The beach destination that’s just like Bali and Thailand but is six hours from the UK – with 26C temperatures

IT’S a sunny Wednesday in January and I’m face down in the Red Sea getting an eyeful of tropical fish.

I haven’t snorkelled for years and I was worried I’d swallow mouthfuls of salt water or lose my contact lenses.

The Coral Beach Nature Reserve (£8.50 entry) is very life-affirming

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The Coral Beach Nature Reserve (£8.50 entry) is very life-affirmingCredit: Getty
The Coral World Underwater Observatory aquarium in Eilat has the biggest shark pool in the Middle East

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The Coral World Underwater Observatory aquarium in Eilat has the biggest shark pool in the Middle EastCredit: Shutterstock
The sandstone mountains of Israels Negev Desert are a must-see

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The sandstone mountains of Israels Negev Desert are a must-seeCredit: Getty

But kitted out with an eye mask and simple snorkel, I’m flip-flopping around like a pro.

I’m stunned by what lies beneath.

There are fish in every colour of the rainbow, sparkly ones, fish that look like zebras and unspoilt coral that wouldn’t be out of place on the Great Barrier Reef.

I gasp every time a shoal swims near me and give them a wave.

But it’s when I whip off my snorkel and head back to my sunbed on Lighthouse Beach I realise how incredible this place is.

Opposite me are the red mountains of Jordan.

Behind me are the sandstone mountains of Israel’s Negev Desert.

Hiding in the hazy light is a Saudi Arabian peninsular.

And if I’d stayed on the bus along Egypt Road long enough, I’d have got to — you guessed it — Egypt.

The Middle-East is often in the news for its turbulent politics, but sitting here relaxing in the winter sun with four countries in my sights, it’s hard to think of anything other than peace.

In fact, if you told me I was in Bali, Thailand or India, I’d believe you.

Where I actually am is Eilat — a seaside city at the southernmost tip of Israel that’s just six hours away from the UK, (via a connection in Tel Aviv or Vienna).

The area gets seven hours of sunshine per day in January and eight in February.

Daytime temperatures regularly hit 26C and while it can dip to 14C at night, it’s a heck of a lot warmer than in Blighty right now.

The sea temperature hovers between 20–26C all year round, so you can swim any time, although having a fleece handy for when the sun sets turns out to be one of my best ideas.

The beaches with the best snorkelling and diving are south of the resort centre, easily accessibly by bus number 15 (£1.30 each way).

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Holy sites

The Coral Beach Nature Reserve (£8.50 entry) is life-affirming — after snorkelling here, I never want to use plastic again.

Dolphin Reef and Aqua Sun beaches are brilliant too.

Brown Eilat offers three-nights in an Urban Room with breakfast for two adults just £324

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Brown Eilat offers three-nights in an Urban Room with breakfast for two adults just £324Credit: Supplied
Eilat is a very popular tropical getaway for European tourists

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Eilat is a very popular tropical getaway for European touristsCredit: Getty

The Underwater Observatory marine park is a great place for kids to see sea turtles, seahorses and corals without having to put their face in the water.

Between December and March you might even catch a glimpse of the Great Fin Whale that passes by each winter.

My base for my three-day adventure is the new Brown Eilat — a chic, art-deco hotel that’s stylishly decked out with palm tree wallpaper and pink ceilings, inspired by Miami beach in the 1930s.

Comfy sofas and booths in the lobby make it a plush place to relax and there’s an outdoor pool, too.

My room has a comfy double bed with winter duvet, flat-screen TV and — wait for it — an outdoor hot-tub.

Each night, I run a bath and tip-toe outside, before plunging into the hot water and gazing at the stars.

In combination with my days spent in the Red Sea, it’s perfect.

After a good night’s sleep I’m starving.

Luckily, the hotel’s buffet breakfast (served till 11am) is tasty and filling.

I try labneh cheese, smoked salmon, heaps of salads and order spicy shakshuka from the chef.

Mamo restaurant (mamoeilat.com) is the new hot place in town to try Mediterannean Israeli cuisine.

But hypnotised by the palm trees, I decide to stay by the waterfront and eat at Greco — a fun Greek restaurant that has cocktails and live entertainment.

Afterwards, I go to Three Monkeys, the oldest pub in Eilat, for a locally brewed beer and to watch the football.

When I leave at 10 o’clock the party is just getting started, thanks to a cover band with killer vocals.

Each night, I run a bath and tip-toe outside, before plunging into the hot water and gazing at the stars

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Each night, I run a bath and tip-toe outside, before plunging into the hot water and gazing at the starsCredit: Supplied

On my way home, I accidentally wander into Footlocker and buy a new pair of trainers.

Eilat is a tax-free city with shopping malls everywhere and — warning — they’re open late.

As such, it’s not uncommon to see people wandering around clutching a new Dyson, or sitting on the sand with an airfryer.

Before flying home, I head to Jerusalem.

For while it’s a world away from relaxed Eilat, I want to see the holy sites in the Old City while I’m in the country.

The bus via Negev Desert (£16.50 one way) takes 4.5 hours and passes the Dead Sea, which is an amazing sight.

Signs urge drivers to keep eyes peeled for camels on the road.

And I once again get that off-the-beaten track feeling that is so addictive, especially in the bleak mid-winter.

Go: Eilat

GETTING THERE: WizzAir has flights to Tel Aviv from London Luton and London Gatwick from £48.99 one way, with daily departures throughout January.

From Tel Aviv, Israir flies to Eilat (Ramon International Airport) for £37 one way.

You can also fly with Wizz to Eilat from the UK via Vienna. A bus to the town centre from the airport is £1.30. See wizzair.com and israir.co.il.

STAYING THERE: Brown Eilat offers three-nights in an Urban Room with breakfast for two adults for £324.

A terraced room with outdoor jacuzzi is £539 including breakfast.

Visit brownhotels.com/browneilat for more information.

OUT & ABOUT: The Underwater Observatory costs £30 per adult and £25 per child and can be used for three consecutive days.

See coralworld.co.il/en.


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