The Red Sea Riviera: El Gouna, Egypt

Edged by desert and with the stunning Red Sea Mountains as a backdrop, El Gouna (22km north of Hurghada) is a sophisticated, purpose built, beachfront resort town on a series of islands that edge salt-water lagoons. El Gouna is Arabic for ‘the lagoon’ and earlier in the year I got to experience, the self-styled ‘Venice of Egypt’. Petra in El Gouna Marina Basically, the resort ingeniously uses a network of lagoons and canals to create not just one strip of beachfront but a whole city of beautiful beaches linked by bridges across clear turquoise water. El Gouna is about as far removed from Egypt’s usual chaotic hustle as you can get. Quiet, clean, modern and safe with pretty much zero crime, it’s an ideal winter sun destination for the silver traveller. 

The resort which covers 10 km of shoreline was built out of nothing 30 years ago by the Sawiris’ family and Orascom Hotels and Development and now boasts 19 hotels with a mix of 3, 4 and 5-star accommodation. I stayed at Ancient Sands Golf Resort and Residences and the newly opened Casa Cook Hotel. The latest Silver Travel Industry report stresses the importance and growth of multi-generational holidays and Ancient Sands would be an ideal choice of accommodation for grandchildren and grandparents alike. Sunset Pool at Ancient Sands Golf Resort and Residences With 5 swimming pools, there’s one for relaxation, one for leisure (suitable for families), one for sports and my favourite, a particularly stylish one to watch the sunset from. There are at least a couple of infinity pools, 3 are heated, you’ll be spoilt for choice, a pool for every generation. The hotel, poised atop a 40-foot hill overlooking the Karl Litten golf course, fuses Mediterranean chic with traditional Nubian style. Although not directly on the beach, there’s a regular shuttle. The all-inclusive offering also works well for different generations, with themed buffet evenings that should appeal to all taste buds, a varied breakfast buffet and even the fussiest younger eaters will enjoy lunchtime pizzas, cooked fresh with your own choice of toppings. Casa Cook on the other hand would work well as a mini break treat for a big birthday or anniversary celebration. It’s a newly opened, 5-star, beachfront, boutique hotel away from the main El Gouna hub. It’s very contemporary, all earthy grey tones and raw wooden furniture and would appeal to those interested in design and a laid-back vibe.   

It’s no secret that Egypt’s Red Sea Coast is an extraordinary destination for snorkelling and diving and a boat trip is a must. Snorkelling feels like swimming in an enormous aquarium, fish in every size, shape and colour dart around the coral reefs. For those that prefer to stay on deck, there’s plenty of fun to be had spotting the playful wild dolphins performing for the camera-ready holidaymakers on board. Dolphins Apparently, dolphins can jump as high as 20 feet out of the water. There are things to do other than diving and snorkelling (riding, quad bikes, desert jeep safaris, day and overnight trips to Luxor, Aswan, Cairo and Sinai, kite surfing, 11 spas, 7 fitness centres, a cinema and golf.  For golfers, El Gouna’s 18-hole golf course at the Steigenberger Golf Resort is designed by Gene Bates and Fred Couples. With carefully placed bunkers, lagoons and desert rough, the course may sound treacherous, but it’s designed in such a way to appeal to holiday golfers as well as more accomplished players. 

Shops, bars and restaurants cluster around piazza-style squares and there are two swish marinas chock full of super yachts. El Gouna has very much an upmarket feel and there’s some serious money here, although I did have to smile that the one UK yacht, I spotted from the Port of London was called ‘Tipsy’, might that be something to do with our reputation or the stability of the ‘Gin Palace’? Some think of El Gouna as ‘Disney Egypt’, a fairy tale urbanisation but the fact that it is quiet, clean, modern and wheelchair friendly is massively appealing to the type of holiday experience it offers. El Gouna When it comes to shopping, I’m not very argumentative and find the whole Egyptian haggling experience very stressful so welcomed the fact that the shopkeepers in El Gouna didn’t engage in the usual bargaining or hassle you. This somewhat changes the whole retail experience but definitely makes it quicker! You can get around the El Gouna sprawl in a number of ways but tuk-tuks are the best and most fun. Hotels and restaurants have tuk-tuk lines out front or you can flag one down easily in key locations such as downtown or the marina. They cost 15 LE (less than £1 per person per ride). Many hotels in El Gouna offer a dine around experience allowing you to sample a wide variety of cuisines from a selection of participating hotels and restaurants. I sampled a particularly mouthwatering steak on a sizzling platter at The Marina Steakhouse and a seafood feast at El Sayadin restaurant, a romantic and informal restaurant with lovely views of the Red Sea at the popular Movenpick Resort and Spa.Finally, when it comes to green credentials, El Gouna was the first destination in Africa and the Arab Region to receive the Global Green Award in August 2014. Sponsored by the United national Environment Program, this award is handed to cities displaying substantial measures and efforts in progress within the field of environmental sustainability. 

Beach at Casa Cook Hotel February 2020 was one of the wettest on record and although I’m not normally a fan of all-inclusive resort style holidays, this year particularly I welcomed the chance to unwind and relax and feel the sun on my face. El Gouna is blessed with year-round sunshine, buckets of sand and affordable luxury hotels. This isn’t the place to come to for culture or the ‘Real Egypt’ but if you’re looking for an easily accessible, safe and beautifully maintained Red Sea destination, then El Gouna enjoys its place in the sun.  

Visit www.elgouna.com to see all that El Gouna has to offer.

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Petra Shepherd

Editor of Silver Travel Book Club & Cook Club

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