The 5-hour flight from Gatwick to Hurghada gave me plenty of time to check in my guidebook on what I wanted to do when I arrived in Egypt. The short transfer to the Makadi Spa Hotel seemed over in minutes and I was ushered into the luxury of a world-class hotel.
With sweeping floors of marble and Egyptian art this large comfortable hotel is one of a complex of four. They sit next to each other and share the Red Sea. Each catering for a slightly different market, they work as a complement.
My enormous room with living area, bath wet room, two sinks and a separate loo is very comfortable. This would easily cater for a small family although there are family suites too. It was time for something to eat so I headed off to one of the many restaurants:
The Steak House has a casual but well run feel to it. The staff were very friendly and knew the menu. Local wines and beers as well as international brands are available. I found the Egyptian red wines very good; they are part of the all inclusive deal.
A Feta like cheese battered and served with basil oil was a cleansing starter before my superb fillet mignon of beef. Wow what a cut of meat, the char-grilled vegetables and fruit for desert were all lovely but the beef was outstanding. A very relaxing evening in the warmth of the night was just the ticket after a day of travel.
The complex of hotels offers over 2000 rooms of varying sizes and descriptions with something to suit everyone’s budget. You can stay here for around £700 a week all inclusively and that includes the flights. Red Sea Holidays offer very good value for that must have week away with guaranteed sun.
A bright clear warm day is my companion for the drive down to Marsa Alam about 220km away. Each part of the Red Sea seems to have its own character. As we head south the Red Sea Mountains remain on my right, impressive and vast they have the look of a child’s version of mountains. All peaks and troughs with the sun behind them. New tarmac serves us well as the day warms up.
Ultra marine and azure fight for dominance as the beautiful inlets wrap the sea’s edge and the harsh dessert looks on from the golden sand. This battle of colour is a constant theme in Egypt where vivid is the order of the day.
Our hotel is another vast pleasure dome where Kubla Khan would have been happy to decree from. There is a quaint pier that weaves its way into the sea allowing snorkelers a view of the fantastic fish off shore. There’s always a lifeguard on duty to help out if anyone in your family needs a hand. The hotels have all the gear you’ll need to see a real world finding Nemo.
Other pursuits caught my eye though. In the opposite direction into the dessert I went quad biking. For £40 you get half an hour of unadulterated fun. You can bomb around with a guide next to the coast or a bit inland if you prefer. It’s a pretty easy ride, no dune busting here just a bit of harmless petrol head jollity. In my group a female seemed to have more fun than all of us, so it’s not just for the male Top Gear fans. We were all given the traditional Arafat shell to wrap our heads in to offer protection from the sun, this added to the enjoyment.
Along the way we stopped to admire a 200-year-old Acacia tree sitting on its own surrounded by dessert. It only rains once every two years here and then just for a day. It is enough to promote a growth in grass and add green shoots to the tree. The Bedouin also live in these parts. Their nomadic ways see them in many areas north of the Sahara and over to the east. They survive on a mixture of tourism and camel breeding and trading.
We stopped to have some tea with the Bedouin (which means the beginning of life). A very refreshing drink it was too. They have livestock living with them, a friendly two-week-old goat wanted to leave with us. The harsh environment offers some solace in the form of natural minerals such as magnesium; emerald and even gold have been mined here. You can visit the tribe and spend time with them stargazing in the clear unpolluted night sky as a more complete experience for around £60.
Only 6% of the landmass of Egypt is occupied the rest is dessert. Most of this is on or near the Nile and the Red Sea. The Bedouin who have occupied these parts for centuries are hard to number as their nomadic ways mean they never stay anywhere long. Theirs is a different culture offering a simple life. As the younger members mature they can choose to leave the tribe and live in the modern way. If they do they will never be allowed to rejoin the tribe fully. They can visit to see family etc. But must return to their ‘new’ life. Those that stay will have their wife chosen for them by the elders. The tribe I visited live about 25km off the main road to maintain a level of privacy. The women don’t like to be photographed, so respect and sensitivity is required when you meet them.
A camel ride is a great leveller. If you have experience riding a horse then you might fair better than me. The owner controls his beasts with a series of guttural sounds not unlike coughing. I was comfortably seated on the saddle, when unprepared, the cough came and up the camel shot nearly throwing me into the air. My face assumed a crimson hue momentarily but it passed quickly and nobody noticed. The trick is to hold fast to the stump at the front to save you falling over their head. They stand up with their hind legs first and are very tall. It was great fun and a very tranquil experience. They are majestic animals these beasts of burden. Fortunately my beast was only burdened with me for half an hour. Having learned my assent lesson I held on tight for the descent and all was well.
