Kat Keogh enjoys culture, relaxation and just a little adventure during a two-destination holiday in Egypt.
They say you should always face your fears.
But when your worst nightmare happens to be a 6ft sandy-coloured beast with teeth the size of tombstones, it can be hard to resist the urge to run away.
There I was, in the middle of Sahara desert in Egypt, doing my best Cleopatra impression, while lazing on a bed of cushions and sipping on a chilled drink.
The sun had already slipped below the horizon and a cool breeze descended on a colourful Bedouin tent crammed full with the sights and smells of an Egyptian evening.
I was just settling into a night of entertainment courtesy of a bevvy of belly dancers, and looking forward to tucking into plates piled high with local delicacies, when above the strains of music came the cry: “Who wants to go on a camel ride?”
The word camel may derive from the Arabic term meaning “beauty” but, believe me, there’s nothing pretty in trying to climb on to one while holding onto the hem of a maxi dress.
The resulting look was less Lawrence Of Arabia, more Carry On Cleo, as I was led around the outside of the tent with a grimace almost as wide as my new-found friend’s grin.
Maybe there was something in the fruit punch, but there’s just something in the Egyptian air that inspires the spirit of adventure.
While many a tourist trap has seen its proud heritage stripped away in favour of tacky gift shops and British-themed bars, Egypt remains a veritable treasure trove of culture which blends the ancient with the modern.
My own adventure began in the southern city of Luxor, which was once the site of the city of Thebes.
Nestled on the east bank of the River Nile, Luxor is a world away from the hustle and bustle of the capital Cairo, boasting lush tropical gardens and laid-back restaurants, all within easy distance of some awe-inspiring sites.
Must-see attractions include the Karnak Temple, one of the world’s largest ancient religious sites, home to soaring columns and statues carved with pictures of gods who were worshipped long ago.
The base for my stay was the Sheraton Luxor, a five-star resort 15 minutes stroll away from the historical city.
Boasting four restaurants, two swimming pools and spacious suites complete with Nile view balconies, it’s the ideal place from which to watch traditional felucca boats drift by.
It would have been all too easy to spend all my time in Luxor, topping up my nonexistent tan by the pool, but my inner Indiana Jones got the better of me, so I donned a pair of sturdy of walking boots in preparation for a morning exploring the Valley Of the Kings.
Unlike the iconic Pyramids, which stand proudly for all to see as a symbol of ancient Egypt, the Valley Of The Kings hides its beauty in a warren of burial chambers built into the west bank of the Nile.
The site secretly held the tombs of 62 pharaohs, and it was here in 1922 that the untouched tomb of Tutankhamun, the teenage pharaoh, was discovered by British archaeologist Howard Carter.
King Tut’s glistening treasures may now be on show in exhibitions around the world but, like the crypts left behind by other long-gone pharaohs, the walls and ceilings of their chambers have been immaculately preserved.
With my archeological curiosity satisfied, I made the short journey back to Luxor in search of somewhere to escape the afternoon heat.
One place which fitted the bill perfectly was the Old Winter Palace, a sprawling hotel which dates back to 1886 and more than lives up to its regal moniker.
Rumours abound that crime writing doyenne Agatha Christie stayed at the hotel while penning her Poirot classic Death On The Nile.
The cooling colours and chandeliers couldn’t be more different to the dusty Valley Of The Kings and, had I encountered Monsieur Hercule Poirot in the dining room, I’d wager he would have been twirling his famous ’tache in appreciation of the elegant European cuisine.
But now was not the time for staying indoors and daydreaming about murder mystery dramas: I had a desert to cross.
Or rather, my driver did.