Finding Europe in Montazah Gardens, Alexandria

I found Europe in Montazah Gardens Alexandria. Well, almost. Over the years Montaza Gardens’ enormous 370-acre landscape has slowly deteriorated with a lack of maintenance in some areas. Even so, most of the gardens are still as beautiful as it must have been when the royal families of Egypt spent the summer vacation there, King Farouk being the last monarch of the country.

The palace that was built at the edge of Montazah Gardens, built in 1892, is now a hotel called El Salamlek Palace Hotel that sits on the beach and overlooks the Mediterranean. Sadly my stay at the hotel was before I had a digital camera, otherwise, I would have gladly shared the beautiful high ceilings, the large spacious rooms, and the history oozing out of each and every corner.

The Montazah Gardens is a popular spot for couples to visit, as is any park in Egypt. The construction of the forests and gardens surrounding the palace always takes me by surprise, as I am not used to seeing so much greenery in this part of the world, and there is always something new to discover whenever I visit this part of Egypt.

The forests and tall trees in Montazah Gardens that almost block out the sun is something I thought I would only admire in Europe, not Egypt. Most of the trees at the time of my visit were heavily pregnant with delicious looking dates. Just listening to the trees rustling in the warm breeze brought me peace of mind.

Cars are permitted to enter the Montazah Gardens and there are several sites to park. I loved cruising around in the car, taking my time while spotting the perfect shot. At the time of writing the admission fee to enter with a car are 7 EGP and 7 EGP per person.

If you’re interested in architecture, there are many structures to admire around Montazah Gardens. I loved admiring this building and its different styled windows, including the arched windows.

There are many different types of trees to admire in the Montazah Gardens too. But it’s not just a park. There are many coffee shops and a McDonald’s in the grounds to rest and recharge.

I loved spotting this building with its gorgeous roofed tiles. Imagine the view from the attic!

Look at the roots of this tree! It’s quite incredible. There is also a clock tower which is easily spotted whilst entering the Montazah Gardens. It is said that King Farouk had requested the building of this clock tower so that at the strike of each hour a soldier would appear.

I also loved the style of this building with its symmetrical oval-shaped towers.

But what I loved admiring most was the trees that lead into the forest. The trees are everywhere creating a peaceful haven in a country that is quite the opposite.

Walking past the palace hotel, there is the iconic brownish-red bridge that leads you an island where there are beaches, coffee shops, a mosque, and chalets. On the opposite side, there is another hotel called the Helnan Palestine Hotel, a beautiful luxury hotel that overlooks the quiet bay. I have had many delicious lunches on the terrace overlooking the beach at the Palestine Hotel and can’t recommend it enough.

There is a yacht park in this part of town, with the Salamlek Palace Hotel quietly looming on the other side of the water.

I loved how calculatedly the trees were planted, leaving a path to walk in between the trees.

What I love most when visiting the Montazah Gardens is the notion that I’m walking in the footsteps of history. It’s a great place to spend the day with many activities for the entire family, from quiet reflections, photo walks, swimming or tanning on the beaches, to picnicking, taking the children to the (albeit run-down) playground, or relaxing at one of the many restaurants and coffee shops.

What I really appreciate is the fact that Montazah Gardens it’s not just a place for the elite like long ago during the royal reign. Those on a tight budget can enjoy the gardens too, only having to pay the admission fee and not having to pay another pound whilst they walk around the gardens, have a picnic on the grass, and sit on the many benches.

Montazah Gardens
Al Montazah,
Alexandria

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El Gouna – The Great Escape

The gorgeous view above is in Egypt. In my proverbial backyard, I can discover and enjoy the most amazing places without having to travel oceans away. This is the beauty of Egypt. And I found all of this in the beautiful El Gouna.

Just an hour’s drive from Hurghada Airport, I was enthralled by the islands, lagoons and beach resorts that lie on the Red Sea and felt like I never wanted to leave.

