herald

Thursday 26 April 2018

Thinking about Egypt? It's Sharming

Mark by the sea
Mark by the sea

THERE are two types of people who go on holiday – those who soak up the sun for hours on end, reading Fifty Shades of Grey, in between ordering the odd cocktail or 10.

Me? I'm firmly in the other camp, one where you can't sit out in the sun for more than 15 minutes, before that itch comes on to hire a car, explore a city or take in a ruin or two.

Until now. Sharm el Sheikh, in Egypt's Sinai region, has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons lately.

Luckily, flights are now back on – and I wouldn't hesitate, no I'd drop everything – to head back.

Before the unrest, I was lucky to get to visit the Sensatori Resort, one of the jewels in the Thomson holiday brochure.

Normally arriving into a hotel by night is a lacklustre affair: queues to drop in your passport at the check-in desk, a trudge with bags to a dark, far-off room, and a rushed dinner laced with a dose of jetlag.

Sensatori is different. No queues, and a hotel staff member waiting to take you by golf cart right to your room.

By night, the resort is magical – twinkling lights of the myriad restaurants and bars, a beach filled with hubbly bubbly pipes and chill-out coffee tents, the sound of the Red Seas lapping up against the shore, right next to your room.

We were lucky to have a swim-up room, and awoke to the sound of couples starting the day beside us with the first of many gin and tonics or margaritas.

If you can, upgrade. Forget about putting your towel down at the main pools – your back garden is your swimming area.

The bar was two doors down, and there's nothing nicer to be greeted by a water ready to take your drinks order as the sun splits down.

Sensatori is unusual – I've never been to a place where the holidaymakers want to make friends. Next door was a couple from England; we became great pals for the week.

Regulars to the resort, they knew every staff member by name, which isn't that difficult, truth be told.

There's the ever-eager Mohammed in the swim-up bar; Mohammed in the late-night bar; Mohammed in the terrace bar. Then there's the hard-working resort manager, who's always ready to make sure you have a whale of a time. What was his name? Oh yes, Mohammed...

On the first day I was itching to take one of the very long excursions to Cairo, Petra in Jordan, or Jerusalem. The on-site scuba diving and catamaran lessons on-site looked great too.

But after the first dip in my own backdoor pool, Mohammed bringing a tray of drinks right up to me, I thought I could put the trips on hold.

Till tomorrow.

And then the next day.

And the next.

Five days in, and I couldn't be bothered if I never left this place.

Friends, sun, all inclusive drinks and food ... why was I bothering to take off?

Days were spend swimming up to their neighbours for a chat, catching up on important world matters like which restaurant to head to that night.

That's the beauty of it: there's a main, Fountain View, restaurant with a huge array of western and, even better, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern specialities.

My only quibble: the service is punctual and efficient, but needs a bit more pizazz, and the lovely al fresco dining area isn't sold that well, often empty.

You have the choice to try the speciality restaurants - or pay a little extra to eat in them every night. We went for the Marhaba, which specialises in Middle Eastern treats.

Starve yourself first – I was fit to burst after the starter Meze plate, and bravely managed to complete the kebab main course. Service is very friendly and worth booking.

We gave the steakhouse a miss, even though our neighbours loved it. It's a bit hot up there (we were there when the temperature was in the low 40s), but opted for the Gokan teppanyaki restaurant.

It's all showmanship as your meat and veg are sliced, diced and stir fried in front of you, but the room was a bit empty so the atmosphere would have been nicer on a busy night.

The Casa Bianca Italian restaurant is a classy affair though, and after a few days of self-service in the Fountain View, it's the kind of relaxing served meal you'll love. This region of the world wouldn't be complete without a barber's and beauty area. The girls in the group got waxings, hair treatments, mud packs and an endless list of stuff no man wants to know about.

I got a haircut – with, in these parts, the standard torturer who did unspeakably sore things to my eyebrows to make me look more attractive. (to people with no eyebrows, apparently).

If you like, there's plenty – but not more eating. If, like me, you avoid the water, the Red Sea will still delight.

Walk in a few feet (or stroll along the walkway) and you'll see every colour of fish – from electric blues to dazzling yellows. Put on a snorkel, and walk along the beach and you'll even catch view of a baby stingray or two... Incredible.

But the wanderlust did get too much. One nice trip was a bedouin feast and stargazing in the nearby desert.

We booked with Sharm Excursions, at the end of the beach at the resort, and were picked up at the hotel.

The guide was excellent – an expert in Bedouin culture, and astronomy, we got to see the Moon close-up through powerful telescopes and glimpses of Saturn, rings and all.

You can even skip the camel ride, which left me walking funny for a time after, and get a jeep straight to the camp and learn a bit about nomadic life.

I'm hoping that the situation remains good in Egypt – Sharm is a beautiful place, with great people, and whatever about Cairo and other parts, you'll feel more at ease than even at home.

And don't forget to ask for a swim-up room...

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