Seaside Eilat blooms as a tourist haven in the desert

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The booming Red Sea resort city of Eilat and the area just north of it are undergoing major development.

Eilat sits on the southern tip of the country, at the end of the Negev desert, where Israel borders Egypt on the west and Jordan on the east.

The triangle of desert to its north has been designated the Elot Region, named for Kibbutz Elot, where plans have been developed for the area's attractions.

Eilat was first mentioned in the Bible as a rest stop for the wandering Israelites after the Exodus from Egypt, and it has been no more than an oasis since then.

It began its career as a city in the late 1960s, with the advent of air conditioning.

The modern city of Eilat is nestled into desert hills, while the shoreline is given to tourism, the area's major industry.

Eilat's mild climate — with winter daytime highs in the 70s and summer temperatures hovering at 103, near-zero rainfall, and water temperatures year-round in the 70s, has made it popular among vacationing Europeans.

A beachfront promenade, dotted with shops and a handful of amusement park rides, connects several hotels and is favored by young people strolling in the cool night air between outdoor cafes.

Among the new hotels already under construction are the Isrotel Royal Beach and one each from the Dan and Holiday Inn chains.

Several resorts will provide convention facilities and nearly all the new hotels are luxury level. Most offer a variety of water sports that are easily accommodated by the calm, balmy waters of the Red Sea.

But not all of Eilat's resort properties are in town.

The Princess Hotel, the area's newest and most luxurious, is south of Eilat near the border crossing to Taba, Egypt. The resort's multi- tiered, glass-enclosed lobby is built around a mountain of stone that juts out from the desert toward the shore.

Most of Eilat's attractions are at the sea, with Coral World about two miles south of town heading the list.

Its aquarium recreates the coral reef with its many tropical fish, while the Underwater Observatory, with a snack bar above water level and viewing windows below, takes visitors beneath the sea's surface to see the reef in its natural state.

Docked nearby is The Yellow Submarine, which takes 47 passengers on a 40-minute tour of the reef nearly 200 feet below the surface.

Tours of the sea are by glass-bottom boats, including the new Jules Verne, a boat with underwater glass walls as well.

Another of the area's major attractions is Timna Park, a natural desert reserve of Jurassic dimensions. The park is bordered by mountain ridges and includes a road, parking, a restaurant and camping facilities.

Other area attractions include a Texas ranch and an ostrich farm.