For a first-time visitor, I was impressed by El Gouna’s (named so for its lagoons) pristine beaches and looming mountains. I especially admired the pretty Nubian-like architecture staying true to its Egyptian identity. Early in the morning when the lagoons were as still as the air, I would marvel at the reflections in the water.

There are several beach resorts managed by international hotels in El Gouna. I happened to like the Sheraton’s layout and design. Every room is in an apartment-like building overlooking the lagoons of El Gouna.

The view from our room made it a peaceful stay, and also a convenient walk to the beach (2 seconds!) Because we were a family group, the hotel situated us in front of ‘Relaxation Beach,’ far away from the beach with young families with children. This can also be requested when booking. Much appreciated.

Because of the lagoons, the water is calm and shallow, ideal for children and those who aren’t strong swimmers.

And because of the water, there are many water-sports activities. The hotel also offers a cruise around El Gouna in a small boat. Since El Gouna is small, this didn’t take long. I got to look at the different hotels around the lagoons and the residential homes.

Because El Gouna isn’t just a tourist destination. It’s also a self-contained town that foreigners and Egyptians call home, more than 20,000 of them to be precise. Private homes in El Gouna are the epitome of luxury and wealth.

But for visiting tourists, El Gouna’s water sports are a significant attraction; especially the popular kite-surfing!

But it doesn’t have to be all play. Many visitors spend their time relaxing on the beach and swimming in the calm lagoons.

Because of the lagoons, there are quite a few bridges to cross in El Gouna. On my photo-walks, I would find individuals jogging or power-walking. It all felt very health-conscious here. But not when it came to the open buffet in the mornings!

I loved how rustic the bridges looked all around the lagoons.

This bridge is situated on another resort next to the Sheraton. Bridges link some beach resorts together, and it was fun to explore other resorts to have an idea for the next time we wanted to visit. This resort offered wind-sailing, with the bridge leading up to a very expensive looking yacht.

I was even lucky to spot some wildlife in El Gouna, including this bird. It seemed very comfortable to walk beside humans while it picked at things to eat. The landscape also offered beautiful flowers and plants to admire.

In the distance, I could see neighboring private residential homes, with mountains looming in the background. I could not get enough of the views of the mountains.

My favorite time of day was just before sunrise. The water would be at its calmest, making it optimal for admiring reflections.

A visit to the marina is a must. In keeping with the traditional Nubian-like theme, all the buildings look the same, giving it a consistent, pleasant feel. There are restaurants and cafes to visit during the evenings and a few shops. A bus took us from our hotel to the marina, but tok-toks are also available. The prime attraction here is the yachts. There are hundreds of yachts and small boats parked here, and it was fun looking at the names of some of them.

The lagoons break out into the Red Sea, where serious water sporting activity is enjoyed.

Because of how large the Sheraton resort is, if the hotel room is located at a distance from the dining hall and reception, it could take at least ten minutes to walk to and from (additional minutes for getting lost on the first couple of nights too). But since it felt like a health-conscious vacation, and there was the gorgeous landscape to admire, we didn’t mind that much.

It was such a refreshing change to be on a quiet beach. Most of the beaches I have visited have always included loud music, loud conversations, and screaming children. Here I could read a good book on peace and fall asleep to the sounds of the water.

El Gouna is the perfect weekend getaway from the noise and pollution of Cairo and only a short flight from its international airport. At the end of my trip, I felt so proud of the fact that I didn’t have to travel to another country to have my breath taken away…beauty like this could be found on Egyptian soil.

Red Sea,
El Gouna,
Egypt.

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Beaches of the North Coast of Egypt

As soon as school’s out for the summer, Egyptian middle-class families perform a mass migration towards the Mediterranean north coast known as Sahel El Shamali or El Sahel. Located north-west of Alexandria and a 3-4 hour drive from Cairo, over the years resorts around the North Coast have increased dramatically, with many Egyptians dreaming of owning an apartment or beach house. But people visiting the North Coast of Egypt also have the option to rent out apartments and villas.

