Amanda Shora came 3rd in our family travel-writing competition, Adult category. Judge Deb Stone described this piece as “humorous, and good at suggesting the atmosphere in this part of Egypt".
Where oh where is that elusive, most heart-stopping destination ever? The place your mind's eye drifts to between day and night; the place you lay down with under the apple trees in dappled sunlight, where you can leave the tough bits of real life behind? Did I inadvertently describe heaven? Well, I'm sorry if I tread dangerously close to blasphemy but I'm talking about Sharm el Sheikh.
Travel with the family seems always to be a yearning for the magical spell that promises peace and harmony (along with some good-quality fun), even when past experience and budgetary constraints tell us it's all poppycock; a TV, smiley-faced-family dream. Yet even when the ingredients are a work-weary mum, a reluctant dad and a selection of temperamental kids who despise each other for no palpable reason, the perfect cake is still possible to bake – a mystical place where you can travel together, eat together and store memories with which old age should be sprinkled; a place where the atmosphere is sweet and all seems right with the world.
As I write in this British August, I know that only talk of sunny climes will satisfy, and there are few places sunnier than Sharm el Sheikh on the Sinai peninsula. This desert area is an oasis of pleasure on so many levels, bordered by the unsullied and bountiful Red Sea, famed all round the world for its diving utopia. The shoreline is vast and the desert seemingly endless, with developments sprinkled so lazily around that they spoil nothing. The prices have risen, but only to good value rather than dirt cheap. I shouldn't fail to mention the uncertainty of the political situation in the Middle East just now, but this wilderness is as far removed from city protests as the Isle of Skye was to the London riots.
The scale of the desert is overwhelming as you fly over the hazy purple mountain ranges that define the character of thousands of miles of sand, and only coming in to land do you see the relatively tiny hub of life that clings to the coast, where you're welcomed with none of the cloying clamour of Egyptian city life. This is a posh, muted Med-welcome at its best. You can tell they've thought about it – what we westerners like and what we don't like. We want to feel privileged but we don't want to be fawned over.
The heart of the ‘Sharm’ experience is that ‘on holiday speed’ we all long for, and yes, but for an occasional cloudy day every year or so, that it's always hot and sunny. Very hot and sunny. The hotels and facilities run like clockwork due to the overwhelmed but friendly staff; all Egyptian and proud of it. Ice-cream vendors through to management have mastery of several languages – staggering until you consider that most young people here go on to university free of charge. There is a gentleness and a live-and-let-live atmosphere in this place, where the majority are practising Moslems but see that as a rather private affair. You will even find the occasional topless sunbather tucked in a discreet place and nobody will arrest them for it, but it's not commonplace; for my part I find that reassuring.
There are few holiday destinations left in the world that truly reflect the real country – only the sanitized bits they'd like you to see. Here you'll feel Egypt in the air. You'll listen to Egyptian music and be transfixed by Egyptian dancers. You'll really feel as if you're in an ancient land. From the spice-laden baskets at the shopfronts to the fresh juice stand, the smart coffee and shisha street cafés to the carpetted and cushioned rustic beach dens where you lounge like a lizard and listen to the insistent snaking harmony of oriental music.
It may be easier to consider who wouldn't like Sharm because it doesn’t do do hot dogs and meat pies, or snow domes at great environmental expense, heavy rock music, vulgar street drunkenness or recreational drugs. If you like that sort of thing there are plenty of well-trodden routes a much shorter flight away. What they do do here is warm, exotic hospitality, music and dancing that will transport your spirit if you'll let it, rest and restitution. Add to that eclectic mix the scuba-diving, snorkelling, sailing, desert treks by camel or horse and endless dreamy coastal views.
But I can't pluck you from your life and tell you in words what Sharm el Sheikh is like; I can only suggest you go and see for yourself. While you're thinking about it, picture me on a balmy evening, close to the fringe of the desert at a Bedouin campfire. My bare bronzed legs stretch out towards the huge flickering embers as I lean, hippy style, against a huge log. Everywhere is draped with woven blankets and rugs in bright colours. Where the rugs end and the blankets begin no one can say. Upon the fire sits a huge and dramatically shaped teapot with its great curving spout defying gravity as it gently steams. In my hand is a glass of hot sweet Bedouin tea and around me in the mid distance a hundred tea-lights glow in their pots, marking our circle of desert rocks. Above and beyond us the night sky hangs above the steep craggy peaks and the stars are much the same as at home, except that at home we don't usually have time to look at them, do we?