Travel: Totally besotted with Basata

Sue Wheat discovers an unspoilt Red Sea resort with an environmental approach that sets it apart from its neighbours
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The Independent Travel
You hardly notice Basata from the road. Thirty miles before Taba, on the Egypt-Israel border, you pass Nuweiba, a small town nudging into the backpacker scene, with shops selling tie-dye T-shirts and ethnic trousers and with Bedouin tents made into restaurants. Six miles north is Basata, an unsullied, idyllic bay scattered with well-made bamboo bungalows and striking, Egyptian-style mud houses.

We went there looking for a refuge from Sharm el Sheikh, the Red Sea resort that is rapidly becoming a victim of its own success. There, hotel construction is rabid, tacky souvenir shops and Las Vegas-style casinos litter the town, and the coral around that part of the coast is being destroyed by boats and by the construction dust being dumped there.

Basata has none of that. The first thing you reach at the end of the resort's cacti-lined drive is the large bamboo reception, lounge and kitchen, decorated simply with low tables, cushions and Egyptian artefacts. We sat down and breathed a deep sigh of relief. A look around at the enviously content visitors proved this was by no means a backpacker's hippie haven, nor a cultural-shows-on-the-hour type place. It is a resort for anyone who likes to talk, eat good food, read, snorkel, sunbathe and generally chill out.

Hopefully, it is not a place you should "get to before it ends up like Sharm". Basata (which is Arabic for "simplicity") is beautiful and intends to stay that way. Set up by Sherif el Ghamrawy, an Egyptian engineer, 10 years ago, Basata is run with Egypt's arid, fragile landscape in mind. As Sherif pointed out, this is the desert, and putting gardens, golf courses and swimming pools in it is like taking the desert to Switzerland.

So Sherif has done something that was considered almost subversive by the Egyptian authorities - he has set up his business to conserve water and reduce pollution. It took him 12 years to get permission to operate.

One of Sinai's main problems is solid waste and wastewater disposal. A few miles down the road, the conventional waste management system of one of the hotels is evident - it is dumped at the foot of the mountains and left for the Bedouins' goats to graze or choke on. In stark contrast, Basata's recycling system is all encompassing. Plastic bottles are shredded at Basata and sold to a recycling business in Cairo, along with paper and glass.

Even Basata's livestock - goats, ducks, donkeys and a camel - recycle any leftover food into fertiliser, which is then used in the greenhouse to grow vegetables. And Basata's own desalination plant provides fresh water to the kitchen and bathrooms, with each tap running for six seconds per press. The high saline solution - a by-product of the desalination process - is used in the toilets and for construction work.

We were pointed in the direction of our bamboo hut, one of 18 on the white-sand beach. For two, it was comfortable and spacious, but it could actually sleep up to six. Did we want dinner? We did have the option of cooking for ourselves, but when you can get a full three-course meal cooked for you for around pounds 3, what's the point?

During the day, we ate freshly baked bread and pizza, fruit and snacks along with drinks, writing down what we took and paying for it at the end of our stay. Even at high season, when tents are also rented out and numbers reach 300, the system is rarely abused.

Sherif's love of the area, and his common-sense approach to conserving it, is the driving force behind Basata's success. But he realises Basata stands alone among a host of conventional hotels planned along the Gulf of Aqaba, which is why he has set up an environmental society with other Egyptians to try and make sure Egypt's environmental laws are enforced and to encourage environmental management among hotels. "Already most of Sinai is ruined - there isn't one metre of coastline that isn't sold to developers between Nuweiba and Taba. In a few years you won't be able to see the sea, it's terrifying."

But the end result of Basata's environmentalism is not an atmosphere of eco-obsessiveness, just a beautiful and unspoilt place. Young children squeal as they come mask to face with rainbow fish just metres from the beach. Others go into the mountains on desert safaris and visit Bedouin villages. And in the evenings, the Saudi Arabian mountains on the other side of the gulf flush pink as the sun sets.

"What I've got here is boring," says Sherif with a wry smile. "No alcohol, no TV, no music, no drugs. But people like it."

Accommodation at Basata, per person per night, costs from pounds 6. Bookings should be made direct by phone or fax on 00 20 62 500481.