Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1133, 31 Jan - 6 Feb 2013
Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Issue 1133, 31 Jan - 6 Feb 2013

Ahram Weekly

Warm winter celebrations

Nora Koloyan-Keuhnelian spent an unforgettable holiday despite the nation’s turmoil

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Al-Ahram Weekly

I have never celebrated New Year outside Egypt, or even outside Cairo, and never really wanted to because New Year, Christmas and Easter are great holidays for family gatherings. This year was different, however, because like other Egyptians, the past two years have been a struggle for stability and normalcy.

After the terrible night we spent during the Battle of Al-Ittihadiya in the first week of December, my husband and I decided to try a different New Year celebration and leave Cairo for a change to escape the trauma we and the children experienced. Our first choice was our favourite El-Gouna, but it was at full occupancy for the holidays. While I fretted that we may not find anywhere to go, I was glad to find that tourism to Egypt was recovering — at least for the holidays.

A few days later, a friend told me they too plan to celebrate New Year’s outside Cairo and encouraged me to also go to Hurghada and stay at Makadi Bay. We convinced my husband to drive there so we don’t have to bother with flights and airports. We took the Kattamiya-Ain Sokhna road to Hurghada and reached Makadi, 20km south of Hurghada, four and a half hours later after driving 490km.

We had never been there before; the weather was quite warm but I did not think to pack summer clothes at that time of the year — especially since Cairo was at record low temperatures. Thankfully, my friend had suggested packing swimming suits for my boys because she knew there are heated pools at the resort.

Our stay was all-inclusive. As soon as we arrived, we had a tasty snack at the beach bar where we saw many tourists, mostly British and Italian, and others who were swimming and sunbathing in late December.

There is a unique air about the resort which overall felt elegant and cosy. It seemed that guests who didn’t know each other would quickly made friends, and the staff was very warm which was reciprocated by guests.

The resort has two main buildings, the West and East wings, and each has its own restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as other outlets. A new section of villas was constructed a year ago with 14 one- or two-storey villas; children under 14 are not allowed to stay there to maintain a serene, relaxing and private atmosphere. At the Pavilion restaurant/lounge, the four of us — the children didn’t join us on this outing — slowly enjoyed rich cappuccinos at this outlet that serves exclusive à la carte fine dining. Before you go, you need to make a reservation at the private reception if you’re not a villa resident.

Inspired by the Sardinian roots of its architect, the resort combines distinctive Italian and Arabic accents in its architecture. From an imposing mediaeval fort structure to interior touches and décor, where different shades of Egyptian cave stones from Aswan blend with the antique fine wood furnishings of oriental design.

The next morning, I put on my winter clothes and boot I packed with the mindset that it is the cold season. But it felt hot inside the room; perhaps it’s the central heating and I will cool down once I leave the room. We passed the pool on our way to a gourmet breakfast, and the sun was shining and the weather hot — very hot — outside. Everyone was sunbathing and swimming. I must have been an odd sight in my winter clothes, wool scarf and high boots.

Egyptians are not used to winter travel to seashores and summer resorts, and even if we do go, we forget how warm the weather will be at our destination and still pack all our winter clothes on the trip. Noticing my discomfort, and probably trying to avoid my mood rubbing off on him, my husband suggested that I go buy a couple of T-shirts and slippers from the bazaar to feel normal in my surroundings. He was wiser when packing and brought along summer clothes for himself.

I went shopping right away, which is never hard at any time, and was finally able to enjoy Hurghada’s warm weather.

The resort has 444 luxurious rooms, suites, private apartments and villas all with their own sea-view balconies. There are five swimming pools, three of which are heated, and every day the water temperature varies between 32 and 38 degrees Celsius. We also knew the air temperature because it was printed in the daily “Good morning” flyer on the breakfast table. During our five-day stay, mornings at this beautiful spot in Egypt was 25 to 30 Celsius and 10 to 13 at night.