The North Coast isn’t as commercialized as resorts around the Red Sea, perhaps because not many tourists venture to holiday here. The highway leads to Al-Alamein, where two wars were fought during the 1940s. The cemeteries of European soldiers are open to visitors till today.

Strangely the highway is quite underdeveloped, although so many Egyptians visit every year from May-September. There was quite a sandstorm while we traveled through the narrow road, which was quite daunting because we could hardly see the car in front! I’d advise checking the weather forecast before traveling and not take advantage of the idea that the sun will always be shining.

But it’s the beaches that bring so many to its shores. The beaches of the North Coast are beautiful; the color of the sea is unlike the color of the sea in Alexandria. The natural white sandy beaches are clean and leveled to walk on.

What particularly struck out to me on this beach were the rocks. I love rocks, especially ones that are scattered around on a beach. They offer such a striking contrast from the light colors of the sand and sea.

Sometimes the sea is too dangerous to swim in, in parts of the North Coast. The current on this beach was quite strong and the waves quite high.

Sidi Abdel Rahman, where this particular beach is located, is an area on the North Coast where people say the sea is cleaner and the colors richer. A few foreign investors have bought and developed resorts in the area in recent years, including Emirate Heights, Marassi, and Hacienda Bay.

With the beaches perfect the way they are, the only thing I would love to see change is the highway of the North Coast with signs welcoming you in and clear exit signs leading up to resorts. Because a smooth journey is as important as a smooth holiday.

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A Walk Through Four Seasons San Stefano Beach, Alexandria

There are many private beaches sprawled across Egypt’s second largest coastal city Alexandria, either completely free or with a low-cost entrance fee. But only a few exclusive beaches offer the luxury of not forcing beach-goers to sit tightly crammed together like sardines along a small stretch of sand.

One exclusively private beach which was quite literally created from scratch is the Four Seasons San Stefano beach, with its hotel looming in the background. Designed in a crescent-like shape, the entire building is a complex of luxury apartments, the Four Seasons hotel and a mall with cinemas, a food court, restaurants, and cafés.

Getting to the Four Seasons San Stefano beach may look like quite an adventure, what with a whole two-way road in between the hotel and the beach. Even though a traffic-light-slash-pelican-crossing was recently added, it still feels like quite a hassle getting to and from each location.

But surprisingly, the architects at Four Seasons San Stefano beach thought of everything. There is an underpass that connects the residential apartments and hotel straight to the beach– quietly, smoothly, and swiftly. Hotel guests are allowed entry but only apartment owners who have paid a hefty beach membership lump sum with an annual maintenance fee are allowed access to the beach.

Upon entry to the Four Seasons San Stefano beach a member of staff asks for either your hotel room number or your spa membership number. Four Seasons San Stefano beach also offers a day-use access fee that is well over 150 EGP.

Although the Four Seasons San Stefano beach is quite exclusive, it doesn’t feel pretentious like some other beaches in Egypt. Perhaps it is the flowers and palm trees that greet you as you exit the underpass that gives off a sense of ease.

Or perhaps it’s the manicured lawns and pretty flower pots. Or the fact that the population mainly consists of laid-back tourists on their vacation.

The Four Seasons San Stefano beach has a children’s playground, a fish restaurant, and a café. The café’s peak hours are during the evenings with large screen televisions, live music, and puffs of smoke from the many shisha pipes being consumed.

You can also order food from the comfort of your own lounge chair at Four Seasons San Stefano beach. While this burger, costing 90+ EGP, was juicy on one day, the next time we ordered it, it was tasteless and as dry as a rock. It’s clear that there are different chefs on different days and no consistency on how the burger should be cooked and seasoned. What a shame, especially considering the price.

But it’s all about the beach, isn’t it? And this is it at the Four Seasons San Stefano beach…a man-made beach that didn’t exist ten years ago. Although I prefer natural white-sandy beaches with natural rock formations, this one isn’t too shabby.

Since the Four Seasons San Stefano beach opens at 8 am, I found that the best time to go is at around 8 am to 10 am. That’s when I find the beach at its quietest, so you can choose the best place to sit, have some relaxation time, and pretend that the beach is all yours.

