Four Seasons, Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt: The Red Sea Riviera
Hailed as the Red Sea Riviera, Sharm El Sheikh is located on the Egyptian coastline at the very tip of the Sinai Desert – a small triangle of land linking Asia to Africa via the famous Suez Canal. It is a land of many biblical references, such as Moses’ journey to and from Israel to Egypt. It has an unforgiving landscape of dramatic arid peaks, granite outcrops and dusty dry roads leading to remote sounding destinations inhabited by Bedouin tribes and herds of masticating camels. But it also has the Red Sea – a living aquarium that attracts celebrities, Royals and politicians from all over the world. The star on the block that everyone is clamouring to visit is indisputably the Four Seasons. The 200-room hotel (including sixty-four family suites) is not so much a resort but a village – an Arabian Eldorado of castellated turrets and bloom-lined borders, cascading down a hillside to the sea below
Beyond the call of duty
Accommodation is in one- and two-storey, dome-roofed villas, all complete with balconies overlooking the Red Sea shaded by pretty stripy awnings. The main pool is reached via a twelve-seat tram from the lobby, a joyride for children and adults alike. It has gained a great reputation for families and rightly so. I thought I’d already seen the full extent of Four Seasons’ faultless service when I was in New York; I hadn’t. Popping back into the room one morning to collect a forgotten pair of goggles I saw the housekeeper dotingly taking the hair out of the children’s hairbrushes – way beyond the call of duty but just another example the lengths the staff go to take care of their guests.
During the school holidays the hotel is almost exclusively a family zone (probably a honeymooner’s hell); outside these periods it’s a great place for anyone. There are no less than five swimming pools. The Gezira pool has been designed with families in mind – square shaped gazebos housing teak loungers provide necessary shade and were full of slumbering babies and toddlers in a post-lunch haze of soporific contentment. The other pools are also family friendly, with the exception of the spa pool, which is designed for laps and solitude. On the pampering front, the Daniela Steiner beauty spa specialises in all-natural cleansing, healing and age-defying beauty treatments. You can opt for either indoor or outdoor treatment rooms complete with saunas and whirlpools.
I can’t think of another hotel that caters so generously for children’s meals. A high-quality selection of freshly prepared foods are displayed on knee-high buffet tables each lunchtime and offered complimentary to any child under twelve. And the endless round of sorbets, watermelon, lollies, and yoghurt smoothies are great bribe-fodder for good behaviour. The kids’ menu also reflects careful consideration with Baby Bear’s ‘just right’ porridge, Mama’s chocolate pudding and teatime treats of milk and cookies left in your room. Of course, the adult fare is just as delicious. Arabian night at the open-air terrace of the Arabesque restaurant is well worth attending – a selection of Mediterranean, Moroccan and Lebanese specialities are served while children line up for henna tattoos and lessons in flatbread making.
And there’s plenty to explore around the Sinai. The three-hour car journey from Sharm El Sheikh to the isolated Saint Catherine’s Monastery is at once dramatic, and mesmerisingly repetitive. Mile upon mile of rugged terrain, soaked by the year-round sun feels almost like a lunar-land of barrenness. The Greek Orthodox chapel dates back to the forth century when Helena (a Byzantine empress) built it next to the Burning Bush. Two centuries later Emperor Justinian added a fortified monastery to protect the chapel from marauding Bedouins. Soon after that a mosque was added inside the same walls, to safeguard the chapel from passing Arab armies. Its remoteness may have much to do with the fact that so many of its remarkable mosaics, intricately gilded icons and rare manuscripts have been preserved to this day. Some are on display to tourists, who, unfortunately get herded around somewhat unceremoniously but can always queue to re-enter for a second glance.
The monastery stands in the shadow of another biblical wonder, Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments. Hiking up to the summit of 2,285 metres is no mean task in the midday sun (the phrase ‘only mad dogs and Englishmen’ frequently came to mind) but such is its popularity with the faithful of many religions that the peak is often crowded before dawn by those coming from around the world to watch the sun rise across the Sinai Desert.
For something rather less energetic, the peninsula of Ras Mohamed, located at the southernmost tip of the Sinai, about twenty kilometres from the hotel, has been a national park since 1983. It extends over 480 square kilometres and includes the islands of Tiran and Sanafir as well as the protected coral reef, coastal dunes and mangrove swamps around Sharm El Sheikh. Swimming and offshore snorkelling trips are very popular as the vibrant coral formations and marine life have made it a premier destination for scuba enthusiasts. The colours, both above and below the clear blue waters, almost defy belief.
IDEAL AGE: 1–12
Top Tip: Many tour guides offer day trips further afield to glimpse the wonders of Luxor, the Nile, and the Pyramids but these are really best left to another trip when you can do justice to their magnificence.
FYI: Kids For All Seasons club for children aged between five and twelve, open daily 9.00 a.m. – 5.00 p.m.