Monday, May 21, 2007

Hurghada - the Red Sea resort city

While Sharm or Sharm-el-Sheikh is a destination that every local / resident expat will wax eloquent about, I have heard fewer people talk about Hurghada. So when hubby mentioned that he was going to Hurghada for work, I decided to tag along. It was going to be a short two day trip, hubby warned me, but it seemed worthwhile to go check it out and to figure out whether I wanted to go re-visit it at leisure!

Since it was a two-day trip, we decided to fly. Egypt Air runs daily shuttles between Cairo and Hurghada at unearthly (at least for me!) hours. Flights depart from Cairo at 6.15 a.m. (morning) and at 11 p.m. (night) on a daily basis. On Mon, Tue & Fri, it operates an additional flight at 9.15 a.m. in the morning. Since we were traveling on a Saturday, we had to wake up at 3.30 a.m. to bathe, get ready and reach the airport by 5.00 a.m!

Return flights are at equally exotic hours - 7.50 a.m. in the morning (that's ok) and at 12.30 p.m. a night (ouch!). On Mon, Tue & Fri, there is an additional flight from Hurghada to Cairo at 11 a.m. Obviously, Hurghada is a popular destination!

The economy return will cost approx LE 360 while business class return would cost approx LE 850.

On landing at the Hurghada International Airport I discovered the reason for the timings of Egypt Air’s flights! The afternoon / evening hours during the day are reserved for international flights being operated by a number of European airlines (click on airport link to see airlines operating to Hurghada).

Hurghada till very recently was a fishing village with little or no tourism. However, in the last few years, the town has developed rapidly, fuelled by investment from American, European, Arab and Russian investors. As a result, today it’s a leading Red Sea destination, which attracts huge number of tourists from Europe, notably Russians, Germans & Czechs. A testimony to this, is the presence of German resorts, bakeries serving German breads usually not seen anywhere else, and, almost every restaurant having a menu in English, German & Russian. This would perhaps be the only place outside of Russia where you see so much stuff in Russian!

Hurghada is divided into three parts: Downtown (El Dahar) is the old part; Sekalla is the modern part, and El Korra Road is the most modern part. Many restaurants, bars and shops, small pubs and Internet cafes dot the landscape.

We stayed at a huge 5 star German resort called Steigenberger Al Dau which is supposed to be a really luxurious resort, which, despite its size (its huge – some 390 deluxe rooms, 15 Suites etc) during peak seasons runs at full capacity and can be difficult to get reservations at!

Things to remember: Once we checked in, I realised that local Egyptians and resident expats have to only pay 50% of the published / rack rates. I must remember that the next time I take some visitors with me.

The hotel is done up in cream and dark brown wood which adds to the impression of space. Every room has sea view and is furnished in Kenyan Swahili style and has its own balcony. The rooms are equipped with telephone, satellite TV, broadband Internet, safe, mini refrigerator, individually adjustable air-conditioning system, bathroom with bathtub and a separate shower.

The only jarring note (surprisingly) was the absence of a tea / coffee machine in the room and my favourite cloth slippers (the latter made my trips to the pool and beach extremely difficult!)The property has a 400m long private beach, 5000 sqm pool landscape with Lazy River and a 1000 sqm Spa and Wellness Centre.

The town itself is charming with a spectacular marina where hundreds of yachts are docked and azure blue of the sea invitingly beckons you. There are semi submarine operators that for LE 200 will take you out to the sea to view the fish and sea life underwater! Alternately, all the good resorts will rent out glass bottom boats for you to go out to the sea. And believe me the sea life that you see, it’s worth every penny you've paid.

There are tours where the boat takes you out to the sea to watch the sunset. To watch the orange sun set fire to the water with its golden hues before it softly disappears into the water leaving a slowly darkening sky with the gentle sound of water lapping - its breathtaking!

Post sunset, Hurghada turns into the ultimate party city and parties late into the night! Calypso, Papa’s Beach 7 Hard rock CafĂ© are some of happening nightclubs. Calypso is especially interesting, as its shaped like the hull of a ship! If you are staying at a resort, almost all resorts have their own evening entertainment programs. If you don't want to do any of these, just sit in any of the many cafes that dot the main street (I loved Da Cappa), and, sip some great coffee...

Before we knew, the weekend was over, and, it was time to head back. More in a separate post on some really nice places that we went to in Hurghada, but for now, we packed our bags, very sure that we'd be back very soon. Inshaallah!

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