an expedition into egyptian hospitality – part 3: the red sea

Early the next morning I left Cairo, whizzing through surreal empty streets towards the airport, the sun rising at the same time. Again, this is it, the magic hour where Cairo wakes up, the roads still empty, nobody honking horns, the time just before 22 million people get ready for yet another day.

My expedition left Cairo for the coast of the Red Sea as I boarded a 45-minute flight to Hurghada, the country’s mass tourist spot with its array of cheap hotels lined up along pristine coral beaches. Skip this part though, do not even pay attention to what’s outside your windows while driving South: 40 minutes from Hurghada, Soma Bay presents itself as a fairly new, upscale and exclusive destination away from the masses. At the forefront of the development: Kempinski Hotel Soma Bay.

The Kempinski’s Land Rover smoothly rolls through the curvy desert road before reaching the resort’s driveway and entrance. Good thing I had a driver, as the roads are not marked at all. No way I would have found it myself and so it’s a great spot if you don’t want to be found. Located at the tip of the bay, the impressive hotel resembles a fortified village, u-shaped around a massive lagoon pool. Numerous water features complement the pool, at the end of which a 400-meter beach front with crystal clear waters and an attractive reef for snorkeling add to the guests’ enjoyment. As I enter the grand Lobby with it’s Moorish, Moroccan/Egyptian interior I cannot help but notice how many regional materials like alabaster, sand stone and wood were used, making it a classy and elegant, chateau-like setting.

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Friendly smiles escort me to the Reception, where a refreshing towel and hibiscus juice welcomed me. After checking in, Kempinski’s signature ‘Ladies in Red’ took over, walking me to my room with a brief overview of the resort. My room was spacious and elegant, with views overlooking “every drop of water the resort has”. Sliced local fruit, dipped in grated coconut provided a refreshing welcome as I stepped out onto the terrace approving the view over the resort, lagoon pool and beach.

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Later that afternoon, after a long walk down the beach (if you don’t feel like walking there are camels available!) I returned to my terrace to watch the sun set over the distant mountains and the lagoon pool change from daytime mode into a blue-lit night-light. But again it’s over breakfast the next morning, which I decided to take on the balcony, where I enjoyed the view the most.

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This is a leisure resort par excellence, so it will be difficult to compare with the city hotels I saw earlier, where guests stay an average of around two nights. As Egyptian General Manager Hany Abdelmoneim explains, his guests typically stay at least a week but often he doesn’t even get to see them because they completely immerse themselves in the hotel’s leisure facilities and only seem to re-surface when checking out, tanned and happy. Managed by German hospitality pioneers Kempinski (founded in 1897), the hotel opened its doors to guests in February this year. Hotels so young usually have difficulties providing consistent service but here things work surprisingly smoothly. Is it the German perfectionism? I tried to find out over lunch with Hany and his Marketing team. As we walked down to the beach, I noticed a table set in the middle of the sea! It’s ‘our smallest restaurant’, Hany explains, consisting of just one table and open on request only. Depending on the tides you find yourself sitting ankle to knee deep in the water. Hany tells me how his entire staff strives to create lasting memories for their guests, combining Egyptian initiatives with German diligence: whether it’s lunches in the water or romantic beachside dinners, whatever it may be. German Executive Chef Stefan, while presenting today’s catch of the day, an impressive 4-foot, 12-pound Barracuda, explains that this lunch, while he merely oversees it, is created by a combination of all his local chefs, involving every single of the hotel’s kitchens.

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Many of the staff here even speak German as classes are offered by the hotel, an opportunity few do not take advantage of. The German spirit is strong here and you feel the staff’s pride working for the hotel, striving to provide the best possible experiences. Once again I ask myself: what makes this place unique? Is the atmosphere courtesy of the German or the Egyptian mentality?

… to be continued.

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