Why book The Chedi El Gouna?
When it comes to the Red Sea, we’ve all heard of Sharm el Sheikh and Hurghada, but beachy El Gouna – 22km from Hurghada – is the getaway of choice for well-to-do staycationers and second-homers. There are no shortage of big-name, big-scale properties, such as Movenpick and Steigenberger here, but boutique digs have previously been in short supply, save for 11-room La Maison Bleue – part French pizazz, part White Lotus eccentricity – and cool adults-only digs Casa Cook.
Stepping nicely into the five-star-shaped gap in the market, placing rest and relaxation front and centre is The Chedi El Gouna. The first property in Egypt listed in the Leading Hotels of the World portfolio, it has a spectacular beachside setting, fringing a private bay with 250m-long white-gold sands, 82 calming rooms and a raft of clever Asian therapies at its spa, which is quickly cementing itself as the go-to seaside recharge spot in El Gouna.
Set the scene
Neat-as-a-pin foliage-lined streets tended to by gardeners in pristine teal uniforms, and could-be-from-a-film-set Upper Nubian-style villas in dandelion yellow and salmon pink shades, gated beach resort El Gouna – purpose-built as a self-sustaining ecosystem with green practises front of mind thirty years ago – is Egypt as its most coiffured. Here, cottonwool soft beaches rub up against man-made islands, lagoons and waterways. Zone in on quiet, residential The Hill, and you’ll find The Chedi, a cluster of terracotta buildings connected by flower-fringed pathways and curved archways cascading towards three pools (main, dipping and lifeguard-attended kids’ splash) and restaurants, the beach and intense turquoise waters beyond. Oud scents the air, the famed El Gouna breeze (stable winds and flat lagoons make it a top-class kitesurfing destination) ruffles gauzy curtains on poolside cabanas, trailing bougainvillaea, and sets fluffy grasses whisper.
Part of Singapore-based GHM, founded by Adrian Zecha of Aman fame, The Chedi brand debuted in Phuket in the mid-nineties, taking its name – and tranquil, exacting approach to luxury – from the Thai word for a Buddhist stupa, and place of meditation. Although the Phuket property has since changed hands, the brand has branched out with five properties across the UAE and Europe. El Gouna marks its sixth opening and the third partnership between GHM and Swiss-based Orascom Hotels Management, who collaborate on the wildly successful Alpine wellness retreat The Chedi, Andermatt, and swish Luštica Bay in Montenegro.
While The Chedi El Gouna’s taken over the former Bellevue Beach Hotel and retained its architectural structures, two years have been spent giving the service style and interiors a serious glow-up. Decor, courtesy of Italian-born Elisabetta Freda, channels minimal-luxe; there are cream bas-relief florals and throne-like chairs inlaid with mother of pearl in the lobby and outdoor nooks with woodsy peacock chairs set underneath contemporary dome lighting poolside.
Contemporary, with a creamy, cool-toned palette inspired by the Egyptian desert, expect a fusion of Asian minimalism and Egyptian flair, walls hung with black and white photographs of days-gone-by Cairo, and chess sets with carved pieces depicting Tutankhamen and cat goddess Bastet. Natural-toned furnishings, monstera plants and marble-finished bathrooms stocked with Elemental Herbology toiletries add wholesome earthiness. Garden and sea categories dish up leafy palm and vivid blue-green scenes respectively, and the third-floor suites’ terraces offer the best vantage point to take in the sunset.
