Al-Ahram Weekly Online   23 - 29 September 2010
Issue No. 1016
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

To your heart's content

Since Babylonian times, the tradition of a honeymoon has lived on. Amira El-Naqeeb visits four romantic venues for this period of bliss

Click to view caption
Fallen under the love spell at the Marriott Taba Heights

Cast away yet near: Marassi

It is the new hub for leisurely living on the North Coast. Marassi, nestled along the Mediterranean Sea on Sidi Abdel-Rahman Bay at Kilo 129 on Matrouh Road, is one of Emaar's properties. The premium location has captivating views of turquoise and azure waters which take your breath away. Marassi encompasses Al-Alamein Hotel, an iconic hotel dating back to 1958 which was refurbished in 2010 with a contemporary edge.

A minimalist style is prevalent here, with off-white being the dominant colour in the lobby and is starkly contrasted with the dark chocolate wood of the interior. The rooms are rather ordinary, furnished in a practical fashion and not short on basic amenities. The terrace, however, with a view of the gleaming sky and the seascape is enchanting. Since the hotel is only 69 rooms and 30 villas, privacy is guaranteed.

If you are interested in a no-frills honeymoon, then this is where you should go. The four-star property doesn't offer any recreational activities on site except for the beach. The hotel has an international restaurant and a beach club house which serves snacks during the day. However, due to its proximity to Marassi hotspots, couples can enjoy a livelier atmosphere by simply walking a short distance.

Marassi itself has recreational activities, water sports and music on the beach with a small dance floor. Mohamed El-Soghayar, the famous hairstylist, owns five private Thai massage beach booths in the vicinity for pampering and relaxation. There is also the Beach Club House in Marassi which houses a Euro Deli for snacks and fresh juices.

Service generally in the hotel is rather slow and even borderline incompetent. Receptionists are not attentive and check- in takes forever. Accommodation is quite pricy for a four-star hotel, especially during the summer season. Double rooms are for LE1,700, on half board basis, while villas range from LE2,500 up to LE5,000 depending on size. Since it is the end of season at the North Coast, I almost have the entire beach to myself. But this comes at a price: not a single beach towel in sight and nearly an hour wait for the staff to bring us one from the management office.

To cool off from the heat, Marassi's infinity pools provide an effortless enjoyable swimming experience. In the evening, Indigo is the hottest club on the North Coast, but tonight it is closed because Ramadan is beginning in a few days and guests have already left. My companions and I end up having dinner on the club's beautiful outdoor terrace; thankfully, the waiters are attentive and the service is prompt. We order a variety of food which is very satisfactory; I order shrimp Nigri, caterpillar avocado and salmon sushi, which are delicious and fresh.

Overall, Marassi can pride itself on its unparalleled landscapes.

Dream weavers: Spa & Wellness Centre, Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at The First Residence:

"Always rid yourself of desire in order to contemplate wonders. Always retain your desire in order to contemplate its manifestations". I am greeted by the words of the Father of Taoism, Lao Tzu. I ponder what a luxury spa means. Is it setting the right mood? Is it the quality of the products, or having the most qualified therapists? Maybe the key to a successful spa is the ability to shift one's mood after a week of hard work. You walk in tired and have the weight of the world on your shoulder, and you end up kneaded from head to toe.

I am welcomed by a mix of spicy scents at the door. Zsofia Hellinger, director of the Spa & Wellness Centre Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at The First Residence, whisks me away to the private couple's treatment room. Everything in this room not only embodies privacy but also intimacy. The lights are dim, which adds warmth to the sunny yellow walls, and the locally-inspired touches in the interior design such as oriental style brass appliqués and koftan fabric covering the massage beds are a unique touch.

The Jacuzzi tub made of brown marble centred in the middle of the room is very tempting, with tea candles on the edge and an orchid flower adding to its allure. I am curious why orchids are always connected to spas, especially in Far East cultures. Anjna Poonia, my therapist, answers in a calm soothing voice that since it grows straight up, in India it is believed that it helps connect one with the Divine.

Everything is neatly and perfectly placed; even the fruit basket and mineral water are situated at arm's reach. I use a disposable bikini and step into the tub. The jet's lukewarm water pummel my tense muscles, and each vertebra in my spine starts to loosen up. After 10 minutes Poonia taps on my door and almost tiptoes into the room carrying a silver tray with a cup of green tea, and asks when I would like to start my treatment. I take 30 more minutes before my session of sheer indulgence.

I lay on my stomach, enjoying the scent and texture of the apricot scrub, which looks almost edible to me. My scrub is jelly made with apricot granules, and the moisturising body lotion is made of rose petals, which also looks like whipped cream. Poonia begins by stretching and patting my legs. "I try to establish a connection with the body," she explains. "As a therapist, I have to understand what your body needs, and I'm also trying to connect to my client's energy so they are comfortable when I'm touching them." Her hands are firm yet gentle; I feel her scrubbing my skin and my body blushes and blooms under her touch.

