Al-Ahram Weekly Online   4 - 10 March 2010
Issue No. 988
Travel
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

In the eye of the sun

Jyl Ghoneim takes a break

The beauty of nature and soothing climatic condition make the resort a popular travel destination for kids and adults alike

Ain Sokhna is located approximately 110km east of Cairo and about 55km south of the Suez Canal. It is possible to take international flights to Sokhna, and then get a taxi service to take you to your hotel. If travelling by bus from Cairo, you will need to hire a taxi service to get to your hotel, as the bus stop is quite a way from the resorts. If your stay is more than two nights and you are travelling with more than two people, the price of taxi services negates any savings from travelling by bus.

We rented a car, so we also had the chance to stop and take pictures and come and go from the resort as we pleased. I would advise renting a car, especially if you are travelling with children. A small toll of LE5 gets you through the gate and on your way to a fabulous vacation. The road to Ain Sokhna is dedicated solely to Hurghada and Ain Sokhna and is the newest road in Egypt. While the highway itself is finished, construction of decorative walls, tile and planting is still in progress. Once the decorative work is finished, this is sure to be one of the most beautiful roads to travel along in Egypt.

Ain Sokhna is not a thriving metropolis and it is possible to miss the turn after the highway conjoins with Suez Road, going north to the Suez Canal and south to Hurghada. To get to Jaz Resorts or Stella di Mare Hotel turn right at the junction, stay in the far left lane and take the U-turn after the Jaz Hotel billboard. The Stella di Mare and Jaz Resorts are five and seven kilometres past the U-turn, respectively. Be sure to have your hotel phone numbers handy in case you have trouble finding your destination.

We found the Jaz Little Venice Golf Resort with very little trouble. My first impression was that of a relaxed luxury village surrounded by peaceful mountains, crystal clear waters, large vacation villas and pristine desert. The air is clean and clear and there is an aura of hushed contentment about the area. The area surrounding the hotel is under-developed, giving guests privacy and luxury in a naturally beautiful setting.

The décor of the hotel combines Islamic art and modern design. I am somewhat confused about why it had an Italian name, but that didn't take away any of its charm. Upon entering the lobby, the focal point is an inviting seating area, with a modern take on the comfortable overstuffed sofa. Bright pink hues brighten the spirit and lighten the mood, touches of sage, ivory and silver calm the soul and ease the mind.

Being an admirer of feminine touches in hotels, I couldn't help but enjoy the lobby. I appreciate the décor of the Jaz Resorts I have visited, mostly because of these innovative and original colour combinations. In all my travels, I've never seen a hotel lobby employing bright pink hues successfully. It's no real wonder that Jaz Resorts has pulled this look off with flair since the owners of Eklego, which developed the hotel, are a group of interior designers.

The lobby restrooms, where most guests head immediately upon arrival, are sleek and soothing. Varying shades of grey tile, soft lighting and gleaming, clean surfaces are offset by shining silver faucets, dark wood accents and live bamboo plants. The backlit round mirrors give just the right amount of soft lighting to make nearly any weary traveller look good. Soft, thick towels are in abundance, allowing guests to freshen up before heading off to their rooms. The main restaurant, Mangiamo, is conveniently located to the northeast side of the lobby and the bar to the southeast. There is ample outdoor seating where you can enjoy your meal and live entertainment, provided the weather cooperates.

Check in was a breeze for us. All we had to do was sign a few papers, show ID and we were off to our room. The hotel, which opened in June 2009 is beginning stage two of development. Right now, it has 60 rooms but upon completion of phase two, by end of 2010, there will be around 150 rooms in total. Because of its current size, we were pleased with the fact that the trip between the restaurant, pool, bar, gym and lobby was short and sweet. Once phase two is complete it will be a considerably longer walk for most guests. If you are feeling lazy, or you have mobility issues, ask for a poolside room.

