Wide eyes and cats
Neither beauty contests nor women like Rasha Sadek
can compete with El-Gouna's stunningly beautiful setting
Click to view caption|
Lively Abu Tig Marina featuring El-Gouna's landmark domes; Belgian beauty contestants (the queen stands second from left); secluded Mangroovy beach; the championship golf course of El-Gouna
"I've been hungry for 13 years," some super model once said. By now that's 17 years of eating yoghurt and an apple a day. For me, that's just an inconceivable way of living. Breakfast must be what a king would have and dinner, nothing less than an emperor. So attending the Three Corners Belgian Beauty pageant in El-Gouna meant four days of constant feelings of guilt over every bite I had munched my entire life. It also meant volcanic envy and picking constantly on hair-dos, dresses and style.
Checking in at the four-star Rihana Inn was the end of a six- hour bus ride to the Red Sea resort of El-Gouna. My room, surrounded by 19 others, occupied by the finalists who made it from Belgium -- out of 300 or so contestants -- made it all the worse. It meant the 19 "beauties", as they were called by the organisers of the event -- male organisers for sure -- were going to be there for breakfast and dinner. Pancakes for breakfast and cheese cake after dinner versus yoghurt and watermelon.
At this point, the hard feelings had to be cast away for they were -- excuse the expression -- eating me alive. (By the way, they didn't go away, the proof being the cheese burger, fries and diet cola surrounding my computer just now).
The Belgian beauty contest held in El-Gouna on 17 September, for the fifth year in a row, was preceded by a few days of rehearsing for the 19 girls -- originally 20 but one missed out for "personal reasons" -- who were being prepared to usher in the world of glamour. Attending catwalk lessons and dancing with a professional choreographer was fun. But it was tainted with anguish.
However, it couldn't have been more perfect on the night of the pageant. The stage set up in the pool, lights and everybody dressed up for the election of Miss Three Corners Belgian Beauty 2006. The two presenters might have been the highlight of the evening -- jumping and dancing and urging the audience to do the same, or performing magic tricks -- had it not been for the 19 girls in the background. An active multi- national animation team presented some of their best dances and comic shows, engaging the audience in a light mood. A whirling dervishes dance group gave an outstanding tanoura show before each contestant presented herself to the audience and jury comprising, among many others, Samih Sawiris, founder of El-Gouna, Ambassador Guy Trouveroy, Miss Egypt 2005 and the winner of last year's pageant.
Of the 19 contestants, 13 spoke Flemish as their original tongue and the remaining six spoke French. It was necessary, though, that they spoke both fluently, along with a couple of more languages. So during their presentation, we caught sentences like "I certainly am sweet but I'm also eloquent", and "I wish to be a super model known in the whole world" while others were more serious with "now I'm more independent and have learnt how to fight hard."
The contestant who won the prize of the audience was Julie Sowa who captured everybody with a golden dress and an Arabic phrase "I'm happy to be here". The prize of the press went to Annelies Vandemoortele, the only girl who looked elegant and at ease, in simple white pants. Then came the awkward moment: announcing Miss 2006. It was Katleeu Claes, 23, who later told me, "beauty is relative, had the jury been different, I might have not won. I'm old enough to know what life is all about." To my relief, there was, finally, a beautiful girl who also had a brain. Claes's crown is worth 400,000 euros decorated with 2,515 diamonds.
El-Gouna gave the queen of the Three Corners a Nile cruise for a week in addition to another week in El-Gouna's Rihana Resort. The two runners up each got a week's stay at the Steigenberger Golf or Sheraton Miramar hotels in El-Gouna. As well, winners of the prizes of the audience, press and sympathy (poor her!) will stay in El-Gouna for a week in Sheraton Miramar or Dawar Al-Omda hotels.
Then there are the "golden girls", the 12 constants who were chosen out of the 19 for the finals in the wintry Belgian resort of Knokke in October.
As stressful as it might have been for me -- consider me over-sensitive -- seeing so many pretty girls hovering around, only one thing gave me a breather: exploring the ever-growing community of El-Gouna. For a first-time visitor to El-Gouna like me, the townlet is by all means distinguished from other Red Sea resorts which pack their five stars along the beach haphazardly in a dire need to populate the coast. Spread over an area of 11 million square metres and a secluded beach front of 11km, El-Gouna is like a dwarfs city with most of the buildings one or two storeys tall. Domes are common features in all El-Gouna buildings which with their pastel colours are in marked contrast to the bright turquoise of the surrounding lagoons. Daring designs with traditional themes aid buildings blend in the landscape.
