Al-Ahram Weekly Online   2 - 8 July 2009
Issue No. 954
Travel
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Away, to the secret place

Jyl Ghoneim discovers the hidden haven of calm and relaxation

Click to view caption
A view from the Hilton's eighth floor

Taba, located 420 km outside Cairo, is lauded by some visitors and bloggers as the best kept secret vacation destination in Egypt -- and maybe even the world. The hamlet of Taba is nestled between the Sinai Mountains, the beautifully colourful Red Sea and the borders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel. Saint Catherine's Monastery, Mount Moses, Coloured Canyon and various diving and snorkeling destinations have been quietly attracting visitors.

Home of Salaheddin's Castle, the Phoenicians once used Taba as a port beginning in the 10th Century BC. As far back as the 12th Century, the Crusaders built a fortress there to levy taxes on Arab merchants. Protection to pilgrims traveling between Jerusalem and St Catherine's Monastery was also offered in this little known haven. It further served as a stopover on the caravan route to the port of Aqaba. In modern times, it is famous for being the last piece of territory returned to Egypt after the liberation of Sinai from Israeli occupation.

Speaking to some guests staying at this delightful little resort town, many seemed somewhat disappointed that I was about to reveal their favourite vacation destination to the general public. But with little room to expand into a typical Red Sea tourist trap, the town and surrounding resorts promise to remain exclusive getaways so many of us want and need.

In fact, Taba is barely a town. There is a post office, hospital, bus station, museum and bazaar. The Bedouin natives of Taba live beyond town, in the mountains, leaving the actual hamlet looking nearly deserted. Most of the resort hotels are somewhat set back from the town, nestled up to the sea, leaving the native inhabitants in peace.

Many birds are chirping and several camels munch on the lush, green grass of the green belt in this tiny seaside nook. A couple of small hotels dot the west side of the road, but other than that there is not much there. There isn't even much traffic to contend with, aside from the occasional mini-bus, tourist bus, taxi or a camel wandering the street.

There is no nightlife to speak of, except for the entertainment provided at hotels. There are simple shopping centres in the Taba Heights town of El-Wakala, about 20 km south of Taba town, but other than that everything is still pristine and natural. For those of us who appreciate natural surroundings in the lap of luxury, this destination is perfect. Honeymoon and family trips are also ideal.

The Sinai Mountains lend peace and comfort to the mind and body, while the Red Sea is so beautiful and unspoiled it stirs the soul. Beauty like this puts even the most stressed visitor at ease. For four whole days, my husband and I were able to truly relax for the first time since November; in fact, I have not been this calm and restful at any other destination I've visited on three continents. No wonder that visitors from 25 countries come here every week.

Aside from the lack of nightlife, there are plenty of excursions to enjoy. Canyon motor safaris, desert safaris, hiking, swimming, snorkeling, diving for children eight years old and over, waterskiing, wakeboarding, parasailing, sailing, windsurfing, banana boating and crazy donuts. To schedule any of these outings, research the best deals ahead of time or visit the excursions desk at your hotel.

Since our aim is to explore the town, we stayed at three different hotels; two are located inside the Taba Heights complex which includes the Marriott, Sofitel, Hyatt Regency, Three Corners Golf Resort, Diving Centre and Club Med. We stayed at the Marriott and Hyatt then wrapped up our stay at the first ever hotel built in Taba, the Hilton. By changing accommodations, we were able to compare and contrast them.

Even before we reached our first hotel, I was already seduced by the romantic setting.

TABA HEIGHTS MARRIOTT BEACH RESORT: After what seemed like days on the road -- it was 17 hours -- , exhausted, hungry and overheated, we finally arrive at our first destination, the Marriott Hotel. We unload our bags from the taxi and began our trek from the main gate to the Marriott Hotel lobby. All around me, I find stunning landscaping, surprising me at every turn. My senses are bombarded. Exploding and contrasting colors assault the eye. Clear, clean air allows the smell of flowers to gently waft around me, while the hot sun heats up my skin. I notice a long row of trees with plaques lining the soldier straight rows. The names of guests are on the plaques, obviously sponsors for the world renowned 'plant a tree' programme. Businesses, organisations and schools worldwide participate in this programme, planting trees to help clean the air.

After finally getting through our third security check since arriving in Taba, we check-in with lightning speed and are escorted to our sea view suite via golf cart. The golf cart ride was a treat after carrying excruciatingly heavy bags in hot weather the long distance to the lobby. Perhaps the golf cart should have been at the gate to receive us; but no such luck.

