When I am in Egypt, there is something very exciting to me about visiting exotic locations. This is how the east coast of the Sinai felt, at Nuweiba and other locations, and how I feel when I am deep in southern Egypt. Of course, exotic is somewhat of a difficult term to define. To me, it is a location I never expected to visit, a place unknown to my friends in the US, a location off the beaten path of tourism. Hence, when I recently traveled to Ain Soukhna, not so far from Cairo and a regular vacation retreat for upper class people from Cairo, I nevertheless expected it to be exotic. Most westerners are fairly unfamiliar with this beach resort, sometimes called a town but really more of a series of large resort compounds that stretch along the mainland Red Sea Coast. However, as we drove into the Stella di Mare complex and drove up to the Swiss Inn five star hotel; as we entered the lobby and I wandered into the bar, I noticed something was amiss. Sitting there in the midst of the ordinary liquors one finds in Egypt was a bottle of Jack Daniels.
Ok, this review is not centered on the hotel bar, or an American bottle of whiskey, but that nevertheless alerted me to the fact that I was not exactly the first American visitor at the Swiss Inn. American bourbon is relatively rare in Egypt, and when one does find it, normally one finds Jim Beam, which is, as often as not, hidden somewhere, awaiting a tourists request. As it turns out, a number of people working on various projects along this stretch of the Red Sea are Americans, and there is also the nearby Suez Canal. Hence, along with the Italians, some Americans have also discovered this very convenient though relatively unknown (in the western world) retreat.
When I first entered the Stella di Mare complex at Ain Soukhna, I was at first put off by the construction that was going on near the entrance, but this turned out to be more of an outward cosmetic flaw, for the landscape quickly turned to well built villas prior to reaching the two hotels at the beach. The PlanHotel is the four star hotel that sits just off the beach, while the Swiss Inn commands a beach front view.
Though we will also review the PlanHotel, the subject of this review is the Swiss Inn. Yet we must mention that these hotels seem to function together to some extent. Both provide functions and services that are commonly available to guests of both hotels. So in effect, the whole of the complex is combined to produce a very all inclusive resort, with little or no need to stray elsewhere. The Swiss Inn is immediately impressive, even before entering the hotel. Within, its soaring lobby is surmounted by grand skylights, and tastefully decorated with large graphics and open space. Here, one finds four restaurants serving a variety of food including Italian gourmet, Lebanese cuisine and Sea Food, along with two bars. There is also a fully equipped business center with secretarial services, a courier service desk, and both fully equipped conference facilities and private meeting rooms.
While the front of the hotel was all parking lots, a walk through the lobby is a transition into gardens and water. Between the hotel and the Red Sea is situated a swimming pool that might more likely be referred to as an inland sea. It is surrounded by gardens and more gardens that stretch out beyond the hotel into walkways along the backside of the actual beach.
This is no ordinary private hotel beach. It is very extensive, running for some distance along the coast. Early one morning, I took a stroll along the boardwalk, and never actually reached the end of this expanse of sand. At this early hour, there were few guests yet seeking the sun, but evident were a host of employees grooming the sand, raking it clean of foot prints and disposing of any scrap of waste that might have been left behind from the previous evening. It was as pristine as the reputation of the waters along this stretch of the Red Sea. All along the beach were large, fixed beach umbrellas and comfortable chairs.
I visited Stella di Mare with my good friend and owner of the Hotel Longchamps, Hebba, who was keen to leave Cairo for a brief respite. Prior to leaving, she had already made reservations at the Swiss Inn's spa, a very good accommodation to Egypt's initiative for therapeutic tourism. Getting out of Cairo took longer than the road trip past Suez and a short journey down the coast to the complex, and so we arrived just in time for her appointment.
Afterwards, it would be my turn, so even before checking in, we headed to the soft atmosphere where Giorgio rules. Giorgio, of course, is the tightly wound, though very hospitable, Italian manager of this large spa, know as the Thalasso SPA. It is the largest such spa in the Middle East. Many services were available, most of which were well beyond my knowledge of luxury living. However, treatments included:
|One Day Spa Package - Thalasso Wellness: Hydromass, Bathtub, Jet- & Sprinkle Shower, Exfoliating Scrub, Marine Mud, Swedish Message, Excel Therapy (along with Lunch and SPA Refreshments (7 cures)
||Oriental Body Treatments - Oriental Peeling in Hamam, Access to Hamam or Sauna, Messages including Thai/Swedish, Shiatsu/Sport/Body firming, Aroma/Hawaiian/Lymphatic Drainage, Feet and Hands or simply a relaxing massage.
