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By Stephanie Beacham Updated: It's the beginning of January and I'm reclining in a bikini on a rattan sun lounger, mango juice in hand, 75F rays on my legs, staring at waving palms and a sea that varies from navy blue to brilliant turquoise, having just had the best massage ever, ever, ever. Imagine the most delicate and polite Thai masseuse gently washing your feet in a bowl of bergamot oil and petals, then turning into a tigress as she sits astride you digging her knees and elbows into your back.
Gone were the tensions of a freezing December, touring in a very challenging play, then Christmas — which is a challenge to us all. The full body massage was completed by an Indian head rub that cleared all remnants of New Year over-indulgence. A good start to Hurghada on the Red Sea was a good choice, and the flight on Egypt Air with its new flat-bed seats was utter luxury. Mind you, look carefully at the brochures — as my partner Bernie and I were whisked from the airport, we passed some garish neon-outlined sub-Vegas hotels before arriving a couple of miles down the coast at our glamorous destination next to the very upmarket new resort of Sahl Hasheesh.
Once through the gates of the Oberoi Sahl Hasheesh Hotel, the atmosphere of peace and beauty is immediate. An avenue of magnificent palm trees leads to the main reception. The suites are individual domed houses set among palms like a traditional Egyptian village. The details are exquisite: There are cool marble floors and, in our case, a sunken marble bath — conjuring visions of Cleopatra demanding several gallons of asses' milk. Actually, I could do with a pint of ordinary cow's milk. What is it about milk as soon as you cross the Channel?
It doesn't taste the same. On the other hand, there aren't many places where you find kumquats served with star aniseed, bananas with vanilla beans or lychees with rosemary — all intriguing combinations they serve here. I had come to relax and prepare for the second half of a theatre tour, but it would be mad to go to the Red Sea and not go snorkelling, even if flippers feel a bit of a effort. The hotel couldn't have made it easier. You stepped down from a small jetty right on the beach into the world of pretty fishes.
It was like pulling teeth dragging ourselves away from the beach and the beauty there. Oh dear, poor us, off to the Great Pyramids. Arriving in Cairo was a shock. A teeming city of 17 million people with contrasts between rich and poor as deep as anywhere in the world.