama Bay.
Residents can take advantage of the newly opened Soho Square, just outside their gates, which includes restaurants, shops, bars and a club, a bowling alley and even an ice rink.
Travel Weekly news editor Michelle Perrett stayed at the four-star Sierra...
This hotel would suit families and young couples looking for a fun, relaxed break.
I was really struck by the friendliness of the staff – they were always up for a joke or a chat with guests.
The all-inclusive nature of the hotel means good quality, buffet-style food is available for breakfast, lunch and dinner. However, it is worth venturing outside the hotel as it can get repetitive.
Between 12pm and 5pm there is fresh pizza at the bar on the beach and quality local wine and beer are also included.
The only downside is the proximity to the airport, which means you can hear the aircraft. Plus, the beach can get busy very early in the day.
Travel Weekly deputy features editor Joanna Booth stayed at the five-star Savoy
There may be 406 rooms at the Savoy, but they are so spread out it feels spacious and tranquil, except in the main restaurant, which can get crowded.
There are five pools and the hotel is right on the beach with its own diving centre. It has a luxurious feel, especially in the exclusive Royal Savoy area, and in the nine plush villas.
The real draw is the ultra all-inclusive option. This package allows guests to eat at the gourmet restaurants in the hotel, and four others on the Soho Square development just outside the hotel.
This means those staying for a week could eat at a different restaurant every night, without having to spend any extra cash.
Longwood Holidays offers seven nights’ bed and breakfast at the Savoy Sharm el-Sheikh from £595 twin-share, including flights transfers, taxes and surcharges. Departing May 7. Tel: 020 8418 2550.
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