Opening the door to our suite, a squeal exits my mouth. "Wow! Now this is a hotel room!" I declare. Our suite, is very large and tastefully decorated; in fact, all rooms are decorated in the same style and colors. I immediately appreciate that the décor is subtle, not overdone or abrasive, and feel at home because it is reminiscent of the USA. The warm yellows and whites, almost perfectly matching the sands of the beach visible from our two balconies, relax me instantly. The forest green marble desk and table tops, bringing in the deep green colors of the gardens, match the décor perfectly.

I knew my initial energy rush will not last long in such relaxing surroundings, so my short to do list needed to be addressed quickly before a reviving nap. Desperately in need of washing the road off my body, the shower is my first destination, and as soon as the water hits my skin I am in heaven. The water pressure is ideal and the toiletries provided by the hotel are indulging. The shampoo, for once, is not a blend of shampoo and conditioner, which causes my hair to frizz and become hopelessly brittle. The separate conditioner is thick and luxurious, with scents of green plants and a mysterious fruit.

The shower gel leaves my skin feeling revitalized and slick, the best indication of a quality skin cleanser. The lotion is thick and moisturizing, which is sure to come in handy for guests who like to swim in the salty sea and bask in the sun. It is little things like this which make a woman like me happy. My only complaint is that the hotel did not provide toothpaste and I could not buy any on the premises, which translated into me brushing my teeth with shower gel for the next two days.

After unpacking I write a few notes on the hotel's stationary and envelopes, and learn there is a business centre providing computers, printers, fax and copy machines. Once these tasks are done, I lay down on the king size bed a few of the six super comfy pillows. The mattress feels endlessly thick and the divine synthetic down topper leaves me feeling blissfully cool. Crisp yet soft sheets soothed my sensitive skin. The combination of effective central air-conditioning and heavenly bed, falling asleep is no problem.

After 30 minutes, I feel I had a full night's sleep. If I had a bed like this at home, I'm sure to accomplish so much more in my life. As it turns out, the bed sets are for sale to guests if they desire them, resulting in quite a brisk business for the hotel in this market.

Not wanting to miss a thing, we roll out of bed and dress for dinner -- after surviving on croissants, Doritos and water for the 17-hour trip to Taba we were famished. Whether real or imagined, the aroma of food meets us as soon as we leave the room. We pick up the pace, worried we might not find a table at the main restaurant, but upon arriving we find seating is fairly easy to come by.

Unlike most people, I am in need of putting on weight. Since I mostly avoid bread and my diet consists mostly of vegetables, fruit and chicken, I have rapidly lost weight since my arrival in Egypt in November. Hence, and as instructed by my doctor, I am not to lose any more weight and eat my way through this vacation. I let go completely at the main restaurant Al-Andalus because the gastronomic experience there of Egyptian cuisine is delightful.

Others who are trying to remain svelte, however, also have plenty of healthy , satisfying choices at the buffet .The main restaurant offers a buffet with large variety of fruits, vegetables, meats, breads, pastas, salads, juices and deserts. The chef excelled on all levels. I ate beef kebabs, Egyptian potatoes, peas and carrots in a tasty and robust tomato sauce, béchamel, BBQ chicken (lightly seasoned to perfection); bread that was slathered in real butter, cookies which resembled German jam thumb prints and a fabulous fruit topped cake. I was stuffed, but still looked forward to breakfast and other tasty surprises in store.

Since there is no entertainment planned for this evening, we walk along the hotel grounds, paying close attention to what the resort has to offer. The grotto, which is impossible to miss, is stunningly beautiful. A cluster of three waterfalls rushing in to the pool drown out any sound from other guests, while opposite of this cluster is another waterfall, hiding a fabulous swim up bar. There are a series of tunnels running through the man-made mountains surrounding the pools, which allow guests to enjoy beautiful aquariums as they walk from one pool to the other.

There are three pools in all, and close to 500 meters of both sandy and rocky beach. Plenty of seating is provided pool and beach side, and a few shops give guests the chance to buy souvenirs without leaving the complex. It seems that everywhere we turn there are private romantic little nooks to sit in while enjoying one incredible view after another.