|Body & Soul - Medical Pool, Body Scrub, Body Wrap, Massage (4 cures)
||Spa Luxury Facial - including Excel Therapy, After Sun Kissed, Hot Spring, Cassanova, Hydrasoin, Revitalising Lifting and Matifying Care
|Complete Cure Package (4 Days) - Anti-Cellulite, Soul & Body Slimming, Sport & Wellness (16 Cures)
||Hair Removal - from just about anywhere
|Complete Cure Package (5 days) - Add Thalasso Tonic (20 cures)
||Consultations - Including Nutritional programs, diet programs and Spa Personal programs
|Complete Cure Package (6 Days) - Add Anti-Stress or Beauty Seventh Wave (24 cures)
||Physiotherapy - including Ionoson-Expert, Ultrasound Multifrequenz and Lymphavision
|Spa Marine - Jet Shower, Affusion Sprinkle Shower with Massage, Chromo-/Turkish Bath - Hydromassage, Body Wrap, Medical In- & Outdoor Pool.
||Ayurveda - including Four hand massage, Warm herbal oil massage and Head Massage.
|Stella Di Mare Treatments - Scrub & Detoxifying (Peel & Wrap), Treatment for Heavy Legs
Whew. Lots of options. I knew what a massage was, so I had one of those. After returning from Egypt, I called a friend in the Egyptian Tourism business to tell him about the hotel, and when I mentioned a massage, he said no thank you. Apparently men normally give massages in Egypt, but not here. My professional massage was done by a Thai lady with considerable expertise, but note that there are no body/body massages. This is strictly a professional facility, and any attempt at hanky-panky will result in good old Giorgio taking over the remainder of the massage. I must also mention the spa facility itself. It was clearly designed to relax its clientele. There was indeed something magical about its spacious halls disturbed only by gentle music and fragrant aromas. As I poked about, I saw heated whirlpools, a complete workout room with modern equipment, and honestly, many other facilities. Finally, we checked in and headed to our rooms.
There are a number of different room layouts and sizes, with all being comfortably large. In fact, the hotel has 246 rooms and 11 suites. All of the rooms have a private terrace or balcony, with private bathrooms, hair dryer, mini-bar, individually controlled central air conditioning, in room personal safes, direct international telephone lines, satellite TV, and include round the clock room service. There are even non-smoking rooms, which are becoming more popular in Egypt. These rooms are well decorated, very comfortable and convenient to the beach.
But, of course, who comes to the beach to sit in a hotel room? (OK, maybe a honeymoon). During daylight hours, this beach is well known for water sports. One need not rest in the shade on the beach all day. Though scuba diving is limited in this specific area, one may swim, rent one of several styles of fairly large sailboats, sailboards, water skis or even go for some deep water fishing. Situated near the center of the beach is a beach bar, and not too far away, though tucked back in the greenery away from the beach, is a child care center.
There are also canoes, bike rentals, tennis courts and a soon to be completed golf course. For the heliophobic, there are billiard and table tennis tables and an electronic game room. Though the Swiss Inn sits on the beach, both hotels apparently share that, along with other facilities.
Hence, guests at the Swiss Inn can also partake of the Plan Hotel facilities, which include three more restaurants and a number of additional bars, together with additional entertainment facilities that include floorshows, or what my Egyptian and European friends would refer to as animations. Other activities include various organized aerobics, volleyball, a squash court, archery, football (soccer) and darts. In addition to activities within the complex, and unlike more distant and better known resort communities such as Hurghada, there are some relatively nearby sightseeing opportunities. These include, of course, the Suez Canal, only a short distance to the north, but also the very famous
Eastern Desert monasteries. St. Anthony's monastery, only about 90 minutes away by car, is the world's oldest functioning hermitage and is named for the founder of the monastic tradition. Recently, this 1,600 year old monastery has been restored and is now considered a prime tourist attraction, together with nearby St. Paul's. The Swiss Inn at Stella di Mare is managed by a pleasant Austrian fellow with considerable hotel experience who obviously runs a tight though comfortable ship. When I talked to him, he had not for some time ventured beyond the complex gates, so not only is this hotel luxurious in appointment but also in service. After arriving, and while Hebba was taking her spa treatments, I immediately set up a large tripod in the Middle of the Lobby without asking a soul. Of course, this was curious to the hotel doormen, who immediately set about asking my intentions, but before much was said, the level headed GM, named Rolf Werner, intervened in my favor. Later, I discovered that he seemed to be everywhere, with not a single detail escaping his attention. Finally, I was both impressed with this facility and its location. It is reasonably priced.
A standard room at the time of my visit on a weekend was $55 USD, which is lower on weekdays. For any tourist who wants a peek at the Red Sea, it is far easier to peek here than at Hurghada, which takes over twice as long to reach from most tourist destinations, and, there is also some good sightseeing. While this is an excellent resort for a long term beach holiday, I personally feel that many more tour operators should offer it as an alternative to Hurghada on classical tours, and I am sure they will soon be doing so.
Swiss Inn Stella di Mare Resort
And the Thalasso Spa
km 46, Suez-Hurghada Raod, P. O. Box 351
Ain Soukhna, Suez, Egypt Telephone: +20 (062) 250100
Fax: +20 (062) 250001 / 250111 Reservations