Because there are other parts of the Four Seasons San Stefano beach that haven’t yet officially opened the lounge chairs are a bit close to each other –considering that this is a luxury private beach– so when it is busy, especially on Thursdays and Fridays, it can get a little uncomfortable, especially for the amount of money you have paid. This issue is incomparable to other beaches, however, where there is literally no space between chairs.

On the plus side, the sound of the waves hitting the shore is louder than the noise of the road behind, so the rest of Alexandria often feels like a distant dream.

At the Four Seasons San Stefano beach there is a bit of a descent into the Mediterranean waters. Even when you look towards the shore you can see that the beach is a bit of an incline. This is probably intentional, to stop the sea from rising too far, especially during the winter when the beach is closed. Because of the incline, it is a little hard to climb out of the water if you are a little rusty in the health department.

There are security guards with guard dogs to protect the borders of the beach. This is obviously to prevent intruders, non-membership visitors and fishermen from sneaking in the private Four Seasons San Stefano beach.

Since there are two man-made reefs made from rocks that curve around the beach at a distance, making the beach on a bay, fishermen and the public are free to access those areas.

A downside to windy conditions in Alexandria is that the waves bring in the litter. I even spotted an eaten watermelon! Although I have seen the friendly staff clean some parts of the beach, sometimes they are quite laid back with other parts of the Four Seasons San Stefano beach that people use. They have used the excuse that “If we clean up now, the waves will only keep bringing in more litter.” On one occasion, we’ve had to ask a staff member to clean the sand in front of us since it was full of litter and sharp items that are dangerous to step on with bare feet.

This aside, with the iconic building in the background, you never really forget where you are in Alexandria.

A basic set-up on the Four Seasons San Stefano beach are the lounge chairs that are covered in towels, with a rolled-up towel placed on the head of the chair to act as a head-rest. Very comfortable.

Strangely, this part of the Four Seasons San Stefano beach, although completed, isn’t occupied by lounge chairs yet. I think it makes more sense to space out the lounge chairs so that there is more space between people. But so far, this part of the beach is largely unoccupied.

Conveniently, you don’t need to walk all the way back to your room or apartment to visit the bathroom or have a shower after a swim. There’s one right on the beach.

The bathrooms are next to the entrance to the Four Seasons San Stefano beach. There are pretty petals hanging from the rooftop. There are also smaller bathrooms right in front of the beach.

The bathrooms are luxurious and air-conditioned. But not on one Thursday when a nursery came for a day use. It was so hectic, there were dirty diapers discarded on the floor; tissues in the sink. The poor bathroom attendant had her work cut out for her, rushing around cleaning after them. The nursery teachers didn’t really care about their inconsideration that others had to use the bathroom. I would avoid visiting the bathrooms if there is a school outing on the beach.

There’s a changing room with clean towels and a laundry basket for when you’ve used a towel.

If you’ve taken a swim, there are showers! It’s a little weird that there’s no latch to secure yourself inside the shower to ensure privacy, but it’s a practical feature nonetheless.

Not only is it quite spacious inside…

It also has everything you need, from hooks to hang your towels, to shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel dispensers.

Sometimes when it’s a windy day, I’d rather sit by the Fours Seasons pool than have sand blew into my eyes and mouth (has happened!)

The pool area is for hotel guests and overlooks the street and beach. There’s also an indoor pool.

Did I mention it’s an eternity pool? It looks like it merges with the sea in the distance.

But I’d choose the sea over the pool any day. It has exciting waves.

Calming waters to recharge your energy.

And cute things to spot in the sand, like this little footprint!

Despite the few limitations of the man-made world they’ve created here, the sun setting into the sea is quite a spectacular vista.

Perhaps it’s nature’s way of showing that no matter what man gets up to, with the sun and the sea, nature will always be an inspiration, and at the center of it all.

Four Seasons San Stefano beach

San Stefano,
399 El Geish Road
Alexandria, Egypt.

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