Egyptian Odyssey

17th January 2009

As the cradle of civilisation, with a history that can be traced back six thousand years, Egypt is a fascinating holiday destination. Just over five hours flying time from the UK, it is a land of huge contrasts – from the teeming life of Cairo to the vast empty expanses of desert, from the ancient lifestyle of Bedouin tribes to the palm-fringed beaches of the Sinai peninsula and the Red Sea Riviera.

Cairo is a vast and extraordinary megalopolis where medieval and modern ways of life collide in a mesmerising streetscape. Its chaotic, hectic ambience is tempered by the warm and friendly welcome extended to visitors. Take along a sense of humour, add some healthy respect for tradition, sprinkle with tolerance and a visit to Cairo will be as enjoyable in reality as it may have been daunting in theory. This vibrant city is home to the awe-inspiring Pyramids, the bewitching half-lion, half-human Sphinx, and the Egyptian Museum, site of the spectacular treasures from Tutankhamun’s tomb.

Luxor, set against spectacular desert landscapes, is considered to be the greatest outdoor museum in the world. It is a city to explore on foot or by horse drawn calèche, delightful felucca boat, or even hot air balloon. In addition to the tombs and temples, visitors will delight in the Corniche, a pleasantly shaded, tree-lined avenue leading to the Luxor Museum and beyond to Karnak, itself famed for its ancient temple. Luxor’s vibrancy is encapsulated in a wealth of excellent hotels, restaurants, shops, and bazaars which simply add to the magnetism of this unique city.

Luxor is also an excellent base from which to start a Nile Cruise. The Nile is the world’s longest river – and a luxury cruise on a sophisticated ship must surely be the most relaxing way to discover the cultural landmarks and archaeological sites. Retrace the routes followed by Egypt’s pharaohs and wonder at the views over Lake Nasser from Aswan’s High Dam.

The Sinai resorts boast lavish five star hotels, fabulous beaches, golf courses and the most fabulous coral reefs. Each resort offers fantastic facilities for those who enjoy a wide variety of watersports including windsurfing, waterskiing, sailing and fishing, and, of course, diving and snorkelling.

Taba Heights lies between the Sinai Mountains and the crystal clear waters of the Red Sea. A family-orientated resort with hotels set right on the beach and plenty of facilities for children, it is also so close to Jordan that a visit to explore the awe-inspiring Petra can easily be arranged. Often described as the eight wonder of the ancient world, Petra is a breathtaking city of temples, tombs and buildings that were carved into the sheer rock face more than 2,000 years ago.

Set on a crescent shaped bay in the Gulf of Aqaba the resort of Dahab has retained a traditional and slightly bohemian character. With its shallow and sheltered bay, stunning coral reefs, and an abundance of marine life, Dahab offers some of the Red Sea’s best shore diving. Reliable winds and flat water ensure that wind and kite-surfing here are perfect both for beginners and for the more experienced. Land-based activities include rock climbing, jeep and camel safaris and horse riding. Dahab also offers good access to many natural wonders and historical sites including St Catherine’s Monastery, the oldest monastery in the world, and to the amazing desert landscapes and canyons of Sinai.

The popular resort of Sharm el Sheikh lies at the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula where idyllic golden beaches shelve gently into a fantastic world of beautiful offshore reefs and colourful tropical fish. The Ras Mohammed National Marine Park and the Straits of Tiran, which enjoy a reputation among diving enthusiasts as one of the world’s best dive sites, are within easy reach. Beach bars, gourmet restaurants, and trendy bars and nightclubs add to the holiday atmosphere. For more traditional entertainment, bazaars and coffee shops add a splash of local colour.

The Red Sea resorts offer the visitor sophisticated luxury hotels with all the facilities and comforts needed for a perfect holiday. Many hotels have their own private section of beach and are just perfect for sun worshippers. Golfers too will enjoy some fine 18 hole courses, whilst watersports enthusiasts are spoilt for choice. Nightlife is low-key and tends to be centred around the hotels and a small selection of bars and clubs.

Built on a series of islands linked by bridges and canals, El Gouna has been developed in modern Arabesque style with buildings in soft pastel colours. The contemporary Abu Tig Marina has an abundance of superb restaurants and bars offering a wide range of international and traditional dining options, as well as exclusive shopping. Already popular with the Egyptian jetset, El Gouna is fast becoming the Red Sea’s premier diving, snorkelling and beach resort.

Further south Hurghada, originally a small fishing village, has become one of the most popular beach resorts on the Red Sea, enticing divers who delight in the numerous small offshore islands. Traditional ways of life persist in Hurghada, where the old town’s local souk provides opportunities to haggle, and international bars and restaurants jostle with Egyptian café culture.

Twenty miles south is the beautiful tranquil resort of Makadi Bay with a marvellous stretch of white, sandy beach, plus turquoise waters and underwater reefs.

Set against the stunning backdrop of the Nile Valley mountains, Soma Bay is considered one of the most exclusive resorts on the Red Sea Riviera – and a luxurious Thalassotherapy spa here offers a vast array of treatments.

Marsa Alam boasts secluded beaches and uncrowded coves surrounded by palm trees, mangroves and unspoilt coral reefs amidst a turquoise sea. The new marina development of Port Ghalib, once complete, will have sophisticated hotels, restaurants, cafes, bars and a traditional Bazaar – the essence of Egypt…

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