“Welcome home,” said the hotel porter as he opened the car door for us.
Inside the Sunrise Arabian Beach Hotel the staff shook our hands warmly: “Welcome home, welcome home”.
And in this most relaxing of spa hotels, where the staff and service are as impressive as the glorious weather, we certainly felt at home.
The sun-drenched holidaymakers’ paradise of Sharm El Sheik in Egypt is a modern tourism phenomenon, a real holiday paradise that has grown out of almost nothing. Around 40 years ago the only thing here was a tiny community of the native Bedouins.
Now the area, which lies at the south of the Sinai Peninsula, where the Red Sea and the Gulf of Suez meet, is all mighty hotels, the glitzy Soho Square, boat trips and diving among the coral reefs.
And the Sunrise Arabian hotel is a fairly recent addition to that landscape. Sitting on its own private stretch of beach inSharks Bay, views from the main bar and reception roll gently down to the sea across five levels of accommodation and pools.
These include the relaxation pool where adults can enjoy a child-free environment and also, closer to the main building, vibrant fun pools with slides for the kids and an excellent ‘animation’ entertainment team who chat pleasantly with sunbathers.
The Sunrise Arabian offers an all-inclusive experience, which includes the usual buffet-style restaurant, but also a large selection of a la carte restaurants that are also included in your package, but which must be pre booked if you wish to dine there.
These include the excellent Masala Indian, a great Thai place, a French restaurant and the wonderfully positioned Italian, which sits on a pergola just off the beach with views of the red sea and mountains.
Breakfasts are a buffet affair with a good selection of hot and cold foods that cater for an international array of guests. While lunches can be taken either as a buffet or in the Italian restaurant from their menu.
Again the Italian pergola is an excellent place to sit and eat a pizza as you plan your afternoon’s sunbathing or swimming.
After dinner, many guests chose to sip a drink at Churchill’s, the bar with its own sea view terrace.
The waiting staff at Churchill’s are quite amazing - remembering both the names and drinks preferences of many dozens of customers night after night. A real class act.
The five star Sunrise Arabian also has its own spa equipped with steam rooms, a wonderful indoor pool and offer some of the most luxurious massages and treatment imaginable.
Chatting to guests it was clear that the hotel, and staff in particular, had impressed others too.
The consensus being that the initial “welcome home” is a genuine sentiment and that staff really couldn’t do enough for them.
So the hotel is excellent, a real gem, but what else is there to do in that part of Egypt?
As we were travelling with Thomas Cook, we had the benefit of advice on this matter from their very well-informed representative at the hotel.
On his recommendation, we decided to try snorkelling in the Red Sea.
This turned out to be a great experience. An all-day boat trip allowed us to try snorkelling at three separate coral reef locations around the Ras Mohamed national park area.
I’d never tried snorkelling before and if you haven’t, I recommend you give it a go.
The views of the coral and sea creatures are stunning. We saw stingray, all manner of colourful fish and the beautiful and delicate coral, which has slowly grown over thousands of years.
You’ll also want to have a look at Soho Square if you’re in Sharm El Sheik. It’s a Dubai-style strip of futuristic buildings including an ice rink, cinema and many bars and restaurants.
Soho Square has been designed with a quirky sense of humour - here you will see red British phone boxes, statues that sit on benches and terrific seating areas that float in mini lagoons. The square won’t be to everybody’s tastes in terms of being somewhere for a night out, but it is well worth seeing.
Moving around this part of Egypt is, of course, subject to passing through various security checkpoints and taxis will have to stop at various points to show papers to guards and so on.
The feeling I got from this, however, was actually one of safety. I did observe that at all times that the authorities had taken steps to look after the holidaymakers, who are so vital to the local economy.
It’s very much business as usual in Sharm and I felt very comfortable there.
As for getting there, the flights take around about five-and-a-half hours and if you go for a package like this one with Thomas Cook, everything is taken care of for you - from flights and hotel to any extras or excursions you might want to book.
I’m sure it will only be a matter of time until I fly to Egypt to be “welcomed home” again.