Blending five-star opulence with personable hospitality, The Chedi is the latest luxury hotel to open in El Gouna, Egypt’s exclusive Red Sea resort.
It felt utterly indulgent, and a little bit naughty, to slip away to a dream escape right in the middle of house buying stress but, still reeling from the gut-punch of the mini budget, and the seemingly endless back and forth with solicitors, it was nothing short of medicine. While our property wasn’t quite ready to move into, nor was The Chedi, and so we were especially lucky to be a part of the dry run, the dress rehearsal, the friends and family preview… we’d practically have this high-end hideaway to ourselves – bliss.
Just four-and-a-half hours from London, and a 30-minute drive from Hurghada airport, El Gouna, for all its exclusivity, is surprisingly accessible. Quickly becoming one of the world’s most desired travel destinations, the oceanfront resort town is made up of 20 small islands surrounded by a network of glistening canals and lagoons; it boasts two tour-quality golf courses, over 100 shops and restaurants, as well as 18 luxury hotels, ours of course being the latest addition. Conceived just 33 years ago by Egyptian entrepreneur Samih Sawiris, this self-sufficient, vibrant, and multicultural hamlet is all about sustainable luxury, and it is almost inconceivable to think that it was once unforgiving desert.
An evening check-in allows us to see The Chedi’s beauty at dusk. Grand and calming in equal measure, we take in the Asian-inspired architecture over a refreshing glass of Sharbat-e-Albaloo, and both are deliciously exotic. There’s time to freshen up before dinner and explore our room, which is chic and modern, neutral in colour and rich in texture. Here, high-tech luxuries such as the Sjostrand espresso machine are met with charmingly artisanal elements like the seagrass-fronted cabinetry, and it proves a heady mix. An enormous comfy bed – showcasing the finest Egyptian cotton – is, of course, the centrepiece of this sanctuary and it is perfectly positioned behind the huge sliding doors of the balcony for us to enjoy the vista from this beachfront bedroom. But the views can wait until morning, our al fresco table is ready.
A common theme at The Chedi is to indulge unapologetically, whether you’re dining at the main restaurant, simply called The Restaurant, the Lobby Bar, the Beach House or the elegant rooftop Japanese eatery, Nihon. Yet, there’s never the sense that you’ve overindulged, thanks to the hotel’s thoughtfully devised menus of fresh produce and healthy but no less delectable choices. Breakfast, for example, includes an array of mouth-watering à la carte dishes, and our go-to becomes the Energy Protein: soft poached eggs, crushed avocado, toasted seeds and nuts with a mix of fresh coriander, rucola and spinach on crusty multi-grain bread – the perfect plate to set you up for the day.
We head to the nearby Abu Tig marina for a lagoon tour, which is the only way to see El Gouna in all its azure glory. The water here is impossibly blue as it sparkles in the sunlight and gently laps around the impressive moored yachts that dwarf our little boat. This may be a man-made community but the Red Sea water is absolutely real, as is the sunshine beating down on our faces, and we enjoy a moment of pure tranquillity. We disembark and make our way over to the architecturally striking Steigenberger Golf Tower with its 360 degree viewing platform. From here you can see it all: the desert, the sea, the coral reefs and, of course, the perfectly manicured golf course below. Breath-taking is an understatement.
Back at the hotel, there’s time to fully relax and unwind with a signature Chedi massage at the serene spa. The 90-minute treatment takes in Balinese, Shiatsu and Thai massage techniques, and we can practically feel the stress of the last few months evaporating from our pores. The hotel’s tag line invites us to “lean into the hush”, and it feels entirely apt here, and equally so as we spend long lazy afternoons soaking up the sun poolside or on the adjoining sandy beach. There’s more nautical action to be had as we take a private boat trip out to a quiet spot amongst the reefs with shoals of tiny silvery fish zig-zagging by, making it ideal for snorkelling. Any reservations regarding Great Whites are quickly quashed as we realise how clear, still and shallow the water is. Nevertheless, we press our captain for local intel: “Yes, there are sharks, but not like that. Just don’t hang a raw steak out of the boat,” he laughs.
In such a luxurious setting with everything you could possibly want at your fingertips, it is easy to forget your geography. For a complete change of scenery – and pace – we set out on a sunset desert hike with the passionate and knowledgeable El Gouna Mountain Goats. Forget plodding camel rides, this tour sees us hurtling through the Saharan landscape on the rooftop of a dusty jeep, and as we scream and laugh and cling on for dear life, we take in our surroundings, awe-struck. It is nothing short of biblical. We’ve been on “hikes” before but this one lives up to its name, as tour guide and Mountain Goats founder, Sytze Boomsma takes us through the rugged terrain looking for signs of wildlife from gerbils to snakes, he has us climbing seemingly impossible rockfaces to reach the perfect spot for a life-affirming sunset, and as the golden sphere disappears into the horizon, we make our way back to the jeep for a well-earned meal of traditional Bedouin foodstuffs and coffee around the campfire. Sat there under the stars, it makes for a fitting end to an unforgettable experience, and you don’t have to be religious to feel the desert’s spiritual power.
Tired, but on a wellbeing high, we arrive back at the bedroom to find another origami towel animal crafted by the hands of Amin, who has kept our room immaculate and our evening turn-downs brilliantly creative – we’ve had swans, puppies, heart-shaped sculptures and floral displays… and it illustrates exactly what we’ve come to expect from The Chedi: the finest attention to detail with a welcoming personal touch. We spend our final evening in El Gouna feasting at a steak house on the marina and nipping in and out of the local shops looking for treasures to bring home. The following morning there’s enough time for a leisurely coffee on our private balcony, drinking in the sights of this brand new hotel; the lofty palm trees, the sandy beach with rows of empty sun loungers waiting to be filled by The Chedi’s first lucky guests. But for us, there’s a flight to catch – and new beginnings at home, too.
Rates at The Chedi El Gouna start from £173 per night. For more information, see chedielgouna.com