El Gouna, Elle Gooooounaaa. It was a lovely phrase to say but I had no idea where it was when the opportunity to visit first came up. I Google Earthed the location and discovered an Egyptian town surrounded by desert and ocean, lagoons and reefs, beaches and mountains. I wanted a closer look.
So my very first impression of El Gouna when I arrived was that it was larger than I had expected. The self-contained and largely self-sufficient holiday and residential resort, all owned and managed by Orascom Development, is only a 30-minute transfer drive from Hurghada Airport. El Gouna is built on 10km of secluded coastline, has 24,000 residents spread across islands and lagoons and is the only mature fully-fledged town on the Red Sea Riviera. There are shuttles, taxis, tuk tuks and limousines on hand to help visitors move around the resort. Rather than flashy, disco style traffic signs like on the motorways in Hurghada, El Gouna has no traffic lights, but men waving lasers instead.
El Gouna is hugely popular with Kite Surfers, the shallow waters and wind levels make for perfect conditions. For those of us less adventurous they are fascinating to watch, swooping and diving over the glittering water like exotic birds. The Kite Surfing crowd also bring with them a young and cool vibe not often found in similar resorts; the Kite Surfing schools on remoter beaches come with cushion-strewn bars and a laid-back attitude. The hotel we stayed in was a popular choice for Kite Surfers too. Simple yet scenic, The Captain’s Inn overlooks Abu Tig marina, and provides a view guaranteed to make you smile every single day. Rooms come with air con and flat screen TV’s, the corridor walls are a gallery of action packed kite surfing shots, and all for the price of (wait for it) £30 per night!
After the end of the day’s activities The Captain’s Inn is conveniently located near Tandoor, arguably the resort’s best Indian restaurant, and Loca Loca, an outdoor bar with shiny disco balls and very reasonable cocktails (approx. £4.50 each).
At the other end of the scale you have large family friendly resorts like the Movenpick, which has 3km of private beach and golf buggies to help guests get around the enormous complex. We were momentarily transported to Thailand via their Angsana Spa, a member of the Banyan Tree group. The sort of spa that asks you what scent of pot pourri you would like under your massage table and provides sweet ginger tea and fresh melon at the end of the treatment – it was a luxury experience from start to finish.
For those of us that favour a boutique style hotel with local accents, I was thoroughly charmed by the Dawar El Omda Hotel (The Mayor’s House in Arabic.) The infinity swimming pool leading to a private lagoon was impressive enough but it was the small touches such as the intricate tiles, ornate wall hangings and vibrant flowers that make this hotel so divine (the food is superb too!) Above the reception is something completely unexpected – a Bridal Suite. Not a room for guests, this suite is a reproduction of what the bridal suite for an upper Egyptian lady would look like. Bizarre but fascinating.
For winner of the best swimming pool I couldn’t decide between sister hotels Fanadir and Mosaique; the Mosaique inched slightly ahead when I saw the stunning pink furniture in the hotel lobby. The reason I got to see inside such a variety of great hotels is because all of them are a part of the genius Dine Around programme in El Gouna. Depending on whether you are a half, full or all inclusive board guest you can opt to receive vouchers that entitle you to credit towards a meal in other hotels. You’ll never get bored of eating at the same old buffet every night here.
Evening entertainment is also well thought out in El Gouna. On different nights of the week you will find free live shows in varying outdoor areas, ensuring guests see all the various sides of the resort and some interesting acts too. During the Friday Festival at Abu Tig Marina we were treated to everything from magic tricks, to snake tamers and unicyclists skipping rope.
There is heaps to do in El Gouna – so much so that I will be devoting my next post to exactly that. Possibly my favourite activity, however, is sunbathing (that’s an activity right?!) at Mood’s Beach. Mood’s is the private beach that guests of Captain’s Inn are granted access to, and has the most relaxing circular beds, cushions and colourful floating bean bags I’ve ever found on a beach. With waiters on hand to serve you drinks and remove stray specks of sand, I for one, would be content with playing here all week long.
El Gouna may look like a small man-made town on the map, but in real life it is a superbly designed and well thought out concept, with big personality and a relaxing, self-indulgent vibe. Though it may look and feel like a rich man’s playground, the young and less loaded are more than welcome too.