We head back to our suite to change into swimming suits before going to the spa. The sauna, steam room, gym and Jacuzzi are free of charge to in-house guests. The only charge at the spa is for a massage. The least expensive massage is LE220 for 30 minutes and the most expensive is LE275 for 30 minutes. The spa offers everything from an aromatherapy massage, head, neck and back massage, sports and reflexology massage, to Swedish and Thai massage. While the prices may seem high at a glance, in comparison to foreign markets it is very reasonable.

The interior of the spa is light and relaxing, with beige, yellow and white themes, set off by dark wood. We hop into the Jacuzzi for a soothing 30 minutes, and then decide to experience the other free amenities before returning to the Jacuzzi before the spa closes at 11pm. I turn up the heat in the steam room, and feel the impurities leaving my body as my pores open and sweat starts to bead on my skin. Steam rooms are very healthy, provided you stay well-hydrated, so we brought drinks in with us.

After about 15 minutes, we ran across the hall into the sauna. The smell of the wood is wonderful, but for me the dry heat feels like being outdoors in scorching sun. I make a quick exit and left my husband to fry himself. I enjoy the Jacuzzi and can happily wait a century in it for Ayman to come out of the sauna, but it doesn't take long and he joins me until closing time.

In the morning, we awake to the sound of silence. It was so quiet I couldn't sleep any longer. Although neither of us is good about eating breakfast, we are both oddly famished and enthusiastic about our upcoming meal. We find seating quickly, before anyone else snatches up the last tables. We begin at the bread buffet, slicing ourselves a variety of breads. The egg chef delights us both by cooking our eggs to order. A huge lineup of sweet rolls and breads holds my attention for a long while, and I select apricot Danishes with a delicate glaze -- positively the best I have ever had. This, coming from the daughter of a restaurateur and baker.

I move on to pile on pancakes with butter and maple syrup, cereal with full cream milk and a bowl full of exotic and domestic fruits. I even try the sausage, which was the same at all three hotels we stayed at: better than at most destinations, but still not like a great German or American breakfast sausage. Nonetheless, I am more than pleased with the fresh juice selection. I drink two glasses of fresh orange juice and a cup of coffee.

After breakfast, we find the towel hut and head for the pool loungers. Children and adults alike are laughing and playing, everyone who wants to be active was and everyone who wants to laze away the morning does. The architecture is prefect to drown out squeals, so those who want to read, sit calmly or sleep in peace can do so easily.

But relaxation is not on our agenda this morning; we each manage about three hours of intense swimming; I accomplish the expected blistering sunburn and a thousand more freckles while my husband turns a sun-gold caramel; and my hair goes lighter to become a nice dark blonde.

After getting our fill of the pool, we head down to the beach for another hour. I have never swum in the Red Sea and am delighted by the attractive colors. We don't see any fish although we swim quite a distance into the water. We do some free style diving into the deep blue waters and enjoy the wind picking up. On the way back in, we catch a few good waves and do some body surfing. Before we head back in to our seaside room, I go seashell hunting and discover some beauties.

For some reason, the Red Sea swim famishes us so we shower quickly and head to the restaurant with big smiles on our faces. More fabulous food awaits, of course I choose my bread and head to the grill area for my freshly made pasta and custom made sauce. I pick a meat sauce with plenty of garlic, onions and mushrooms. I nearly clean out the vegetable tray which offered a large selection; the salad is also perfect. We continue drinking water to re-hydrate ourselves after our long walk and swimming excursions.

After lunch we go back to our suite for air-conditioned quiet and American television programming. I am thrilled that the hotel has the Style network, something I have dearly missed since coming to Egypt. We fall asleep for a couple of hours and wake up just after the kickoff in the soccer game between the US and Egypt. When it's over, we head to dinner.

The food and beverage manager of the new restaurant Ayam Zaman, tell us about the new offerings for entertainment and food. On Sunday, BBQ is served with a desert of fruit and ice-cream. A show, including belly dancing, tanoura and folklore entertainment is provided with the meal. The cost is $20 per person. On Tuesday, Bedouin fare at $30 per person, includes Egyptian barbequed lamb with rice and flat bread is served with oriental entertainment. On Thursday, seafood, including shrimp, bronzed calamari, stuffed crab in the shape of a tear, salmon and sea bass are served with oriental entertainment. A desert akin to flaming Alaska is served after the meal.

Exhausted and happy we head to bed with full stomachs. We wake up the next morning, revived and ready for our next swimming adventure. After breakfast we head to the pool for more fun -- the water is definitely the main attraction at the Marriott Hotel. With little time remaining, we sadly pack our bags and prepare for the next big escapade. It is with a promise to return that we leave the hotel.

