It wasn't so long ago that the stretch of coastline between the Red Sea end of the Suez Canal and Egypt's southern border with Sudan was just empty desert coast. Its few, small towns were largely forgotten by the guidebooks and known only to a hardcore fraternity of divers who kept the secrets of the spectacular reef sites and beaches near places such as Safaga, Quseir, and Marsa Alam closely guarded.

A decade of rapid development has transformed the coast, however, and nowadays the once pristine coast is thick with resorts and beach hotels. Development has had its unfortunate downsides -- the once picturesque fishing village of Hurghada has become a concrete blight on the coastal landscape, and miles of coral reef are now threatened by overuse -- but most of the facilities now being developed are world-class resorts that offer value for money to tourists. And, in partnering with foreign-aid schemes aimed at promoting sustainability, the new sites are minimizing their impact on local resources.

The newest star on what has become known as Egypt's "Red Sea Riveria" is the $1.2-billion Sun International-managed complex at Port Ghalib, close to the Marsa Alam airport. Built around a manmade lagoon, an international port facility, and three hotels that offer lush, luxurious accommodations at a variety of price levels, this promises to be the go-to place for a relaxing, high-end beach vacation for years to come. The only real competition in sight is the better-established resort-community of Gouna, north of Hurghada, which offers a funky low-key ambience combined with international-standard restaurant and hotel facilities.

Even with all the new resorts going up, however, the old Red Sea coast -- a little remote, a little ramshackle -- remains. El Quseir and Safaga have somehow retained the untouched, rough-edged, charm they had before the palm-shaded beachside restaurants and swim-up bars of the big resorts were even a gleam in the eye of the developers.

The best way to holiday on the Red Sea coast, whether you're looking to drift-dive the coral reefs, swim with the sea turtles, or just soak up sun and cocktails on the beach, is to fly in from Cairo or even direct from Europe. The two hub airports on the coast are Marsa Alam and Hurghada. If you haven't got a prearranged transfer, rent a car in Hurghada and make your way to your destination along the excellent coastal highway.