A billionaire lived in the desert, and like many billionaires he was bored, constantly thinking how to spend his money. Sure enough, he traveled a lot and had seen many beautiful places in the world, but once upon a time, he came to Venice, Italy, and fell in love with this amazing and unusual city. (Hell, who wouldn’t?) Then, he decided to build a second Venice in his motherland, Egypt, and call it El Gouna, the Star.
The shore of the Egyptian Red Sea has no natural lagoons. That’s why Samih Sawiris, our creative billionaire, decided “to carve” them right into the desert coast not far from the city of Hurghada. Definitely, it was not only a dream, but also a business project, and he chose a coast with a rich coral reef. He dug canals in the desert and created artificial islands, peninsulas, and lagoons where the city of El Gouna was built. All the channels were dug by hand (not by Mr. Sawiris, of course).
The chief architect of the new city was Samih Sawiris himself—he had an engineering diploma in engineering management from the Technical University of Berlin—but some of the hotels were designed by American architect Michael Graves who took part in the construction of the Disneylands in the USA, among others. Together they came up with the city, Nubian in style, but European by organization. Samih Sawiris wanted to build a tiny sample of a style of life that was new for the Egyptians, and he did it. The motto of the new city was “Life as it should be.” It’s hard to disagree with that. Visit El Gouna to assure themselves.
Have they managed to create a second Venice, Venice in the sands? Of course not. El Gouna has only one thing in common with Venice—canals. Venice is not reproducible. You can only visit it, feel it, be inspired by it, and try to create something as original as it is—but not a second Venice. Although, who knows what would happen if Samih Sawiris had invited an Italian architect, and not the American one?
Some hotel chains like Sheraton, Mövenpick, Club Med, Steigenberger, etc., immediately jumped at the opportunity to build their resorts here. Today, El Gouna hosts 18 hotels:
- for any budget, from the cheap Captain’s Inn for backpackers to the 6-star luxury hotel, which is being constructed now;
- for any holiday style, with children, or adults only;
- for any activity, from SPA to kiting.
Oh yes, El Gouna has one more thing in common with Italian Venice: there are no traffic lights, no traffic jams, and almost no traffic. The city is big and has a church, a mosque, a school, a hospital, a museum, and even a local football team, but you can get to any corner of the city by tuk-tuk, small shuttle bus, or boat. Due to this fact, El Gouna is a very calm, comfortable, and cozy place both for living and vacation in. It has a prestigious title of the most environmentally friendly city of Egypt. They pursue a zero waste policy here.
It even has a small airport, so if you haven’t flown your private plane in a long time, you can fly out right to El Gouna from anywhere. Or if your snow-white yacht has long been bored near a pier somewhere in Rhodes or Malta, you can give her the pleasure of sailing to El Gouna which has the lovely Abu Tig Marina, one of three in the area. If you don’t like sailing, fly to Hurghada, take a taxi, and in 20 minutes you will find yourself in front of a chosen hotel.
Since our biggest interest in Egypt or the Maldives was the underwater life, we preferred the Sheraton Miramar Resort which is located right in front of the middle part of the coral reef. The reef line is far from the beach, that’s why you will find a 500-meter long pier on the neighboring island, Zeytuna.
I like to just hang in the water without moving and watch the life of underwater inhabitants. It is very important not to move. In this case, they don’t notice you and do what they would do without you. Once, on the Maldives, I even was a witness of the shark’s breakfast and made a video about it. Here, in El Gouna, I was not so lucky, but I still got enormous pleasure from my time in the water.
One day, I took a muffin with me to feed the fish.
Attention: Feeding of fish is forbidden! It is dangerous for your health and maybe for your life!
While some fishes were eating from my hands, another fish jumped out from the reef and ate one of the eaters. It was not a big predator, but it also could been a shark instead. Later, I met a not-so-small (size of a medium coffee table) brown fish which was very calm and friendly. It also got a couple of pieces of a muffin. Next day, I met and fed it again. The third time, it arrived with a girlfriend, a little smaller, but also brown, as if saying: Meet my sweetheart, this is my feeder. And I fed both.
Another amazing thing in El Gouna is gardens. We have to admire people who can grow gardens in such conditions as in Egypt. In Europe, you can throw a seed into the ground and water it sometimes. Very soon, you will get an actively growing plant. Quite another thing in the desert. In the middle of a hot summer, you must water flowers every 15 minutes to save them! Here, the job of gardener becomes a real challenge. In the hotels of El Gouna, flowers are everywhere, and not just common ones, but rare and beautiful ones. Now imagine how difficult it is to care for the whole golf course. By the way, the local golf course is the best in the Middle East.
Probably, it is a great feeling when you create something out of an empty place, something original, fabulous, and monumental like, for example, a whole city, and know that your creation will remain tens or perhaps hundreds of years after you. Visit El Gouna to look at life as it should be. You will like it.
More about Egypt:
Our first trip to Egypt: Sofitel Sharm El Sheikh