Pyramids? What pyramids?

10th June 2005 at 01:00
This Red Sea destination is good for mummies - and not just the Egyptian kind. Renata Rubnikowicz discovers a family resort where entertainment is water-based with tombs and temples an optional extra

I never thought I'd be the kind of person who comes to Egypt and doesn't see the pyramids," says one guest at the new Abu Soma Mark Warner resort on the Red Sea, noticeably far more relaxed than she was on the five-and-a-half-hour flight from Gatwick to Hurghada earlier in the week.

Then, her four-year-old son, Max, had been bouncing around, like all the other Sophies and Oscars, high on the E-numbers from the in-flight meal.

Now he is learning to kayak, or face-painting, or visiting the camels, Moses and Casanova, who spent most of the day relaxing under an awning at the far end of the curving sands. So Mum is free to lounge under a beach umbrella or learn to sail.

Sitting next to Max on the plane, glumly flicking though an in-flight magazine much chewed by milk teeth, I had begun to dread the prospect of a "family resort" with all that it implied. But I find that after a midweek day trip to the temples and tombs of Luxor in 40C heat, it is a relief to return to my balcony and the view over the manicured lawns to the palm-tree lined-beach.

The Mark Warner resort forms one wing of the new Intercontinental Abu Soma, and the rooms and service are what you would expect from a five-star hotel.

Its vast, gilded reception, with koi carp pool, stained-glass roof, Egyptian figurines and paintings of semi-clad, Alma-Tadema-style houris, a copy of the Mona Lisa and portraits of the owner and his son, is not the prime draw, although its pretension gives us all a laugh.

Over a drink in Johnny's Bar, Ian Walker, double Olympic sailing medallist and skipper of Britain's America's Cup team, tells me: "If you had given me a blank piece of paper I could not have devised a better resort for water sports. It has shallow water for kite surfing, a separate shallow area with offshore winds for windsurfing and sailing, and it's good for swimming and waterskiing."

Walker is a consultant to the company, so he would say that, but the resort is certainly big enough to allow plenty of room for everyone to try everything without getting on top of one another, and that offshore wind cools down the fierce heat.

A sunset cruise is a chance to take some photographs of the dramatic Sinai mountains behind the resort, which emphasise how isolated we are. There is nothing but desert for miles and the nightclubs of Hurghada are a 50-minute taxi or bus ride away.

Our days pass pleasurably watching wagtails skim over the grass. A massage at the health club eases away aches from the tiring flight and beach attendants carry my towel to the lounger in case the effort proves too much.

Others learn to waterski or wakeboard and turn up at dinner glowing with achievement. I watched an instructor teaching a group of five to seven-year-olds to windsurf. The instructor must have sacrificed every manicured nail, so strongly did she grip the board to make sure their first go was a success.

For Linda Parry, a Montessori teacher from Essex with three children, it was the way her daughter Maddy, seven, was treated as an individual in the club activities that impressed her and persuaded her to bring her family to Mark Warner again.

"It is similar to Montessori philosophy of learning through play," she says. "Here there is great social interaction, and the nannies are helpful and cheerful. I've adopted some of their games, which help develop hand-eye co-ordination and counting, in my work at home."

One highlight of my week is scuba-diving and snorkelling on the reefs, a short boat ride offshore. My instructor, Ahmed Adel, a former underwater archaeologist working near Alexandria, probably overestimates how much of his scuba technique I can remember. But down among the striped and spotted fish, I never feel anything but safe.

My cultural highlight is, of course, Luxor, a massive theme park of pharonic theology. A pre-dawn start means that we are at the temple of Hatshepsut on the West Bank of the Nile well before the full heat of the day hits.

The wit of our guide Mohamed Abdelrahim, a graduate in Egyptology at Cairo University, holds us in thrall, but my overcooked head soon shuts down to obelisk floatation theories and the endless numbers of Rameses.

Even so, with half a brain functioning, I am mesmerised by the freshness of the tomb paintings that speak across the centuries of life in the land of the Nile and make the trip from the haven of Abu Soma worthwhile.

A week at Mark Warner's Abu Soma Beach Resort in Egypt in July or August, including return flights from London Gatwick, resort transfers, accommodation, three meals a day, tuition in windsurfing and sailing, snorkelling, clubs for children of two and over and evening baby-listening, costs from pound;819 per adult (Manchester departures pound;35 extra).

The price per child aged between two and 11 is pound;454 if sharing a room with parents; pound;664 in their own room. The price for infants under two is pound;100 each. Waterskiing, wakeboarding, kitesurfing and scuba diving are available at extra cost. More information and booking: 0870 770 4222; www.markwarner.co.uk.

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