Our stay at the Marriott was utterly delightful and began a second honeymoon for us.

THE HYATT REGENCY TABA HEIGHTS: The northernmost hotel in the Taba Heights Hotel complex is our second stop on this visit. Once through the ultra fast security and check in process, we sit on blissfully soft sofas in the colourful lobby sipping fresh exotic fruit drinks. I notice and immediately appreciate the interior design of the lobby and throughout the hotel. The architect, Michael Graves, designed the hotel in ancient Egyptian vault and dome village style. The choice of colours -- bright corals, oranges, yellows, turquoise and deep blues -- excite the senses and inspire design ideas for my own home. Be sure to look at the domed ceiling and stunning stained glasswork and the elegant chandeliers which cast just enough light to make everything look soft and beautiful.

The hotel offers something no other hotel in the area does: a Bedouin campsite. A feast of mezzas and handmade bread are served with an array of authentic Bedouin cuisine, while folkloric entertainment and a dance floor in the centre for belly dancers and tanoura keep energy levels high. Event dining with exotic themes can also be arranged in advance of your stay. The hotel houses five restaurants and three bars, enabling them to accommodate nearly every culinary desire.

Limoncello Café, the main restaurant, serves seasonal buffets cooked in a show kitchen. We have a divine breakfast here, and for the first time in at least one year I eat waffles for breakfast. When I ask for eggs over medium, he knows what I want and cook them to perfection. Coconut yogurt, fruit, beef sausage, bacon and fresh orange juice make my meal splendid.

Once we are well fed and settled in our room, we decide to grab our beach towels, conveniently located in our rooms, and take a dip in the salt water lagoon. The water is refreshed almost continuously from the Red Sea, keeping the lagoon clear and clean. There is a rock island in the middle where fresh sea water trickles in from a fountain in the rocks. As we swim to the island, we notice that this is the deepest man-made swimming area we have encountered yet. At the bottom of the lagoon are live conchs, which my husband dives down to retrieve for me.

From the lagoon, we go down to the beach stretching over 500 metres and the water becomes deep fast. The wind is blowing enough to give us a few good waves, so we act with a little more caution. After about one hour of swimming without spotting any fish, we head back in to bask in the sun.

Tanoura Restaurant, located on the upper pool level, serves us Lebanese fare for lunch .My first Lebanese culinary experience is a pleasant surprise, especially the flavour of the chicken and French fries. I order the mixed grill, which includes chicken and beef kofta and BBQ chicken. I was so too full to try the kofta, but according to my husband it is perfectly prepared.

Thoroughly exhausted, we head back to our room for a shower. The same high quality toiletries greet us in our bathroom, and my special bonus is a large tube of toothpaste compliments of front desk. After cleaning up, we laze about on our enormous balcony overlooking the lagoon, with views of both the Red Sea and of the mature, well planned landscaping. The grounds at the Hyatt are extremely well cared for and plant life is lush and thick; everywhere we look flowers bloom. After a leisurely afternoon nap we sample the wide selection of fruits in our complimentary fruit basket and read our welcome card.

The mini bar is well stocked with chocolate, nuts, sparkling water and sodas. I munch on a rare treat of a Mars bar and Pepsi, as I looked over the two gift-wrapped garment-- something we had missed bringing from home and came in handy on the rest of our journey.

For dinner, we decide to go to Tandoori Pub located at the Taba Heights complex downtown. It is a traditional English pub which serves Indian specialties with spice authentic naan, curry and dahl. There are also huge big screen televisions to enjoy favourite sports programming. While it is the first time my husband and I sample Indian food, we enjoy the many flavours of chicken, vegetable pockets and fried onion treats before the main course of spicy lentil soup, rice and very spicy lamb. I can still taste the exotic and delicious flavours, which my husband and I have attempted to duplicate in our kitchen --unsuccessfully I might add.

El Fresco Restaurant, located at the hotel's Olympic lap pool, serves divine Italian cuisine, including salads, pizza, pasta and ice-cream. Breeze Restaurant, located at the split level pool area, offers snacks and grilled food for lunch, while cocktails and soft drinks are served from the bar. In the evening, Breeze offers a la carte seafood dinners.

