Al-Ahram Weekly Online   17 - 23 December 2009
Issue No. 977
Travel
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

A sea star is born

Some 40km south of the Red Sea sun-and-fun capital Hurghada, a new year-round attraction is climbing the list of tourist destinations. Mohamed El-Hebeishy golfs a little and dives a little at Soma Bay

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The Egyptian Red Sea coast continues to produce ever-increasing destinations that cater to those seeking novelty, thrill and relaxation. At Soma Bay, whether a guest engages in adventurous sports or enjoys a walk in the manicured gardens, all will seal their day with the elegance and attention of superior service

As recently as the 1990s, Ras Abu Soma was a barren landscape about to be developed into one of the Red Sea's most spectacular destinations, with luxurious resorts, world-class spas and a professional golf course. Today's cluster of high-end hotels which make up Soma Bay began with the 1998 opening of Sheraton Soma Bay. The hotel adopted a Pharaonic theme, including a spacious lobby adorned with replicas of Ancient Egyptian statues and pillars, and a pyramid water fountain flowing into the main pool -- guarded by two sphinxes. But this antique ambiance goes deeper than structures, and includes the furniture and minute details such as the lotus flower embroidery on your bathrobe.

Soma Bay is home to one of Egypt's most challenging and enjoyable golf courses at the golf-oriented resort La Résidence des Cascades. The 18-hole par-72 golf course was designed by South African golf legend Gary Player, the club house looks onto a stunning view of the sea, and the hotel's interiors are inspired by the sport such as the names of bars. Even the dress code is in theme -- bohemian shorts and slippers won't get you in the resort's main restaurant for dinner.

The hotel caters for both golfers-to-be as well as professionals. If you are an old timer, you can grab your club and start negotiating the more difficult holes; if you're an amateur the Golf Academy is ideal to take your first swing. While La Résidence des Cascades is primarily dedicated to golf, there's plenty to do for non-golfers. Relaxation seekers looking for world-class pampering and physical rejuvenation have the ultimate opportunity at Les Thermes Marins, with its wide array of Thalasso treatments.

Aimed at overhauling your wellbeing, the treatments vary from 15-minute hydrotherapies to a six-day full spa experience. Indulge in an affusion massage where a heavy rain of warm sea water revitalises your body, or choose microdermabrasion for gentle skin exfoliation. The seaweed wrap remains one of the most popular treatments, while a finale at the Aquatonic Pool makes a big splash. Various sections of the 750-square metre trademark mega Jacuzzi help to tone the body, each dedicated to relax and improve blood circulation of certain body parts. Les Thermes Marins is a high-end body experience worthy of kings and queens.

The Moorish style Kempinski Soma Bay is where luxury meets style. The hotel delivers on what is expected from a five-star hotel and more. The service is impeccable, with every employee cordially seeing to your needs -- as if you were the sole guest at the resort. Speaking of the staff, the hotel's General Manager Hani Abdel-Moneim revealed that "we select people, we don't hire them."

This is the first of the Kempinski chain of hotels which will soon expand in Egypt -- the Kempinski Nile Hotel Cairo will open soon. Kempinski Soma Bay prides itself in its individualised service, from tailored daily excursions to Luxor in a private car to romantic dinners for two on the beach. One unique experience that shouldn't be missed is the in- water lunch, where the table is set in shallow sea water. Tease the water with your toes as you enjoy a seafood lunch.

Indulging in a spa at a leading resort has recently become a trend, but what distinguishes this hotel is the Softouch Ayurvede. Inspired by ancient Indian techniques, the spa offers a long list of treatments and therapies, which involves massages with herbal powders as well as applying warm Ayurvedic oil on your forehead for ultimate body relaxation and blood circulation enhancement.

Kempinski Soma Bay also enjoys a long spectacular beach where you can work on your tan or engage in more energetic beach activities. The water sport centre offers various course if you are interested in Catamaran sailing or windsurfing. But if your main interest is kitesurfing, there is a well-equipped dedicated centre that is a shared property between all Soma Bay hotels. It also offers a number of different courses, as well as storage service for more regular customers.

Visiting the Red Sea Coast and not exploring the underwater world is unforgivable. At Soma Bay, Orca Diving Centre leads the diving activities and offers a variety of courses as well as a long list of diving spots. These include Tobia, a spectacular coral garden; Panorama Reef, home to a vibrant colour reef; and the mind-boggling Seven Pillars. For shipwreck diving addicts, close- by Safaga is, in a way, a ferry graveyard where three vessels went down. Al-Kahfain is a car ferry which sank in 2005, while MS Arish/Tor was a passenger boat which went under with no one onboard. More tragically, the Salem Express marks Egypt's worst maritime disaster, when it went down in 2006 with more than 1,400 passengers on board -- less than 200 survived.

Whether a golfer or a hardcore shipwreck diver, a luxury seeker with spa on your mind or just an average tourist looking to relax, Soma Bay is the ultimate destination.

For prices and reservation at La Résidence des Cascades, call 065/3542333 or visit www.residencedescascades.com.

For prices and reservation at Kempinski Soma Bay, call 065 356 1500 or visit www.kempinski-somabay.com.

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