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

Relaxingly active getaway

Thinking of a private, tranquil honeymoon where you can also experience a variety of activities? Ahmed Abu Ghazala explores Marriott Taba Heights

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At Marriott Taba Heights you can have it all; pampered and kneaded from head to toe, sublime views and sharing memorable moments with your loved ones photos: Bassam El-Zoghby

My ideal honeymoon is quiet, peaceful, in a naturally beautiful location that also has plenty of amenities and activities. And, above all, VIP treatment to make this special trip very memorable. There are three ways to reach Taba Heights Red Sea Resort: take a plane, rent a limo or ride the East Delta bus -- but I suggest you don't try the last one because the buses often breakdown, the air conditioning doesn't work properly, and the chairs are very uncomfortable.

The view at Taba Heights is breathtaking; the mountains surround the area in a magnificent way and the architecture of the Marriott Hotel is harmonious with the surrounding landscape. Designed and built by Ginza for Construction and Estate Development, the hotel;s overall look is inspired by the designs of the famous Hassan Fathi and his Nubian style.

I was immediately invigorated by a refreshing welcome drink and a cool towel for my face. Checking in took less than one minute in the calm serene lobby, without any hassle. As I exited the lobby, I heard the soothing sounds of the cascading waterfalls surrounding the lobby stairs. I moved through the meandering promenade tucked among verdant plants, palms, and flowers of various colours which provide a picturesque green view cradled with yellow, white, purple, pink, orange, and other colourful streamers.

I entered my spacious sea view room, and found a simple and chic design. There were two comfortable red sofas in the corner, complimented by a small table with a fruit basket on it. A small desk and chair in the other corner, with a TV facing a king-size bed on the other side, with plenty of space to move around the room. The bathroom had a double vanity, bathtub and small flat shower.

I opened the window of the terrace and walked through to find the crystal clear Red Sea water to my left, and the pool in front of me. How splendid. I went back in to begin my visit with a quick shower. Unfortunately, the shower curtain was a smidgen too short and the water leaked out. I quickly fixed the problem with a towel on the ground at the edge of the shower.

The bathroom was also the scene of an annoying incident on another day, when I found a few ants and a gecko waiting for me when I turned on the lights. I called room service immediately, and they were quick to oblige. But surely any guest at a five-star resort does not expect creepy crawlys inside their rooms. It was remarkable, however, that the rest of my entire stay was otherwise insect-free. I was told that the management adds EM5 bacteria, a beneficial microorganism, to the irrigation water that works as fertiliser and wards off insects.

At the spa, I chose a massage while listening to the melodies of relaxing Thai music and surrounded with the scent of lavender and other aromas. The ambiance helped clear my mind, as Mohamed, the masseur, worked his magic. After the massage, I indulged myself in the sauna, steam room and Jacuzzi. I decided to further expand my leisurely session and try one of the holistic treatments on offer. You can choose among many, such as Reiki, Sound Toning Healing, and Vibration Colour Healing.

Jacqeline Percy, the therapist, explained how these techniques help balance the bio-energy of the body and allow the energy to flow evenly throughout the whole body. She recommended the Crystal Healing, so I laid down and enjoyed more relaxing music while Percy began the treatment as she explained the steps. She examined the resonance of my seven chakras with her pendulum, and then placed special crystals on my throat and solar plexus chakras which were not balanced, and other crystals around my body. The energy treatment lasted for about 10 minutes.

Words cannot describe how I felt after the session; it was a mixture of rested soul, clear mind, a lighter and more united body. I left the spa full of energy, and decided to enjoy the sunset at the beach. The beach is beautiful but covered in rocks, so you need sea shoes to walk on it. I lay by the warm shallow waters, watching the yellow lights of Jordan and Saudi Arabia separated by the white lights on the border. The sunset made for a very romantic moment which I would definitely like to share with my partner.

