Like so many of the Arab nations, Egypt’s tourism sector has been hit hard. Gone are many of the tourists who swoop to Cairo to take in the pyramids. And, even Sharm el Sheikh, the popular dive and snorkel resort on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, known for being a safe haven, is now suffering.
With weekly protests over President Mohammed Morsi’s sweeping legislative changes removing a check and balance system, Britain’s foreign office has issued warnings to tourists.
As a journalist, I tend to like to fly into places just as others are hoping to get out. But there’s no reason to bail on a vacation to Sharm these days. If anything, now is a great time to go, with no crowds to battle for towels on beach loungers. Protests are held away from the big hotel areas and tourists are not at all under threat. The Egyptians in the tourism sector are friendlier than ever, and keen to strike good bargains.
So after we negotiate a price for the ride to the Ritz Carlton, we sit back and enjoy the view before making it through the ultra-secure entrance gates.
The “wow” factor is in the sweeping, full-length windows that hit us with a view of the endless pool and beach as soon as we enter the lobby. It’s the rocking chairs I spot first – a few of them out on the terrace near the bar, looking out at the sea. I’m already saving my spot for happy hour.
The pool is like a series of 20 metre tiles snaked together, a perfect training ground for enthusiastic swimmers, myself among them. And just a few steps beyond, is a wonderfully non-manicured beach. That’s right. No one comes along and combs the beach at the end of the day. This, is the real thing. Natural sand dunes create five separate coves along the edge of the Red Sea. Straw umbrellas look like slanted sombreros in this very authentic setting.
And there are those rocking chairs again. This time a few are dotted around private sun decks nestled in the sand. There’s something about a rocking chair that’s instantly soothing, even without sitting in one. It’s a symbol of calm and peacefulness. The rockers, and an even better version – the hammock, all invite casual lounging. I stare out at the sea, falling into a timeless reverie.
For more deliberate relaxation, massages are done on the beach, in a small tented pavilion right out on the edge of the dunes with the sound of waves providing a hypnotic soundtrack.
Set on a coral reef, the Ritz attracts non-residents for its fish tank; an enclosed swimming area where masks and fins aren’t required to see beautiful, finned creatures in technicolour. It’s this ease of use that really works at the Ritz. Everything one needs to unwind, from the views, to the rockers, to the instant underwater gratification, is instantly accessible.
There’s no faffing, no equipment needed, no organising to do. No long walks from one place to the other, just a few steps, and you’re there.
When we finally pull ourselves up from the horizontal state, we jump in the pool for water aerobics. Yes, water aerobics. We’re both sceptical we’ll be able to burn off breakfast, but Mohammed gets us going and has us doubled over in fits of laughter. He’s just one of many friendly and attentive staff members who all seem eager to please.
Several rooms, including ours, have direct access to the pool. Beds are comfy, linens soft. One of the best parts about this hotel is the one we don’t even notice until we’re ready to leave – the location of the Kids Club. Seemingly by design, it’s perfectly located at the front of the hotel, divided by the large reception building, from the rest of the resort. It’s an ingenious way of allowing both kids and adults have their own space without disturbing one another. The little ones have everything they need: a water park with a sandy beach, connected to a lazy river where they can cruise in small canoes. There’s even a bar and cafe at hand for parents who want to chill out with their children.
And for those of us without kids, the popular nightlife of Na’ama Bay is just a short cab ride away. There, it’s easy to find bars, restaurants, and a maze of local stalls to weave through.
Ritz Carlton Sharm el Sheikh