The food on offer at the Red Sea Holiday hotels provides great variety and is well cooked. A Western palate is catered for so you don’t have to worry about little ones not eating but if you fancy being a bit more adventurous then you can be.
I lunched on a tabletop BBQ lamb that tasted brilliant with the charcoal taste adding to the meal enormously. After I wandered around the marina shops where you can pick up bargains by the dozen. But beware they like to haggle here and like it or not you will have to too if you are to secure anything like the right price. It’s all part of the fun so it’s best to just go with the flow.
The sea is crystal clear and it’s possible to see shoals of tiny fish even at the water’s edge. Magical for children, I saw Angel, Butterfly and many others.
There are three hotels in Masa Alam, which are a refreshing seven minutes form the airport. How’s that for convenience! Offering the Maxi Kids Club that will look after your 4 -12 year olds between 10am and 5pm gives you time to chill by the pool and do a little reading. The clubs are free to guests so you may as well use them. There’s also something for all budgets with standard rooms up to suites and family rooms.
Off to Luxor today with the Valley of the Kings firmly in my sights, it’s a long drive but this Nile city is really where all the historic action is. The east bank is where the living were housed and the west the tombs of the Pharaohs. Building work commenced once a Pharaoh has ascending so the longer they reign the grander their tombs.
The Valley of the Kings is simply stunning. The 64 known tombs are mapped out clearly and you can visit many of them, there are a number that are believed to be in the valley but yet to be found. Going into the tombs is a bit of a trek so wear good walking shoes and bring water with you as its dusty. You will be rewarded with the most exquisite paintings and carvings adorning the walls of these ancient structures. Their engineering feats are staggering and all done in the most incredible heat.
A must see is Howard Carter’s house. Amazingly preserved as he left in 1920’s it is not far from the Valley of the Kings. You can see his study and bedroom, the basic kitchen and most magical of all, his darkroom where photographs of this ancient site were first developed and shared with the world. It is all very Indian Jones there is even a replica of King Tutankhamun’s burial chamber hidden in the garden. Howard Carter put twenty years of his life into his work before discovering the young king’s chamber, a must see in my view.
I’m staying in The Grand Rose a luxury Nile Cruiser that will slowly take me along the mysterious Nile and provide guided tours throughout the week has large well appointed cabins with baths. The feeling here is very Hercule Poirot. Nobody would mind if you sipped your Crème de Menthe on the top deck next to the pool.
The evening brings another sort of theatre, the Sound and Light show at Karnak Temple where history is brought alive in a dramatic and highly entertaining evening of recorded voice and music combined with illumination of the various parts of the temple. For the first half you walk through the temple itself. This is very atmospheric and really good fun, especially with children, I’d defy any family not to be impressed with the evening, which is inexpensive and lasts about an hour.
An early morning cruise along the Nile is like looking at an oil painting that JMW Turner had produced. It is misty and watery with wisps of smoke trickling through the breaking sun as the city comes alive. The calm of the morning is yet to be broken by the life of the river. The hazy light creates an ethereal feel you can see the regular ferry service, transporting locals at this wide point in the river, nothing has really changed here for decades. This is boon time for travellers as there are so many good deals to be had, you can cruise the Nile for as little as £700 for a week per person including flights.
Further down the river as I began to leave Luxor I could see the lifeblood effect the Nile has on Egypt. It wouldn’t or couldn’t exist without it. All life stems from it, irrigation and population alike are dependent. The reeds and rushes grow tall on the banks at certain times of the year usually August the river floods expanding its life giving properties further.
Even at 8am the mist is still strong it adds to its beauty. It’s not hard to imagine the time when the pharaohs ruled this part of Africa with one of the world’s most sophisticated civilisations.
People are still looking and digging for hidden antiquity here in Egypt and it’s not hard to see why. It is a captivating, diverse and cultural country that brings to life the history it so proudly holds. Why not make your own family history? The Red Sea offers luxurious hotels, spas, diving and snorkelling and the mysteries of the dessert, a perfect climate where you will be certain of sun. There is so much history and intrigue along with the hustle and bustle of the souks and daily life. Unforgettable memories and an atmosphere like no other awaits you.