Downtown El-Gouna provides travellers with all they expect from bazaars, art galleries, coffee shops, restaurants catering to different cuisines, discotheques and bars, a museum, an aquarium, Internet outlets and a cinema theatre. At the downtown area is a shuttle bus station. Buses operate every 15 minutes to take you anywhere in El-Gouna. Travel cards for one day cost LE5 while those for LE10 are valid for a week.
An array of sail boats and extravagant yachts dock at the Abu Tig Marina, the heart of El-Gouna, giving the feel of being in the elite zone. Overlooking the 100 or so boats are restaurants and cafés. Fridays are special in Abu Tig with a food festival -- El-Gouna isn't the time or place to think about dieting unless you're there when the Belgian beauty contest is being held -- and an entertainment show bustling the whole marina.
However, Fridays aren't the only days when El-Gouna is alive. Everyday, the small town makes sure to entertain its vacationers. For instance, Wednesdays and Fridays you might try a safari to El-Gouna Oasis. The oasis features palm trees, Bedouin tents, roofed huts and Bedouin performances and dances, complemented by dinner the Bedouin style. Ride a camel perhaps? Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays are the time to get loud and crazy. The open-air Mirage discotheque is located in the downtown area. (If you happen to have or rent a car, you might want to head to Hurghada, 22km north of El-Gouna, for more nightlife, like Papus discotheque on the beach, or BonanzaRed which on Fridays hosts a well-known Dawoud singing oldies).
Just north of the Abu Tig Marina is the Mangroovy beach. Recently recognised as the Red Sea's best spot for kitesurfing, Mangroovy comprises thatched roofs and sunbeds for a relaxing lounge in the sun. The other lively beach in El-Gouna is Zeytuna, located on a secluded island surrounded by the sea and lagoons. And since the Red Sea can't go without the accompanying world of diving, El-Gouna provides amateur and professional divers with a heaven of underwater creatures, wild dolphins in particular, and a garden of coral reefs.
So many activities are available at El-Gouna; windsurfing (there's a school for that at the Sheraton Miramar Hotel), horse-back riding (at Yala horse stable), go-carts (mostly for kids, unless you feel the urge to turn back the hands of time). The best of all though is renting a bicycle or a motorbike on a journey of discovery along the many lagoons and clean streets.
Allow me to linger here on the clean streets. El-Gouna adopts a Green Gouna Initiative. A utopian spirit is evident in the meticulous cleanliness of literally everything from plastic bags collection from the beach to a recycling factory. A fine is strictly imposed if, on the spur of the moment, you throw a cigarette butt out of the car window. This environmental and ecological awareness is being preached by all El-Gouna staff, gradually becoming an integral part of the town's culture.
And here's a tip: when in El-Gouna, make sure to embark on a lagoon trip. The hour or so cruise in El-Gouna's lagoons and seas will give you another remarkable perspective of El-Gouna different from that when you stroll on foot or in a shuttle bus.
During the past decade, El-Gouna has developed into a self-sufficient resort with complete infrastructure, facilities and services. Besides the fact that El-Gouna owns its own airport to receive charter flights and two direct weekly flights from Cairo by Orascom Aviation, the town allows for real estate options in diverse villa designs. For instance, the "Marina apartments", designed by the Italian Alfredo Freda who also designed Abu Tig, provide a panoramic view of the marina basin with the docked sail boats and out to the open sea. Freda also planned the "Hill villas" in line with the Italian Tuscany. The exquisite villas directly overview the sea. The "Golf villas", a sport El-Gouna is widely famous for, are built in the middle of an 18- hole golf course and surrounded by huge lagoons. Michael Graves, a world renowned architect, designed the villas as well as the golf course. If you are on a real estate hunt and want to go for a Mediterranean-style villa, then architect Shehab Mazhar designed the "Memphis villas" just for you. Your terrace view will be on the golf course and the sea. The "Nubian villas" are the classic of El-Gouna. Designed by Ramy El-Dahan who characterised the villas with lofty vaults and domes, they will strike your fancy on your lagoon trip in beige and brown colours.
For accommodation, there are 14 hotels and resorts in El-Gouna, all in close proximity to the downtown area or the Abu Tig Marina. The pride of El-Gouna is the five-star eye- catching Steigenberger Golf Resort. With a championship golf course, the design is that of Graves. Rooms are offered for LE365. Sheraton Miramar, five stars, also an impressive work by Graves, goes for LE335. The Ocean View Hotel, from the name, has a breathtaking view of the Red Sea, with the pristine waters surrounding the hotel from three directions. The four-star rooms are for LE205. Dawar Al-Omda, a small four- star with a wonderful design and a pool edge on the lagoon is for LE150. And right in the middle of the Abu Tig Marina, the three-star Turtle's Inn offers, on bed and breakfast basis, rooms for LE175.
Listed rates are for double rooms per person per night on half-board basis starting October. For reservation call +2 02 305 7843.