Our suite was on the first floor. I hoped for a room that was big enough to house our family, consisting of myself, husband, nine-year-old daughter, and her two-month-old sister. I was not disappointed in the least. The Resort General Manager Vivek Sharma ensured that my eldest daughter had a comfortable twin bed in her own area, which, to her delight, was located right next to the mini-bar full of soda. The baby had an adorable crib, complete with an allergen safe pillow and super soft, warm blanket. They even provided a Tiger stuffed animal from the Winnie the Pooh collection, which she held on to while she slept.

The master bedroom of the suite was heaven on earth. A Chinese-style closet provided enough space to fit nearly my entire wardrobe at home. The in-room safe, located in the closet, held our valuables. A storage cupboard held our empty bags and, to my delight, doubled perfectly as a changing table. A full sized desk, conveniently located in front of several outlets, allowed me to work on several projects. Since we had a USB modem we didn't need wireless Internet, but the hotel has connections open for those in need. A vanity with an extra large mirror helped me look my best. Even with all this furniture, there was still enough space to do cartwheels. Our suite was, by far, the largest we have ever stayed in. We were truly in the lap of luxury.

To our delight, the balcony was accessible from both the sitting area and master bedroom, and was at least twice the size of our bedroom at home. A large, flat screen television -- complete with enough channels to make my daughter happy -- was perfectly situated in front of firm, yet comfortable, modern furniture. There is enough seating for five and, with cots provided for those who request it, enough beds for four in the suite.

The décor themes of the room come in four choices: sunset, desert, green or blue. Our suite was green, which isn't just any green. It's sage, one of my favourite colours. The theme runs throughout the suite, from bed runners and curtains to wall hangings and rugs. Accent colours of beige and ivory tone down the colour scheme so that it is relaxing, soothing and classy. Chrome touches throughout give the rooms a modern appeal. The sofa and chairs, upholstered in soft yellows, prevent the scheme from being overdone.

Once we settled in, it was time to eat. The one and only hotel restaurant, Mangiamo, serves three meals a day. The chefs, some of whom instruct at Al-Orman culinary section, prepare mouth-watering salads, soups, meats and deserts. While the selection is not as extensive as many larger hotels, there is enough variety to please the palate. During our two-day stay, we enjoyed pasta, chicken, roasts, veal, many types of salads and soups, prepared in both local and international recipes.

The restaurant's décor is elegant, which is no surprise considering the aesthetics in the rest of the hotel. Somehow, in these lush, elegant surroundings we didn't feel the need to dress up. It's a very relaxed atmosphere which nurtures family bonding and encourages them to laugh out loud over meals. We did a lot of laughing during our meals, especially when my eldest daughter decided to sample all the foods which she had never tried before. As always, we ate whatever we wanted. Naturally, that isn't very healthy but quite fun and satisfying. By the end of each meal, we all looked like we had Winnie the Pooh bellies.

On the first night, live saxophone music serenaded us during our meal until a horrendous storm blew the power out. No one seemed to panic, as the dining room already had tea light candles floating in glass bowls on all the tables. In fact, I quite enjoyed not hearing the constant humming of electric appliances. It's hard to notice how much noise we have in our daily lives until the power goes out. Beyond the silence, the candle light was incredibly beautiful and romantic. I was hoping the power would stay out throughout our meal, but all good things must come to an end. The electricity came back in under a minute.

The second night, we were fortunate enough to hear a very talented singer crooning from the open air dining area. For those who partake, the bar serves beer, whiskey and simple mixed drinks. Since we slept in and missed breakfast our first morning there, we decided to call room service and order breakfast. We were given the choice between an oriental breakfast and a continental breakfast. Since we weren't sure what breakfast would be like, we ordered both. The continental breakfast includes coffee, juice, sweet pastries and a variety of jams. The oriental breakfast was a typical Egyptian breakfast of fuul, Egyptian bread, cheeses, grapes, eggs and rolls.

Besides great meals and live music, the hotel offers other crowd pleasing activities. The staff will, upon request, take guests up on sporting challenges. It is rumoured that staff members have quite competitive football and volleyball skills. Sporting events aside, the little ones have excellent opportunities for endless fun in a heated kiddy pool, beach and a very large and well equipped playground.