At dinnertime, ventured over to Al-Andalus restaurant which offers a different cuisine every day. This Monday it was Asian. The restaurant's design is oriental with a ceiling covered in brown bricks, and lanterns for lighting. Each table had a floating candle atop the head of a Pharaoh. Al-Andalus was a little too busy, and if I was on my honeymoon I would choose to dine on the restaurant's terrace. It is quieter and overlooks the entire resort, which is a breathtaking view. After a delicious meal, I soaked in the bathtub before a good night's sleep.

I woke up the next day to the song of the sparrows, but it was a struggle to remove myself from my very comfortable bed. As I stepped onto the terrace, a dove flew so close to me I could hear its wings flapping. My decision was quick: I will order breakfast on the terrace and enjoy the sights and sounds of the birds this morning. As I devoured breakfast in my private nook on the lush terrace while looking at the sea, pool, and listening to the birds singing, I was certain that no couple would pass up the chance to come here for their honeymoon.

After breakfast, I went to the beach and walked into the water. Before I had reached waist deep, I felt something moving under the water. A closer look revealed schools of colourful fish around me, and I also caught sight of the magnificent corals which made the entire scene look like a slice of underwater paradise. Another part of the beach is even more secluded, where couples can enjoy more privacy in the crystal clear water.

The pool is also a memorable experience. A segment of it is a marble floor with shallow water where you can lay down, relax and enjoy the sun. It also has a goalkeeper's net if you wanted to score some water polo points. Other segments of the pool are shaped like caves which you enter through waterfalls. There, you can enjoy a Jacuzzi or a drink at the Grotto pool bar and grill.

There is a vast number of activities for a couple to enjoy together at the resort. Waterworld provides every kind of water activity, including diving, sailing, snorkelling, fishing, boat or submarine cruises. Alternatively, you can enjoy the banana boat or parasailing for a bird's eye view of four countries: Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Other activities at the resort include golf, and Marriott guests are given one hour of free golf coaching on Wednesdays, and a free dive trial in the pool on Sundays and Tuesdays. You can also explore the desert with the quads to try the bumping course, or decide on an excursion to Saint Catherine Monastery, Moses Mountain, Pharaoh Island, Ras Mohamed, or Petra in Jordan for non- Egyptians.

Visitors can also explore Taba Heights beyond what the hotel provides, and visit the nearby village where shops sell perfume, clothes, jewellery, crystals, herbs and flowers. Additionally, there is a pharmacy, bank, coffee shop, Bedouin tent and information centre.

Dinner at the Italian Tuscany restaurant at Marriott Taba Heights makes for a unique gourmet experience in a romantic setting with views of the resort's charming tropical and Nubian attractions -- palm trees, gardens, waterfalls and earthy Nubian architecture. Other options for a romantic dining experience are a candle lit dinner at the beach or the presidential suite if available; the staff are happy to help you choose and tailor to your desires.

In terms of entertainment, there is a belly dancing show and at the Regatta Club a duet Walaa and Rola croon romantic songs for guests, who at times get up and dance. But the entire attempt was unconvincing; the dance floor was too narrow and the singing mediocre. In fact, the singers play the music via laptop and sing along -- too similar to karaoke to be taken seriously. I would have preferred a DJ or a soloist playing his own instrument.

That's why I enjoyed Sherif and Rashad much more at Ayam Zaman (Old Days) coffee shop, as they sang golden oldies in Arabic along to the melodies of their lute and tambourine. I sat on the floor, which was covered with carpets, and supported my back with a pile of cushions to relax and enjoy the music. The atmosphere was wonderful, as guests ordered shisha and local beverages. A sour note, however, was the fact that many of the beverages on the menu were not available. Ayam Zaman has a view of the hotel set against the shadows of the surrounding mountains.

Following this authentic Egyptian experience, I walked towards the beach and laid on a comfortable hammock to listen to the sea and relax in the breeze. Eventually, I made my way back to my room and as I walked along the dimly lit path, a couple were slowly walking ahead of me holding hands. They and I knew that they had chosen the right place for a romantic sojourn.

The rates for Lovers' package is $100-150 per night, including bed and breakfast, a romantic dinner outdoors, and other additional options.

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