Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Relaxation Wanted: Camels, comedy and culture in Sharm El Sheikh

It’s not often that I fear for my life. But riding on a dune buggy in the Egyptian desert, driven by my girlfriend tracy, I was terrified. She is a crazy driver, and I was convinced that she was going to roll the go kart-style buggy over in the sand. 

But, much to my surprise, we arrived safely at the Bedouin encampment we were visiting for the day. I had never been to Egypt before, but tracy and I had decided to book a week in Sharm el Sheikh before I set off on a world tour with my band The Wanted. Over the next few months I will be touring Australia, New Zealand, Canada, America and the Middle East, so this was my last chance to relax before Christmas. Especially because when I travel, I tend to only see the hotel, airport and the inside of a TV studio. 

I didn’t really know what to expect from Egypt - and we were a worried that our resort was going to be full of older couples. But when we arrived, our taxi driver from the airport told us we were staying at the best place in town.

When we saw the golf buggies ready to take us to our room and the swim-up bar in the pool, we definitely agreed. 

 We were spending the week at the Thomson Sensatori resort, which has six pools (including one just for adults), another six eateries - serving everything from teppanyaki and sushi to enormous steaks and Italian dishes - and loads of watersports and evening entertainment. It even has swim-up family rooms for those who never want to leave the water. At first we just wanted to relax, so we spent our days sunbathing on the terrace and sitting on the beach, where a waiter would always be there to take our order within two minutes of sitting down. Of course it had to be a Sex On The Beach. A classic holiday drink. We ate in the hotel restaurants in the evening and loved the Italian, but my favourite was the Stone Grill - where we were served our meat raw, and could cook it on a heated stone on our table – hence the name! The waiter was from Cairo, and we had some great chats during our evenings. In fact we got on so well that at the end of the holiday he came up and asked my permission to give tracy a farewell present.

 We ended up making friends with some other couples at the resort as well and would meet them for a drink in the evening. We weren’t sure if the other guests would be like us, but there was a real mix of people at the resort, and it was nice to meet like-minded couples. One night we even went out for a night in town with the Thomson staff – one of them, Michaela, had been to school with tracy – and we ended up partying until 6am. But it wasn’t all sunbathing and nights out. When we tried the dune buggies, we met a traditionally nomadic Bedouin tribe and saw the tented encampment where they live.
How does it feel to fly with the best ? They invited us in to try their herbal teas and smoke a shisha, and later they took us on a camel ride through the desert, which is definitely nothing like the donkey rides I used to enjoy as a kid on Blackpool Beach!
We also tried scuba diving, which is offered at the resort. The only time I had even tried it was in a swimming pool in Bolton, where there wasn’t exactly much to see. 

 But this time they gave us comprehensive safety advice, then took us to the end of a pier, where we could try diving in the sea. I couldn’t believe how many colourful fish we saw, despite not being very far from the shore. tracy was a bit scared at first, but she absolutely loved it in the end, and we were following the fish around making sure not to disturb them too much. Guests who are at the resort for two or three weeks can work towards a scuba diving qualification - which I’d love to do another time. And I’ve heard diving in the Caribbean is amazing, so I’d really like to try that. But this trip was for relaxation and spending quality time together. It was easy to head into Naama Bay from the resort and we went there to experience some of the local flavour. 

At one point we were hustled into a shop and ended up spending £60 on some pointless perfume just because the staff were so charming. I have never taken it out of the packet. But you don’t have to go into Naama Bay for a good night out. The resort has so much entertainment in the evenings. We went to a comedy night with both British and Australian acts, and they were hilarious - I don’t think I’ve laughed so much in the space of an hour in my whole life. And for cheesy fun there was a great Abba tribute band, which had everyone singing along.
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I think, for us, the greatest part about the trip was how much it surpassed our expectations. Compared to holidays I have had in Turkey, Sharm El Sheikh didn’t feel too heavily developed and still maintained its Egyptian charm. I would love to go back and explore further. It’s possible to do a day-trip to Cairo to see the Pyramids, which would add another cultural dimension to your beach break.

 tracy and I came back from the trip raving about the friendliness of the locals and the facilities at the resort - so much so that her family have decided they want to head out there, and have booked a holiday for next year. You can’t get a higher recommendation than that!

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