The playground houses new, safe and entertaining equipment for toddlers up to age 10. We spent a lot of time on the playground, going from swing set to teeter totter to jungle gym. Soft clean sand ensures kids will not be seriously injured from falling while playing. Some of the best times we had at the resort were on the playground. The vacation villas, which are marketed for families, are situated on the opposite side of the hotel rooms, so there is ample opportunity for vacationing kids to mingle with locals. The playground and surroundings are so beautiful that photo opportunities abound.

I took some great video of my husband and eldest daughter in the heated adult pool; the depth is just right to teach children over the age of five the finer points of swimming. If you don't feel like getting in the water, there is a lifeguard perched atop a tower. While we swam the first day, we had just experienced a downpour so there were only nine of us in the water. The lifeguard kept a careful eye on us, which was much appreciated. For those who are not inclined to swim in heated water, an unheated pool awaits. Visually appealing islands in the pool contain palm trees, giving guests an exotic five-star paradise experience.

The beach, which is about a seven-minute walk from the room, is clean and covered with soft deep sand. The water is not cluttered with coral, which makes it optimum for swimming -- cutting feet on sharp coral and rock is not an especially fun experience. Farther out into the water, there are opportunities to dive down to the coral reef. To the north and south of the beach bar and sitting area are two piers.

At the time we went exploring, there were native fishing boats getting ready to launch. I was a little surprised at the amount of fishing equipment and men they were able to fit on one boat. Quite a few tourists took pictures, while other vacationers lounged on chairs and enjoyed the weather. An elderly man and what appeared to be his grandson enjoyed some fishing off the docks. Up and down the beach, we saw families finally emerging to enjoy the sunshine after the storm.

The hotel can arrange several activities for those who ask. Among the most appealing opportunities for families are yachting day trips and fishing. Soon, Jaz resorts will begin offering non-motorised water sports, such as paddle boating. Though it must be pre-arranged, lifestyle packages are also on offer, including aerobics, yoga, pilates and sunset yoga. I enjoy pilates and yoga at home, but unfortunately did not arrange classes before we came. Because it works out stress and releases feel-good endorphins, exercise is a great way to begin relaxing -- which is the whole point of a family vacation.

For those who are not interested in family vacations, the resort offers excellent opportunities and amenities for honeymooners and business people. Honeymooners have the chance to get away, relax and pay attention to each other in a beautiful, peaceful setting. Because occupancy rates run at about 40 per cent through the winter, there is ample opportunity to get time alone with each other. While taking a walk with my husband, we only ran into other people a few times. We were given the feeling of privacy and luxury.

Businessmen have the advantage of staying in five-star accommodations without the distractions of a large hotel. Ain Sokhna's proximity to Cairo also makes this destination wonderful for meetings and events. The banquet room accommodates up to 100 people; the Jaz Little Venice Golf Resort's 60-room capacity is perfectly matched to its facilities.

Once phase two is completed, the resort will change in quite a few aspects, including more rooms, restaurants, bars, sporting activities, a golf course, a convention centre and luxury spa. At the same time, the plan is to maintain the relaxing family friendly atmosphere because it is appropriate for the 350 family villas that are part of the resort. Many of the villa owners are friends who go to Ain Sokhna to socialise and relax over a game of golf or cocktails waterside.

For those who wish to wander off the resort and explore the area, St Catherine's Monastery is a few hours' drive. Unfortunately, there are no desert safaris available, but daredevils may wish to bring their mountain climbing gear and scale the mountains which snuggle the small seaside towns and resorts all along the Suez area. Alternatively, the small town of Ain Sokhna is only a few minutes away and can be explored by car or by foot.

All in all, the best thing to do is relax, enjoy nature and bond with the family. Those of us with children know how precious these years are and how fast they go by. I strongly advise anyone to take as many vacations as possible with their children. They never forget the fun, laughter or the love you shower on them in such a relaxed setting. Even though we experienced some bad weather, our holiday was just what we needed: a quiet, private, relaxing retreat close enough to home to be a comfort, but far enough away to be a relief.

To schedule your holiday at the Jaz Little Venice Golf Resort, call +2 016 667 7057 / +2 016 667 7263 or e-mail them at reservation@jazlittlevenice.com.

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