On the Rocks Bar offers classic and contemporary cocktails, daily DJ and Duo, an international show, every Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Wednesday, a belly dancer every Thursday and folkloric show every Tuesday. Palm Court is the place for afternoon coffee, tea and fresh pastries, an early evening aperitif or an after dinner drink. The Beach Bar, located on the beach front, offers a wide variety of cocktails, cold beverages and ice creams, and there's a daily happy hour between 6 and 7pm on local beers and wine by the glass.

After our Indian food initiation, we head back to the hotel just as the live entertainment begins. The dance troupe performed beautifully, dancing to international music with flare -- my favourites featured aspects of Russian and Spanish dances executed in timely rhythm. After the dancers, the resident singer opened with an enjoyable rendition of Be My Girl while the animation team got the audience on their feet.

Exhausted and sleepy, we try to make our way back to our room but it's not as simple as it sounds. There are many twists and turns along the path, the plants are tall enough to create a maze and the pathway is romantically lit with dim lights. We somehow end up behind a mountain by the sea before we figure out where we were, and a helpful security guard points us in the right direction.

When we wake up the next morning, we are enthusiastic about starting our day. We put our swimming suits on, but first stop at Limoncello for a fulfilling breakfast. After fueling up for the day, we wander around the hotel until we reach the Oriental-style relaxation area. Comfortable cushions in private curtained nooks beckon us, and we succumb for a few minutes.

Next, it is time to test the waters of the Olympic pool, where we spend a couple of hours swimming laps and playing water games. After the pool, we sit in the Jacuzzi, big enough for at least ten people. The Hyatt's steam room and sauna are far more powerful than the Marriott's, so if you do not possess strong heat tolerance, do not stay in there for longer than 15 minutes. The spa offers a range of pampering services, including a 25-minute neck and back massage at a cost of LE210, and the golfer and Thai massages both a whopping LE430 per 50-minute session.

Soon, it is time to shower, change and pack our bags. As the limousine service arrived to pick us up, I turned to look back at this lovely oasis. My last impression upon leaving the Hyatt is that of serenity and exclusive beauty. I will definitely be back.

THE HILTON TABA RESORT AND NELSON VILLAGE: As our limousine whisks us from the Heights complex to our next hotel, we enjoy the view of Pharaoh's Island and a lovely small bay near the road filled with coral. We stop twice to take pictures, apparently something all travelers do on the way.

Perched as far north along Egyptian soil as can be, the Hilton has become an extremely popular stopover for both Egyptians and foreigners. Over the years, the Palestinians and Israelis have met there for peace talks and it is home to the original pub owned by Ruffie Nelson, which spawned Nelson's Village -- a splendid, more exclusive section of this busy resort.

The Hilton Taba and Nelson Village is different in many ways from the Taba Heights complex. To begin with, it is smaller. Every amenity is close to the rooms, which is a blessing for us after spending three days taking long walks from our room to the pools, beach, restaurants, spas and shopping centres. If you arrive by bus to Taba, the Hilton is probably most convenient since it's only a 10-minute walk from the bus station.

After three comprehensive security checks, we walk into the lobby and are struck by the stunning white on white interior, energizing the entire place. The sitting area is divided between indoors and outdoors, separated by a glass wall overlooking the Red Sea. From there, we see that part of the hotel is actually built into the side of a mountain, which creatively uses the small building site afforded by the area.

The hotel is somewhat of a high-rise building, which from the outside I felt did not fit too well with the surroundings. But the Hilton made up for that by building Nelson's Village, which houses a spa, several playgrounds, a bar and grill, a restaurant and luxury suites resembling log cabins. Along the beach, there is much-needed seating and the water contains spectacular colourful coral.

The first two floors of the hotel are striking, with walls of glass and polished marble floors everywhere we turn. The lighting is superb and the décor includes a wonderful selection of black and white photographs depicting Bedouin families. In the lobby area and main floor, there are several souvenir shops and a Casino which draws in from 700 to 1,000 guests per weekend.

The main restaurant, the Palm Court, serves a wide variety of food in its delicious buffet, including baked potatoes with real sour cream and chives. For my indulgence, there is also iced tea which I have yet to find elsewhere. During our stay, we eat our way through plates of vegetables, delicious fresh breads, pancakes, sausages, baked, roasted and BBQ chicken and beef, delicate sauces, pastas, salads, fruits, juices and the widest assortment of desserts. There was not one meal which was not of superior quality, and the staff is always prompt and polite.