After the scrubbing session, Poonia advises me softly to take a shower, to rinse off the scrub, so we can start the moisturising session. Her expert hands begin rubbing lotion on my fresh and glowing skin. Apparently, men receive a similar treatment with mint scents to "energise and uplift". The mini- facial is an extra treatment that can be ordered separately, or can be incorporated in the honeymoon package. However, I strongly recommend newlyweds to take it because it leaves the skin completely fresh and glowing for days.

After 90 heavenly minutes, my session comes to an end, leaving me feeling soft and polished. In an attempt to quench my thirst for knowledge, I head to the relaxation lounge and sit with Hellinger over cold water with cucumber. She explains that this package, called Forever Yours, is especially tailored to honeymooners and its products are only used for this treatment. As I stretch out on one of the loungers, she continues that newlyweds want to feel sensual, especially the bride, who wants soft and velvety skin. "The idea behind this treatment is inspired from Asian culture," Hellinger reveals. "In Asia, they have a holistic approach to marriage, that there should be a cleansing and purifying process that takes place so you can start your life as a wife, fresh and pure."

Forever Yours costs $200 subject to service charge and taxes; the facial costs an extra $70.

Massaging the senses: Club Olympus Health Club & Spa at the Grand Hyatt Cairo

My first impression: this place doesn't sweep me off my feet. The Spa at the Grand Hyatt Cairo doesn't feel like it will be the fairy tale experience I'm used to in some spas. There is no soft music to seduce my ears, or gentle aromas to tantalise my nose. But the staff is very warm and welcoming.

The interior is reminiscent of a Roman bath, with columns surrounding the Jacuzzi and Michael Angelo's Davida in the background. I am introduced to my therapist, Riham, who will

nilla cream, followed by a massage, and finally a 20-minute session of reflexology. I slip into a bath rope and complimentary slippers.

Riham guides me to the showers to start my bridal package. After 10 minutes in the Jacuzzi, with hot but tolerable water spurting out of the jets to numb my senses, I go to the steam room for another five minutes. Once my skin is ready for the scrub, I am whisked into a cosy dimly lit room, where Riham begins the first phase of treatment. Sweet-smelling oils fill the room and pleasant tunes complement the mood.

I lie down and allow myself to drift and surrender to 120 minutes of pure pampering. I am rubbed and polished by my therapist's expert hands. The vanilla and cherry scrub feels and smells heavenly. After rinsing off the scrub, I am left with ultra-smooth legs and back. The second stage of the treatment is the massage. Looking at Riham, I could never guess that such a petite young woman had such strong hands. I am kneaded with aroma therapy oils from the top of my scalp to the tips of my toes. By the time she starts working on my feet, I am far gone in fairyland.

The same treatment is administered to the groom in the men's section.

Food for lovers: The Revolving Restaurant at the Grand Hyatt Cairo

The Revolving Restaurant mandates romance. It's like stepping into a temple of love perched high atop the city on the 41st floor of the Grand Hyatt Cairo. The lighting inside is soft and dim, bringing into focus the ceiling adorned with fibre optics creating a heavenly atmosphere. Everywhere you look is pleasurable to the eye.

The view is unmatched as you take in Cairo during a 360-degree rotation; the Nile, the Pyramids, and the bustling streets of the city that never sleeps. The sound of trickling water pouring down a fountain in the form of chains of light is charming; tilting my head up, I imagine stars, shooting stars, planets and constellations -- an illusion made real.

Soothed by the atmosphere, my companion and I order an Earl Grey tea and its warmth seeps through my soul. Since my companion is an avid and passionate cook, when the food comes his taste buds are on high alert sampling the delicate dishes. We order bisque de crabe blue soup, which had a very soothing tender quality to it. This shrimp butter soup is dense and the mango cubes soaked inside give it a delightful sourness.

The courses come one after another, plated like abstract paintings. "I feel guilty eating them," my companion says, looking at his Boston lobster with green asparagus dipped in smoked salmon mousse. We handle the contents of our plates with care and delicacy, as if dealing with an expensive piece of art.

If you are intent on a heavy meal, you may not like the portions here which are a teaser for the palette. The main course, magret de conard des lands poele, is a reasonable portion but I don't finish my plate -- I am saving room for dessert, tartelletle tout chocolatt with passion fruit sorbet. Need I say more?

As the restaurant slowly rotates and the view changes, patrons can see the show kitchen where French chef Fugier Jean-Claude is like a maestro conducting a culinary symphony. Everything in this restaurant spells intimacy, and the food has a hypnotic effect on the senses as passion surrounds the lovebirds as they orbit around each other.

Dinner for a couple can average LE1,200 for a four-course meal.

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