Food and drink
A two-storey building wrapped in Japanese-style wooden latticework in a prime poolside position offers two strong dining options. Ground floor, The Restaurant has an arty indoor space – shelves lined with ceramics, vases filled with spiral bamboo canes and lit by traditional famous lanterns – and a sun-drenched terrace. A catch-all ‘international’ menu runs the gamut – featuring open-faced steak sandwiches through to mushroom truffle pasta, but those who don’t order the Arabic mezze are doing their tastebuds a disservice. The hummus, muhammara and smoky moutabal platters with freshly-baked pitta, beetroot quinoa tabbouleh, and fattet batinjan – fried aubergine and bread slathered in parsley yoghurt and pomegranate molasses – accompanied by a sweet fresh lemon juice is about as good as it gets. Om ali – Egypt’s rich, milky and nutty take on bread and butter pudding – here is next level, served with baklava-ribboned ice cream. Upstairs, rooftop Nihon is a whisker smarter, without being stuffy, and turns out impeccable sushi (veggies and cream cheese, tuna and avo togarashi maki rolls) and pan-Asian classics; plates of tempura with sticky ponzu sauce, and bowls of tom yum soup or Thai green curry. For a mellow vibe looking over the sands, The Beach House offers rum cocktails and Mediterranean-inspired dishes, whilst Caribbean tunes spin, while the petite Lobby Bar, next to the reception, has a humidor stocked with 13 cigar types and a smoking licence (the rest of the property is non-smoking).
Rebalance and rejuvenation are the name of the game. Corridors peppered with greenery and water features lead to two hammams and six soothing treatment rooms (two for couples). Treatments rooted in Asian wellness wisdom use Saskia Spa’s essential oil-rich products or rising star eco-friendly range Norshek, a female-led and born-in-El Gouna brand. Signature massages bring together Balinese, Shiatsu and Thai techniques in one helluva relaxing combination, alongside zingy lime and basil body polishes, clogged-pore-busting bacials (back facials), Filipino 17-step facials and the ‘booty bloom and blossom,’ designed to tackle troublesome bum blemishes. Thirty-minute add-ons – including a Chinese head massage, Khmer abdominal massage or reflexology – can be bolted on to 60-minute treatments, making a pleasing pic’n’mix experience possible.
Delightfully calm as The Hill’s largely residential, but nothing in compact El Gouna is far away. Chauffeured taxis, or rickshaws – increasingly powered by electricity – zip guests to downtown’s boutiques and restaurants in under five minutes, while Abu Tig Marina, for boat trips and boho concept store-meets-party spot Villa Coconut, is ten minutes away.
Natural and attentive, there’s a 2:1 staff-to-guest ratio, meaning help is never far away if required, but the welcoming, well-trained team also have read when guests are in ‘do-not-disturb’ mode down to a fine art.
Sustainability and accessibility
Given that the El Gouna development was conceived as a self-sustaining ecosystem, and was the first African recipient of the UN-sponsored Green Town award for its environmental efforts, it’s a place where sustainability sits front of mind, with a strong reduce, reuse, recycle ethos throughout – a rarity in Egypt. In line with this, The Chedi’s bedrooms have smart sensors in bedrooms which recognise if the occupant’s left and switch off the aircon and lights accordingly; more than 85 per cent of refuse is recycled, and about fifty per cent of restaurant ingredients are sourced from local farmers. While plastic bottles are still available in the restaurant and in rooms, the property hopes to go fully plastic-free in the future and champions refillable glass carafes of Brita-filtered water in its restaurants – a positive step in a developing country, where tackling plastic usage remains a complex issue.
There’s one accessible Superior Sea Room, which is close to reception, and is fully wheelchair-accessible, kitted out with grab rails, a shower seat, and ramp access into the garden. The Restaurant and The Beach House both have accessible bathrooms.
More than a fly-and-flop destination, there’s a 24/7 gym and twice-weekly bookable yoga sessions which take place next to the spa, and SUP boards and kayaks available on the beach. Yacht jaunts, off-road desert safaris, kitesurfing, snorkelling and scuba diving trips (there are nine PADI-certified diving centres in El Gouna) with the best local outfits can be arranged by the concierge, plus there are two PGA Championship Golf Courses close by. While rates might rise when word gets out, rooms here, compared to other Chedi properties, are currently a relative steal, with rooms from £159 a night, on a B&B basis.
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