Just off the dining room is the salt water pool, which is the hub of activity and fun. This deep pool was a delight to enjoy, and the swim-up bar is also accessible via a charming footbridge. Many children and even adults in the water attempt pull-ups on the bridge, but I am only able to manage one before collapsing back into the water.

Everyone in the pool area is up for some fun, and we witness several water volleyball and basketball games break out at random.

Back on the eighth floor, our suite is well appointed. It is furnished with a deep cushion sofa, two dressers, a large television (with the best selection of channels yet), a large closet, a tiny private balcony, and a king size bed with soft sheets and two pillow -- but it didn't really match the comfort of our recent bed experiences. I notice right away that the bathtub ran clear water, unlike the yellowish water the Taba Heights baths afforded. The filtration system at the Hilton is undeniably better.

After getting ready for the day ahead, we head downstairs to begin our explorations. At the beach, the coral begins at only a few inches deep. We cautiously walk into the water, trying to avoid the rocks and cutting coral. Signs clearly request that guests do not stand on the coral. Within seconds, a school of small fish swims by and I am thrilled that finally I am seeing fish. At knee depth, black and orange fish bigger than the size of my hand appears from nowhere to greet us. At waist deep, three fish as long as my arm swim up to us and I start screaming. After a while, I am a little braver and let them swim right up to me. After the initial shock, these friendly fish are exhilarating. What an amazing close encounter with nature.

We consider going snorkeling, but have no equipment. Since the hotel has a mall, we went in search of the required gear. Like all the other shops in El-Wakala and Taba, a basic set of goggles and snorkel costs LE60, but I am not willing to pay this price for equipment that should cost LE25. That goes for the water toys too. A water lounger is LE55, when in the real world it should never cost more than LE15. It instantly angered me to see the price gouging, so be sure to bring your own when you visit. It is worth the luggage space.

Upon further inspection, we do find some great deals on ladies embroidered shirts at a cost of LE50. There is a nice selection of traditional and modern men's and ladies wear; some of it is priced too high but there are also reasonably priced items. If you plan on shopping, check all the shops before buying. In the town of Taba the tourist shop charges the same price for a child's T-shirt as the stores at the Hilton Mall charge for women's blouses.

Exploring the culinary possibilities, we learn that the Hilton offers a choice of seven eat-out options plus 24-hour room service. Other than buffet at the main restaurant Palm Court, Marhaba restaurant offers traditional Egyptian food but is only open for dinner. Casa Taba offers both Italian and seafood and is also only open for dinner. The Rainbow Bar and Lounge offers drinks and ice-cream, with a delicious item called the Red C (an ice-cream treat priced at LE20). Fantasy Island is a sunken pool bar and offers fresh juices and sandwiches. Shish Bish Café offers tea, coffee and shisha. The Rocks Disco offers drinks and is the dancing and entertainment hot spot of the hotel.

Other forms of entertainment include belly dancing classes, which we watch, a kids' club in the morning and a kids' disco at 8:30am. Five days a week, there is an international show and oriental show between 8-10pm, followed by Bingo. Though it is not advertised as a form of entertainment, the animation team does synchronized swimming and water aerobics in the pool in the early afternoon, which draws quite a crowd both times we watched.

Spa services are very competitively priced; the Cleopatra massage and body scrub with milk and honey and face mask for 90 minutes costs LE200; full body and sports massages begin at LE160; 45-minute medical massages come in at LE125; and back massages begin at LE100.

Soon, we are both exhausted and find a shady spot near the pier to lounge. Next to Shish Bish Café, we find the perfect pair of hammocks to lie in, while enjoying tea and blessed shade under swaying palm trees. This, for me, is the best spot on the beach. It is quiet and feels like a slice of heaven. If you are feeling brave, you can dive right off the end of the pier.

The best part about the beach is that it is so close to the hotel. The pool is just off the dining area, the sidewalk is just off the pool. From the sidewalk to the sea are only 25 steps, and with the hotel elevator this hotel is ideal for those of us who are physically exhausted or just plain lazy.

I am struck by how busy this small resort is. Occupancy rates at the hotel are well over 80 per cent and rise throughout the busy summer months. As a result of stressful economic times, those who can still afford to take vacations only do so when they find a great deal. One secret to the Hilton's success are the discounts offered with certain packages. For example, if you book for four days, the fifth day is free. There are several ways to get discounts at all of the area hotels, it just takes a little research, good timing and luck.

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