Red Sea & Sinai

Red Sea & Sinai: Why go

This land has long been the cause of disagreement between Egypt and Israel. In Biblical times, God appeared to Moses in the burning bush at Mount Sinai, then parted the Red Sea so Moses could lead the Israelites to freedom after years of oppression suffered at the hands of the Pharaoh. Fast forward to 1967 and the Six-Day War, when Israeli invaded and took control of the peninsular (along with The West Bank, The Gaza Strip, The Golan Heights and East Jerusalem). Then in 1980 they returned the peninsular to Egypt. For the moment peace has returned.

It is highly ironic that such contested land should be given over to tourism so lightly by the Egyptians. Different rules apply on The Red Sea coast. Alcohol is freely available, locals bat no eyelids when confronted by the skimpy attire of sun-seeking westerners. This has a lot to do with the fact that this land belongs to the mighty Bedouin, who are Arabs, not Egyptians, and who sit in their land a little bemused at the strange behaviour of both parties.

Not that you will notice any of this once you’ve checked into your hotel. The past is the past, the present is the present. And the present is a good place to be. With 364 days of sunshine, business is booming on the Red Sea coast. Army tanks have been replaced by oxygen tanks, which divers use to explore some of the best reefs in the world (including a few made from sunken warships). It attracts an eclectic crowd: Russians, British, Italians, Arabs, even Egyptians favour the concrete jungles of Sharm El Sheikh.

100km up the coast, the once-tiny fishing village of Dahab is no longer the hippy colony of twenty years ago. These days it’s a divers' resort that is in the process of going upmarket, with smart hotels rising by the hour. We loved its laid-back charm.

Then there’s the desert and the Sinai itself, an almost impenetrable labyrinth of granite buttresses and sandstone mountains. A couple of hours' drive inland, hidden in the folds of the rock, sits St Catherine's monastery; above looms Mount Sinai, which you can climb for a magical sunrise, so bring your hiking boots.

22:46 | GMT + 2 Hours