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Travel: Dive into coral reefs and ancient tombs; Wil Marlow falls for some old-fashioned pyramid selling, as he enjoys the attractions of Egypt from a new luxury hotel beside the Red Sea, a diver's paradise.

Byline: Wil Marlow

The Blairs' Christmas holiday in Egypt highlighted a destination that many may have considered off limits given the current climate of world politics. Several Egyptian commentators have suggested that the Prime Minister's visit was organised to give a boost to Egypt's flagging tourism industry, which was hit hard by the terrorist attacks of September 11. Despite President Mubarak's staunch support of the US and the UK in the war against terror, people have stayed away from the country in droves. But the Blairs' holiday was a deserved boost as Egypt is a most hospitable country and contains some of the world's most beautiful sights. Stepping off the plane late at night, you are buffeted by the warm Egyptian winds - an indication of the heat you can expect during your time there. Popular with tourists is the resort of Hurghada, which stretches out along the edge of the Red Sea. Thousands of visitors flock to the resort every year to go diving. Miles and miles of coral reefs sprawl across the seabed. Many people become addicted to diving down to explore the coral and see the colourful and exotic sea-life. With every hotel perched on the edge of the sea, Hurghada is an ideal destination to discover the underwater world. The resort is dominated by Las Vegas-like hotels. Neon lights and modern pastiches of ancient Egyptian architecture have been built to entice the tourists and their wallets, but now Hurghada has something a bit more special and sophisticated to offer. The deluxe five-star Oberoi Sahl Hasheesh hotel is a 20-minute drive from the main resort. It's located on 24 acres of land, but feels like a secret hideaway from the sprawling tourist trap. The design of the hotel is a decadent adaptation of the Islamic architecture that is common in Egypt. Beautiful columns make arches that support perfectly formed domes. The hotel uses all that is good about Middle Eastern architecture to create a stunning haven. There are no rooms in the hotel - just restaurants and reception rooms in the main building, which is surrounded by individual suites. The suites are luxurious to say the least, with marble bathrooms complete with a sunken bath. Every one has an enclosed landscaped courtyard to maximise the relaxation of your stay. We were immediately treated to a taste of Egyptian cuisine. Due to the late hour we ate alfresco in our suite. The sky was perfectly clear with stars blinking down at us as we tucked into lamb kebabs served with pyramids of rice, Egyptian salad and taramasalata, humus and guacamole dips. The morning reveals the true beauty of the Sahl Hasheesh. Every suite has a clear panoramic view of the Red Sea and visitors can just step out of their rooms onto the sandy beach. Lying on the sunbeds we watched boats sail past as they took the divers out to Above and top, the beach and hotel of the Oberoi Sahl Hasheesh in Hurghada, which has brought a new level of luxury to Egypt's Red Sea resort. Above, the

the coral reefs from Hurghada. Sahl Hasheesh also offers its guests the chance to explore the beauty of the corals. While hotels in Hurghada destroyed those reefs that were close to the beach, so tourists could splash about safely, Sahl Hasheesh has left them untouched. Snorkelling equipment can be hired from the hotel's beach club so you can join the fish in their habitat. Not far from the water's edge are fish of every shape, size and colour, swimming in and out of corals. As the birthplace of one of the world's greatest civilisations, Egypt has many ancient treasures for travellers to see. Cairo is a six-hour drive from Hurghada and there you can take in the immense beauty of the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx as well as visiting the Egyptian Museum. A little easier is the trip to Luxor, which is only four hours away. Hungry to see some of the ancient buildings that are so familiar from books and films, we joined an organised trip to Luxor, home of the Valley of the Kings. Leaving early when it was still dark, our bus drove out to a meeting point where it joined other buses in a convoy heading over the desert to Luxor. The Egyptian countryside is desolate and unrelenting, grey-brown sand stretching out into the distance. Luxor is divided into two parts, each side of the river Nile. On the east bank is the immense structure of the Karnak temple, which is a stunning example of the sophistication of the ancient Egyptians. A procession of ram-headed sphinxes greets you as you enter this most impressive building. One of the most overpowering sights of the temple is the Hypostyle Hall, an organised forest of gigantic engraved columns, each one so large it takes the outstretched arms of six people to encircle it. Across the Nile to the west bank, you'll find the Valley of the Kings. On the way into the valley are two lonely-looking statues called the Colossi of Memnon. They are all that remains of the mortuary temple of pharaoh Amenophis III. In the Valley of the Kings there is no protection from the sweltering heat until you enter the cool interior of the tombs. Cut into the soft limestone, these fascinating tunnels are decorated in Egyptian art, showing the dead pharaoh making his journey to the underworld. Most enthralling of all is the mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut who dressed up as a man so that she could rule. Reaching out of a desert mountain, north of the valley, it's a reminder of the legacy left by the only woman to rule Egypt apart from Cleopatra. Egypt is a land of amazing sights. From the jaw-dropping nature of its ancient treasures to the endless surprises found in the Red Sea, there is plenty to capture your imagination.

case notes

Wil Marlow travelled to Egypt courtesy of Longwood Holidays. One week's holiday in the deluxe five-star-equivalent Oberoi Sahl Hasheesh Hotel in Hurghada starts from pounds 862 per adult and pounds 223 per child, including return flights from London Gatwick, transfers and accommodation on a room and breakfast-only basis. Tourists need to obtain visas either from the Egyptian consulate or from the airport on arrival in Egypt. A visa entitles the holder to stay in Egypt for one month. For further information or a brochure please contact Longwood Holidays on 020 8551 4494 or visit the website
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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:7EGYP
Date:Nov 23, 2002
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