Every outlet and lobby was decorated with a Christmas tree, but outside palm trees, hibiscus, jasmine and other beautiful plants filled the huge gardens of the resort. The resort is blessed with a 550-metre beach front and water sports, aqua-aerobics and many other beach activities are offered by the resort’s animation team. It has a diving centre that offers customised scuba-diving and snorkelling trips in the Red Sea.

There is also table tennis, where the children spent most of the time after the pool, and also volleyball and beach football. The resort also has a tennis court behind the West wing, and excursions to the desert by camel or on horseback can be arranged for sunset.

The children also enjoyed the Arena, which is why every night they gulped down their dinner and rushed to the theatre-style Arena. There, they enjoyed a variety of programmes and shows: children’s dance, game shows and comedy shows that start at 9pm and last for two hours.

The resort has a spa and a gym too. Vareena Spa offers a variety of treatments including massage, body treatments and luxury facials by Thai therapists who use products imported from their homeland. It also has a steam bath and Jacuzzi. Altogether, the resort was a self-contained village built especially for holidaymakers.

A very busy and festive New Year programme awaited us on the eve of 31 December; hotel management made sure to remind guests by placing flyers in the rooms and distributing them during meal times at every outlet. The beauty salon at the resort was also busy that day — you had to make early reservations to ensure your hair is perfectly styled that evening.

Celebrations began with an hour-long cocktail reception offering a selection of canapé and drinks, followed by a two-hour gala dinner at the restaurant. Several buffets were positioned around the restaurant, serving specialised soups, antipasti, entrees and desserts. After we all enjoyed the delectable offerings we went to the Arena to participate in the programme organised by the animation team.

First, there was baby disco followed by a surprise lottery. Then a belly dancer entertained guests with an oriental dance show, followed by a performance by whirling dervishes or tanoura dancers who encouraged the audience to join in.

Then it was the turn of guests to take centre stage, jigging and jiving to music from the 1980s that kept everyone on the dance floor. Shortly before the countdown, the lights were turned off and the chefs walked onto the Arena carrying a huge cake decorated with 2013 and large candles. The crowd surrounded the cake and the countdown to bid farewell to 2012 began.

After welcoming 2013 with family and friends, we went to the East wing’s lobby to catch our breath. There we enjoyed a live duet, Tony and Bob, for about one hour, while at the Sunset Bar in the West wing Sabri was crooning his usual oldies that we had enjoyed every day after dinner.

The front office clerk said the hotel occupation was at 75 per cent, mostly British, German and Italian. The other side included Irish, Swedish, Swiss and French guests. Apparently, we were the only Egyptian guests at the hotel for the holidays.

“We’ve been to this resort a couple of times before,” said one British tourist, who was reluctant to talk to me on the record. “We spent a lovely New Year’s Eve last night. The country is lovely.” Her husband had also visited the Pyramids, but she added, “Cairo in general is too commercial; street vendors haggle you all the time.”

Mick Dale, 64, and Cynthia Green, 67, were more willing to talk: “We came here four weeks ago and still have one week to go,” said Green. Dale added: “We had a great evening yesterday; dining, dancing and drinking. Our room has a great view and the weather is wonderful. The hotel staff is very friendly, as are the Egyptian people in general. Even at the airport, we had all the help we asked for.”

He added that they brushed aside advice not to travel to Egypt for security reasons. “I have health problems, so it’s not easy for me to move freely and prefer to come to a resort directly from the UK and spend the whole time here,” noted Green. This is the second visit for couple to Hurghada; they spent Christmas and New Year 2011 at the same resort and came back because the place and people were very friendly.

Standing on the balcony of our room just before sunset every day, I enjoyed the view of the Red Sea’s crystal clear water and beautiful silhouettes of palm trees. In the background proudly stood the chain of Red Sea mountains. While enjoying the beautiful scenery, I would call my friend Lala to join me in sharing the beauty of our country with a cup of Armenian coffee and a cigarette, tete-à-tete.

 

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