Not everything in Egypt is ancient. In fact, one of the country's most popular destinations is only about 20 years old. El Gouna, situated on interconnected islands on the coast of the Red Sea, is a resort area boasting exclusive hotels, sandy beaches and year-round sunshine.
Although a popular retirement area for Europeans, the resort has caught on with vacationers looking for a sunny retreat, so much so that local hotels boasted an occupancy rate of nearly 85% in 2007, according to local tourism authorities.
In all, the resort area recorded more than 1.5 million guest nights last year, representing a jump of about 17% over 2006.
All-new El Gouna
The figures are more remarkable when you consider that the entire resort was nothing but desert less than a generation ago. The brainchild of Samih Sawiris, chairman of Orascom Hotels & Development, El Gouna sprang up along six miles of pristine beach by the Eastern Desert Mountains.
More than a dozen hotels followed, along with vacation homes, lush landscaping, restaurants and jetties for pleasure boats.
Among its many draws are its seaside location, Mediterranean look, expansive facilities and its accessibility from Hurghada Airport about 20 miles away.
Water sports of all kinds are available, including glass-bottom-boat tours, catamaran rides and canoeing.
There is an 18-hole El Gouna Golf Course designed by Gene Bates and Fred Couples as well as a robust nightlife with restaurants, a casino, discos and a selection of waterfront bars.
Although El Gouna is not near any of the country's A-list antiquities, day trips are available on yachts or tour boats, with optional snorkeling and diving excursions.
Windsurfing is big in El Gouna, thanks to the shallow waters at the beach. Chartered fishing and sailing excursions also are widely available throughout the resort.
Landlubbers can explore the desert region in four-wheel-drive vehicles on tours that can include afternoon tea with local Bedouins or a camel ride. Evening outings into the mountains for dinner and stargazing also are popular activities.
Horseback riding, bicycling and tennis are options for vacationers who prefer more conventional sports. Families traveling with children can take advantage of minigolf, pony rides, go-karting and even a paintball facility. Small fries can also check out the El Gouna Aquarium and Museum and the fish and fowl farm to learn about local wildlife.
Where to stay
Local hotels include the 338-room Sheraton Miramar Resort El Gouna, constructed on nine tiny islands along a private beach. The property's landscaping features bridges and walking paths that connect the beach to the pool and guest rooms. Rooms feature balconies, plasma TVs with satellite and air conditioning.
Activities include windsurfing; golf and diving lessons; outdoor, heated swimming pools; and a full-service fitness center.
Eateries include the Miramar restaurant for upscale dining, La Piscina Italian restaurant and the Samir II Boat Bar. Nightly rates start at about $135.
The 554-room Movenpick El Gouna features air conditioning, balconies, high-speed Internet and a private beach location.
A golf package, available through 2008, features seven nights' accommodations, five rounds of golf at El Gouna Golf Course, shuttle transportation to and from the course, fruit basket on arrival and airport transfers. The package is priced from $1,515 per room for seven nights.
Contact www.starwoodhotels.com or www.moevenpick-hotels.com.
For additional information about travel to Egypt, check out www.egyptravel.net.
To contact reporter Felicity Long, send e-mail to [email protected].