Heading out to Alexandria, I spent two days and one night to relax at the Four Seasons San Stefano, a hotel that continues to surprise me with each visit.
The Four Seasons Alexandria now stands on the same plot of land on which the legendary hotel casino San Stefano stood.
The highest in Alexandria’s skyline, the building is a gem of a hotel standing majestically on the city’s coastal shore.
Its interiors were designed by renowned decorator Pierre-Yves Rochon. Antique furniture was sourced from Alexandria’s famed antique market El- Attareen for a reported $1 million to decorate the hotel’s various suites, restaurants and hallways.
What is so unique about this hotel is not only its painstaking attention to aesthetic details, but its versatility as a hotel. The potted exotic orchids that I’ve noticed grow larger between each of my visits and the beautiful polished marble floors are, of course, a visual delight, but the treats one can experience in the hotel have no bounds.
Want quiet and subdued? Try a pharoanic treatment massage in the spa, a two storied wellness centre that redefines luxury. With an extensive list of therapies and treatments, the list is a long read of indulgent treatments one can easily justify as acts of personal health care.
Rooms are large and if fortunate to have a sea view, stretch out to the horizon and beyond. A royally large bed, soft duvet cover, plump pillows and huge LCD flat screen are a good argument for sleeping-in all weekend, but to do so would be a tragedy.
This doesn’t mean, however, leaving hotel grounds. As part of the San Stefano complex, a mall is adjacent to the lobby. A door leads to the mall like a gate to Dante’s inferno. Run back inside and stay inside, the goal after all is to escape crowds and chaos.
The hotel recently opened its underground tunnel, the sole passage that leads to accessing the beach. It is the same tunnel of the old San Stefano hotel and the single such tunnel in Alexandria leading from one building across the dangerous corniche to the beach opposite.
The current set up on the beach is merely temporary. There is an extensive plan for the area including beach front cabanas, private villa suites and a marina for boat owners to dock their boats.
Today, beach chairs, a beach side café and a fish restaurant aptly named Fish serve as the beach’s amenities. Relaxing on the lounge chairs, and staring out at the sea, it’s easy to slip into a state of tranquility, making the thought of Cairo a hazy recollection of a nightmare.
A horizon pool on the hotel’s fourth floor is the ideal place to spend the morning, between spa session and meals. Creative and fully comprehending the serious task of tanning, the hotel offers beds and large couches around the pool to lie upon and stretch before the sun.
Hotel staff are simply too thoughtful, coming round every now and then with free shots of cold juice and spritzers to spray one with water to cool off.
Breakfasting at Kala, the hotel’s Mediterranean restaurant is a beautiful start to the day but for lunch and dinner I recommend Fresca and Fish, respectively.
Fresca is undoubtedly Alexandria’s best casual lunch time restaurant, and one of Egypt’s best. Intended to serve light fare in a chic setting, food and setting battle together for one’s attention, ultimately compromising in a tie.
Bold colors and contemporary furniture compliment the notion of Italian inspired light dining. Large pillows, colored prints, slim cutlery and black place mats contribute to this singular vibe of subdued luxury.
As for dining, I would suggest the tomato seafood soup and fried calamari strips for starters, their ostrich with steamed vegetables as a main dish, and fresh raspberry sorbet for dessert. Not to mention, their complimentary fresca at the end of the meal ends everything on the sweetest of notes. And have no fears about the ostrich, it tastes very much like veal, and is much healthier.
The beach is the perfect spot for watching the sunset. Shisha is available, as well as the true Alexandrian delights at Fish. The restaurant is under a simple wooden frame, with authentically Egyptian chairs and tables emphasizing that notion of a classic Alexandrian beachside seafood eating experience.
Starting with molokhiya, that most traditional of dishes, it was prepared with seafood stock and is deliciously light as an appetizer. Ordering the fish of the day, I was greeted with fish so fresh, it was a delight from beginning to end. Olive paste, tahini sauce, and assorted salad mezzehs were continuously replenished throughout the meal, as was bread baked fresh behind the restaurant’s bar by a woman seated low next to a traditional clay oven.
San Stefano is one of the very few hotels within the Four Seasons chain that is multifunctional. With a large banquet hall for weddings, conference halls, nine various dining experiences, a spa and a beach, the hotel’s exterior is deceptive, hardly pointing out the enormity of it inside. It is a maze of hidden possibilities.