Eilat: Sea life up close

Eilat is now only five hours away thanks to direct scheduled flights from Luton with Monarch.


I was floating in the Red Sea clad in snorkelling gear and then it happened: a dolphin swam up close, looked me straight in the eye for one full pregnant, almost spiritual, moment. In a blink the dolphin had slid away. Before I could smooth out my pleated senses, another swam beneath me turning over, showing off its white, smooth tummy. And so it continued. They were flirting and I was falling in love.

I was at Eilat's Dolphin Reef where a flock of bottlenose dolphins are reared in their natural habitat. It's a joy to swim with them or even just to watch them from the pretty palm-dotted beach while catching some rays. There's a wooden pier that reaches out into the sea from where the dolphins are fed, and if you loiter there a while, they may pop by to say hi.

On site, there is also a series of heated wellness pools - one fresh water, one Red Sea water, one mineral water - and each has soothing underwater music. I booked a relaxation session where a hydrotherapist held me gently - placing floats beneath my knees and back - and moved various parts of my body gently, stroking every now and again, and at one point I even had a sense of being held as if in the womb. No wonder I fell asleep.

Nearby is the Underwater Observatory Marine Park. The main feature is indeed the underwater observatory where walls of clear glass allow you to see the comings and goings of the deep blue sea.

But above ground there are also turtles to watch, exotic fish to stare at while they dot around corals and an Amazon segment where piranhas and anacondas seem harmless behind glass. The highlight is the feeding of the sharks. In a flourish of showmanship, a diver swims among the fish and the sharks offering them food and all the while engaging onlookers, especially children. It is tremendous fun that comes with a highly educational narrative.

Eilat has a lovely coast that hems one side of the finger of Red Sea that separates it from Jordan. Around the curve of the bay is Coral beach, much loved by snorkellers and divers who appreciate the gorgeous coral reefs and sheer variety of fish. Families though are better off at the North beach which does not have much coral but is free of the dreaded sea urchins.

In recent years, millions of shekels have been spent on Eilat's tourism infrastructure. The new beach promenades are beautiful and taking time out to saunter along while the sea breeze plays with your hair feels great. On the one side the view is the seafront, the Red Sea and the Jordanian coastline. On the other are the gargantuan hotels (50 around Eilat with three that tower over the seafront including the sprawling Dan Eilat where I laid my head each night). It's hard to imagine that this was fashioned out of a desert.

Downtown Eilat has been turned into a gleaming waterfront with a shock of high end retail outlets whose duty free status (shaving off 20 per cent) makes parting with shekels all the more enticing. There's also, bizarrely, the circular shaped Ice Palace and Mall which hosts an ice bar and ice rink.

There's a large clutch of bars and restaurants and a popular venue is the Three Monkeys pub which has DJs and live music. Another is Mike's Place which has a contemporary menu and live pop music every night. My favourite though is Pago Pago, a stylish restaurant located on the North Beach lagoon where the sea bream and salmon dishes are cooked to perfection.

A Luna Park funfair colourfully lights up the night horizon and offers dare-devil rides and a ferris wheel. This may be exciting for some, but for me there are better ways to get my kicks.

For instance, driving along the Arava valley alongside the city's backdrop and its series of mountainous tors and peaks that look like swirling mounds of caramel alongside chocolate chip ice cream with the odd smudge of dark strawberry - telltale signs of copper and a host of other minerals that have survived the passage of time.

I also joined a jeep tour to the desert. It's a bumpy ride but it was nice to stop where acacia trees somehow flourish and to see ibex sheltering underneath their canopies.

I wanted to see the famous King Solomon copper mines at Timna Park. This is a preserved area around 17 miles north of Eilat where amazing shapes have been naturally created in sandstone. Perhaps the most comically named is the Mushroom and a Half. There are also relics of ancient Egypt and ruins of furnaces from a bygone age.

Excursions can be fun but sometimes it's also about enjoying a drink by the pool or lazing on the beach or perhaps on the front of a yacht.

However you like to spend your time, get there sooner rather than later while the flight is still inexpensive.‎

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