Don’t you get that idle thought, when an email offering an amazing discount holiday deal pops into your inbox, that one time you should just grab it and go? But then the worries kick in – surely the lead-in price will prove to be nonsense as they just add on endless extras, not just for baggage and seat selection, but or basics like “flight” or “departure tax” or even “accommodation” such that you will end up paying a fortune. Or do you worry that “five-star all-inclusive luxury” will actually translate as a two-star dump next to a building site with free water available in the loo?
Well we have those thoughts too, and decided there was only one way to find out and that was to book one – anonymously with no mention of any journalism and in homage to the greatest of all travel journalists, Mr Simon Calder, I have paid for everything myself. So, here’s what happened….
Well, the starting place was that weekly missive of idle dreams otherwise known as the Travelzoo’s “This Week’s Top 20 email”. You have to be a member to subscribe to the email list, which has just moved from being free to an annual fee of £30 with 2024 still free to existing subscribers. I find that it’s excellent service that really does unearth some great deals and that seems fair so long as you use it, so personally I plan on paying up at the end of the year but there are others out there if you don’t wish to do so.
I was quickly able to identify the type of holiday that I wanted: the one advertised as one week in the sun in Sharm-el-Sheikh at an all-inclusive five-star hotel. The click-through from Travelzoo to me to the travel agent behind the offer, Inspired Luxury Escapes, who were an absolute delight to deal with. I completed the booking with them over the phone, and although I paid a single supplement will stick with the pricing based on two which held at £499 for the dates I wanted (and pretty much most dates I could see) and only paid £40 extra for a private transfer (easy choice compared to the risk of spending hours waiting as a bus goes on a magical mystery tour) and £80 to move to earlier flights on BA rather than the offered easyJet ones. Documentation came through promptly and then away we go.
The flight – quite a long one at about 5 hours – was utterly unremarkable, arrived half an hour early and within 30 minutes of having touched down I was checking in at the hotel (no checked luggage to delay me, and no need for any as only there for a week). The hotel was the Savoy Hotel – just by the airport as it happens, which is one of the older five-star hotels in Sharm.
This shows in many ways – the décor is a little old-fashioned and the hotel definitely has a lived-in feel. However this was in many ways not a bad thing – my room was spacious, spotless and furnished for comfort rather than Instagram. Big, comfortable bed, chairs, TV (unused for all the trip) and a desk. Plenty of cupboards, a safe, tea and coffee with a kettle (I love an early morning cup of coffee and always best made yourself) and, surprisingly, a minibar full of beers, water, coca-cola, juices etc, all part of the all-inclusive offer. The bathroom was definitely old school, but winningly had a bath. Finally, a huge, partially covered, terrace with a sea view and a sofa and chairs from which to enjoy it. All of which, for the price particularly, was much better than I expected.
The hotel facilities were extensive – three main pools, heated in winter, as well as children’s areas and a separate toddler pool. A small but pleasant strip of beach, which had a jetty stretching out over a small reef, providing the pleasure of jumping off with no more than a pair of goggles to swim among shoals of reef fish. Great fun. Lots of bars dotted around the place and assiduous staff to ensure you always had enough towels, cold flannels for your face and to ensure that your soft drink/beer/pina colada never ran dry. Other than a midday exercise class the pool area was supremely relaxing, with a mix of families and couples in the 50 to 70 age group. The hotel was, I would guess about half full and there was always plenty of space and a surfeit of loungers. It was simply a very pleasant area to while away the days with a good book.
The food offerings were on the face of it extensive, but trips to two of the specialty restaurants – a seafood and Turkish places by the beach – were such as to convince me that the buffet and pool bars were safer bets. While the mix of fellow guests was, perhaps randomly, about one-third British, one-third Italian and one-third Russian, the latter was clearly the group the buffet was aimed at, with cold platters of certain meats the like of which I had not seen since Moscow in the 1990s, but beyond that there were excellent salads, a vast array of actually ripe fruit and at least one or two dishes that were decent and on occasion excellent (a shwarma on a couple of occasions and a gentle but delicious chicken curry stand out). I generally took lunch at the pool bar where the pizzas, pastas and burgers were very, very good indeed. Outside of formal food service hours sustenance was restricted to a packet of crisps with your drink, but bearing in mind how much you could potentially eat within those hours that was not a bad thing.
The hotel as a whole was just a wonderfully relaxing place to spend a week doing the best part of nothing other than recharging batteries. There were many, very reasonably priced, excursions on offer from trips to St Catherine’s Monastery and dawn hikes up Mount Sinai to all-day excursions by air to Cairo to see the Pyramids and the (newly refurbished) Egyptian Museum, as well as a plethora of diving and other water based activities. But I stuck to the low-cost ethos, and the need for a mid-winter recharge, and kept to the hotel and its wonderful pools.
As for the evenings, there was a pleasant bar and rumours of a nightclub which I could never bring myself to substantiate, as well as many other restaurants and bars, bowling alleys and (believe it or not) an ice rink in the Soho Square entertainment area that was part of the overall hotel complex.
So, in short, did it live up to billing? Yes, and better than I expected. A very pleasant, comfortable hotel, right on the beach and with excellent staff. The sun shone every day, and I headed home with that particular feeling you get after a warm week away when it has been freezing cold and wet in England. A complete and utter bargain.
David Sefton paid his own way, and all photos are copyright David Sefton