WHERE can you find a luxury villa facing mile upon mile of shining sand and crystal clear turquoise water with guaranteed sunshine and a 5 hour flight time from the UK for much less than £1million? The answer is Egypt’s Red Sea Riviera. Near Hurghada the shores of what was once almost boundless desert are now dotted with resorts, three of which stand out among the haphazard development initiated some 25 years ago by the Egyptian government. They are Sal Hasheesh, El Gouna and Soma Bay, both of the latter managed by Orascom Resorts.
The magic formula goes something like this: picture a fairytale Arabian Nights landscape dotted with huge swathes of tropical plantings, blue lagoons and PGA golf courses,marinas, a huge choice of villas, apartments, hotels, sports facilities, opulent spas, chic cafes, shops and restaurants. Every sense is stimulated and every fantasy holiday desire is catered for and catered beyond expectations by armies of immaculate staff. Security is highly visible and stringently enforced.
North of Hurghada El Gouna, meaning The Lagoon, was visioned by Egyptian oil billionaire Samir Sawiris, CEO of Orascom and master planned by the renowned Italian architect Alfredo Freda. The resort offers a curious synthesis of ancient and modern architectural styles ranging from Moorish to bizarrely Italianate or coolly contemporary. When I first visited in 2005, the predominant style of house was Nubian or Moorish, with vast domes and arched doorways.
With six miles of Red Sea frontage, its 20 manmade islands are linked by canals which have led to it being dubbed “Egypt’s Venice.” El Gouna is now a thriving international community with schools, a hospital with a world class decompression unit and private airport in addition to all the elements mentioned above.
Sal Hasheesh, 40 kms to the south west of El Gouna offers much the same mix of Mediterranean, Arabesque and contemporary homes for sale with villas available from $200,000 to $600,000. The Apartments in the Azzura Project, another phase to which Alfredo Freda’s name is attached, offers apartments from $ 115,370 while at the Red Coral entry prices tumble to $75,000.
A little further south down the coastline we find Soma Bay, the new kid on the coastal block. which has absolutely set itself up as an upmarket, kitsch-free destination where, even though it’s Egypt, your credit card could take a hefty bashing. It now stages an annual concert, and two years ago I found myself watching the Dire Straits Experience in the superb marina area. It was like no other gig I have ever attended with waiters bearing trays of canapes among the largely Egyptian crowd who stoodpolitely throughout the show, hardly moving, hardly knowing a song, hardly drinking.
These well heeled Egyptians underpin the market for holiday homes at Soma Bay but you will find plenty of other nationalities, with clients who range through corporate executives, seniors on a golf holiday or semi-retired couples, to sports fanatics with a thirst for healthy food, clean air and pristine waters: when it comes to scuba diving, Soma Bay excels the other resorts. Hotels range from a tip top Kempinski to the Breakers Diving Surfing Lodge and family friendly Robinson Club all with access to a Gary Player golf academy and championship course.
Villas here are built to order and demand has shifted from the Nubian/Mediterranean to low glass and concrete rectangles with vast open terraces that answer to the fashion for lateral living and inside out spaces. Prices are substantially higher than at the other two resorts but in Europe, you’d be talking telephone numbers for a frontline pad of this nature.
Typical of the British buyers at El Gouna are John and Ann Broomfield, who wanted a home where they could escape the British winters for short stays and longer when reaching retirement.
“The idea of buying in Egypt took a bit of getting used to but its closeness to the UK (being only a single 5 hour flight away), the low cost of living and our experiences with Orascom, the resort owners and Prime Living Real Estate convinced us it was the right decision,” says John.
In 2004 the Broomfields bought an off plan 3 bedroom apartment with roof terrace and have since bought a second sold that, and are in the process of upsizing to a new villa.
“The international community at El Gouna has enabled us to make plenty of new friends and means that we did not end up living in an exclusively British Quarter. With tremendous diving, golf courses and weather, we are never at aloss for something to do.”
“Despite the misgivings of some of our friends and family about the safety of living in Egypt, I can honestly say we have never experienced any form of trouble or harassment here. Ann can walk home alone from a restaurant in the Downtown area with no unease. Indeed, on several recent occasions, we have felt much safer living in Egypt than in Europe.”