AS I STARED AT THE VAST RED GORGONIANS that are a signature feature of the Ras Um Sid dive site in Sharm el Sheikh, I was finally convinced that this experiment had been worthwhile. Travelling to dive the Red Sea for a long weekend was an alternative to week-long holidays for time-strapped divers.
The idea originated on a typical grey winter’s day, when the last thing I wanted to hear was a colleague boasting about a weekend trip to New York. But it set me thinking: what about an equivalent trip to dive in the Red Sea
“Don’t talk nonsense,” said my diving buddy when I told her about the idea.
“A long weekend You’re crazy – it’s too far and you won’t have time to get any diving in.”
There was the challenge, to leave on a Friday, return on Monday and make it a worthwhile trip. We needed a resort that would enable us to maximise every moment of our time, and to make the trip extra-special, we opted for the Sharm’s 5* Savoy Hotel.
The flight left in the morning and arrived just before 6pm. One hour later we were in one of the resort’s bars, sampling our first ice-cold Sakara (the local beer).
The trip took place not long after the initial disturbances in Egypt, so the resort was quieter than usual, but there were still enough people around to lend the place some atmosphere. As well as diving, we had decided that we should also focus on relaxing and enjoying what we hoped would be exceptional food.
The Savoy Hotel is an all-inclusive with a rather appealing difference. Instead of one big food hall in which to eat, as is often the case with all-inclusive packages, it has 14 restaurants representing most parts of the globe.
The menu at the Bombay restaurant had dishes I had never heard of before, so this was the one we picked for our first night. It was amazing: we opted for the recommendations of the waiter, who brought out a variety of fish and meat dishes spiced to perfection.
Apparently all the chefs and the spices they use are from India, so we were getting the real deal - Egyptian food with an Indian twist.

I HAD HOPED WE COULD GO DIVING first thing the next morning, and with a bit more forward planning we might have been able to. However, no guides were available until the afternoon, so we had a leisurely breakfast.
From the balcony we could see a dive-boat dropping off its divers about 100m from the resort’s beach. I had heard it was quite a spectacular shore dive, but, when the time came for our afternoon “check-out” dive, we were told that there was a ban on diving off the beach.
This is where Egypt and its regulations can sometimes be confusing. I pointed out to the dive centre that people had been allowed to dive off a boat only metres out, so why not from the beach itself No-one knew why. So we were transported by minibus to the nearby Shark Bay dive site.
Don’t be fooled; this isn’t a site famed for shark sightings. It’s made up of sand and rock ledges that gently get deeper – perfect for novice training, and I guess check-out dives. However, I soon became bored, because not only were there no sharks, but there were very few fish and little in the way of colourful corals and sponges.
The source of entertainment for the dive was a remora, probably a short-sighted one, which spent the last 20 minutes attaching itself to each of us for a few minutes before deciding to swap “sharks” and try out a new one.
On the way back to the centre, I worked out that the Savoy Hotel’s claim on its website that the dive centre belongs to the hotel wasn’t what it seemed. The Sheikh Coast dive centre
at the Savoy occupies three sites at three different hotels, and where the day-boat departed from wasn’t the Savoy.

I SHOULD HAVE ASKED more probing questions before my trip, because in the morning we were told to meet at reception to be taken to the Domina Coral Bay resort. It’s only a 10-minute journey, but not what I had imagined, considering that the Savoy has a more-than-adequate pontoon.
What the Savoy does offer is a real sense of staying in a very classy resort where all the staff practically fall over themselves to make you feel special.
This culture extended to the manager’s cocktail party in one of the villas, the opulence of which shamed even the luxurious and contemporary room in which I was staying.
We left the party feeling like VIPs and wishing that we could afford one of the several villas available to rent, instead of what now seemed in comparison like a fairly standard hotel room.
We went straight to the L’Entrecote Steak House, a French-style brasserie above the Queen Vic pub in the “British” House off Soho Square. Our steaks were excellent and the wines from South Africa the perfect accompaniment.
Strolling down the Khan El Khali souk after our meal, it struck me how unlike this complex is to what might be its nearest competition in the heart of Na’ama Bay. Soho Square has enough to keep visitors busy for a week, never mind a long weekend.
Fancy ice-skating It has a rink. Bowling There’s a five-lane alley.
What about a bar made of ice, where you sit on ice chairs, order your drinks from an ice bar, and drink from ice glasses It has one of these too. Concerts Over the past year Boney M and Peter Andre have performed in the square.
This is a remarkable complex, unlike anything I have seen elsewhere in Egypt.

NEXT MORNING WE LEFT RECEPTION for a day’s diving in Ras Mohammed National Park. However, the “10-minute journey” soon became a 45-minute one as the minibus trawled other hotels to pick up customers.
When I boarded the boat, I was finally convinced that there was no link other than location between the Savoy Hotel and the Sheikh Coast diving centre, because the boat was nowhere near up to the hotel’s standards. But it was comfortable enough, and nationalities from across the world were soon sharing diving tales and relaxing in the sun.
Our first stop was Jackfish Alley, where my faith in Red Sea diving was restored. The signature jack were there in large shoals, and close to one of the reefs just off the site most of us saw a small whitetip shark. Back on the surface, our dive guide wouldn’t accept that this was a shark. “It was a barracuda,” he insisted.
Perhaps there was still some sensitivity after 2010’s shark attacks Following a long discussion over lunch, we all agreed that it was a shark-faced barracuda.
Our last dive was the point at Ras um Sid, where I marvelled at the vast seafans. Because the trip was so short, I appreciated it all the more.
Rushing around the reef with the other divers wasn’t for my buddy and me, and we were happy to ride the current and squeeze every moment of relaxation out of the experience.
For our last night we returned to Soho Square for drinks, watching traditional dance acts and the musical fountain before eating at the Caligula restaurant.
Here beef and tuna steaks were brought to our table on blocks of volcanic rock, where we cooked them to our own version of perfection.
Our flight next day wasn’t until after 6pm, which left us plenty of time to sun-bathe, get an anti-stress massage at the spa (although by now this wasn’t really needed) and explore parts of the resort we hadn’t got round to visiting.
A couple of hours before our flight, we ate fresh fish and drank crisp white wine at the Seafood Island overlooking White Knight Bay– a perfect end to our stay.


Three nights (Friday to Monday) in the humblest room at the Hotel Savoy Sharm el Sheikh costs around £336 for two. A villa would cost rather more, right up to the five-bedroom Villa Farida at around £8500. Find out more about the hotel and Soho Square at www.savoy-sharm.com