It is a golfer’s paradise, a spa enthusiast’s dream and a surprising delight for foodies who have high expectations when dining.
And oh yes, the beach experience isn’t too shabby either.
Gouna, approximately 450 kilometers south of Cairo, is situated on the Red Sea en route to Hurghada, an easy four-hour drive from the capital or a 30-minute flight away. The bus trip takes too long plus security checkpoints along the road and multiple stops can become a slight nightmare – so avoid the bus option to start your holiday off on the right track.
Gouna has high standards, no seedy hotels in sight. Built around a series of salt water lagoons, hotels are dotted around the town and interspersed with private homes and villas.
The Sheraton Hotel and the Movenpick resort offer great five-star service, as do other hotels intended for tighter budgets. Gouna provides a little something for just about everyone.
There are a number of three-star boutique hotels and inns around the beachside town, which just turned 20 last year. Great options for holidaymakers on a tight budget are The Turtle’s Inn and Captain’s Inn. Centrally located on the Abu Tig Marina, the inns are hotels with a small number of rooms which are clean and provide many amenities.
One simply needs to take a little rickshaw of a cab to any of the beaches open for general use around Gouna. The Captain’s Inn houses a mean steak house called the Captain’s Steak House, with great outdoor seating on the marina’s edge.
Gouna has experienced great growth and exposure, rapidly growing over the years to include not just hotels but apartments and villas that Egyptians and foreigners quickly snapped up. It is not simply a summer resort, rather it has become a veritable town with schools, a hospital, stores, and a public library that is a sister library to the Bibliotecha Alexandrina.
Gouna started off as a small passion project with just a few houses on a private beach, and gradually developed into what it is today. There’s something more realistic about Gouna than the average beach resort, and today it is more of a lifestyle that many young Egyptians opt for, moving there in search of work opportunities.
So what can one do in Gouna?
The town’s architecture is intriguing with houses, hotels and buildings modeled closely after Nubian homes, and any adaptations made were simply built upon the architectural features of this style. High domes and narrow slits in the buildings ensure that a cool temperature despite all that Gouna sunshine.
Golfing during the morning is a major Gouna activity, particularly at the Steigenberger Golf Resort, and best enjoyed during the winter months with temperatures near perfection. With an 18-hole green designed to be both challenging and fun for golfers, take advantage of the setting to practice your strokes and friendly coaches are on hand to help with your golf swing. This is the only golf course in Gouna that allows you to launch golf balls over the lagoon and into the water.
But the Steigenberger also takes service and hospitality quite seriously. There are pools, a great beach to laze on like a gecko in the sun and a spa to help relieve any winter blues or stresses. The spa at the Steigenberger is one of two Angsana spas in Gouna, the other branch is at the Movenpick hotel.
My time at the Steigenberger Angsana was slightly expensive, but definitely worth it. On offer are specialized treatments for him and her, body scrubs, facials and what they call “essential pampering : a variety of treatments solely for the hands and feet.
I had a 60-minute Javanese massage followed by a 30-minute head massage, intended to release tension from the shoulder, lower back, neck and spine area. A little eucalyptus oil and a dimly-lit room, I was experiencing absolute bliss as my Balinese therapist worked so patiently on my stiff neck and shoulders.
On the water
But if it’s extreme water sports you’re after, well you can try several options. The Orange Concept is a one-stop-shop that provides a variety including water skiing, parasailing, jet skiing, as well as wakeboarding and even kite surfing lessons.
Encouraged to try wake boarding, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself able to pick up a few basics with the help of my instructor. A few tries and up I went, both legs strapped onto a board being pulled by a motor boat as I cut through some bumpy waves.
Kite surfing is all the rage in Gouna and is gaining popularity due to the areas windy beaches. Easily spotted from any beach, tens of brightly colored lunar shaped kites can be found on windy days being worked by people who have their feet attached to a board, propelling themselves into jumps and hard turns with much skill.
Long strips of beach and open water coupled with incredible winds are making beaches such as Buzzah Beaches ideal for the sport. It’s also a great place to people watch and catch a meal at the Buzzah Bear Bar, a Swiss restaurant that offers great lunch time options for surfers.
Come nightfall, head to Abu Tig Marina, where some very impressive private yachts are parked – you’ll get the feeling that you’re walking along in glitzy Monaco. Apparently, some yachts are too big to be docked there so a third marina is being built in Gouna to accommodate them.
Take a stroll, marvel at the yachts and choose a spot for dinner. Saigon Blu is a Vietnamese restaurant operated and run by a Vietnamese woman named Le Yen who calls Gouna home. Great spicy soups and stir fries are to be found, and most impressive is that the Vietnamese vegetables used are home grown in her garden.
Next door is a Moroccan restaurant which serves an excellent pastiche and couscous dish with lamb and plums, but best of all is Pier 88, an intimate restaurant and bar which seats no more than 20 located on a floating pier.
Pier 88 strives for a cozy yet hip atmosphere. It’s best to go and book early because everyone knows this is where you can find some of the best food in town, cooked in the open kitchen behind the bar. Dress code is casually painfully hip so beware, few places in Gouna demand such a dress code.
For dessert, which requires no justification or set time really, head over to Seventh Star, also in Abu Tig Marina. The café serves great sandwiches and salads for lunch and has an extensive menu of fondues for winter nights and breakfast items; but the real kicker is its selection of chocolate desserts and pastries. Cookies and biscuits can also be bought for midday nibbling – an absolute must visit when in Gouna.
If you have some free time after all the sea and sun, take a cab across the road from Gouna’s main entrance to visit the recycling facility. A modest facility, it recycles all of the town’s plastic and paper waste, a very impressive initiative considering that Gouna recycles 97 percent of its waste. There is also a fish farm next door and you can spot some interesting local birds around the fish ponds gracefully swooping around the reeds.
It’s a great place to take kids, they’ll enjoy the guinea pigs housed there along with other animals that are being kept for the amusement and education of Gouna’s school kids.
A weekend gives ample time to enjoy the resort, but with so much to do and see in Gouna, a week’s holiday is wholly justified.
If you go
Turtle’s Inn, Captain’s Inn (Abu Tig Marina 3*): http://www.elgouna.com/Hotels~SubSectionID~69~Lang~en.html
Water sports: www.theorangeconcept.com
Pier 88: Located in Abu Tig Marina.
Saigon Blu: Vietnamese restaurant located in Abu Tig Marina entrance.
Captain’s Inn Restaurant: American-style steak house on Abu Tig marina’s promenade.
The Club House: Located downtown.
Buzzha Beach – Buzzha Beach Swiss Restaurant: Located on Northern Mangroovy Beach.
Seventh Star Restaurant and Café: Abu Tig Marina.
For more, visit www.elgouna.com