Story and Photography by Barbara Penny Angelakis
PORT GHALIB, A RED SEA OASIS
There is a 289 km. long ribbon of highway cutting through Egypt’s eastern desert. It links the Red Sea with the Nile River, at the temple site of Horus the Hawk, at Edfu. Sand extends on either side of the highway as far as the eye can see … great dunes of golden sand. In some cases the sand barely covers the eponymous red rocks (from which the sea takes its name) hiding them from the sun. The rocky terrain tends to take over the landscape, the closer you come to the Red Sea, but still there is no doubt that you are in the middle of a mighty desert. Port Ghalib, like an oasis sprung from the depths of the unrelenting landscape is truly a haven, not to mention a miracle of construction to equal the monuments of old Egypt. Port Ghalib is a complex of luxury accommodations; full service marina; largest man-made saltwater swimming lagoon in the world; self-contained conference hall; gardens; shops; all surrounding or surrounded by water. Soon there will be an 18-hole golf course to accompany the tennis courts, jetty-walk over the coral reef with its abundant colorful marine life swimming just a few feet below, beach and snorkeling, and other outdoor sports areas that currently exist, but for now Port Ghalib is so new it squeaks. www.portghalib.com
The true story behind Port Ghalib rivals the medieval folk tale of “One Thousand and One Nights”. Around a thousand years ago, Ghalib Ibn Zgahlul, the son of a poor tailor, fell in love with Budour, the most beautiful maiden in his home town of Kathima. Ghalib worked hard to become a successful spice merchant and promised to work even harder in order to afford to pay the double bride price Budour’s father required to bless their union. Alas, Salim, Budour’s previous suitor, in an attempt to sabotage Ghalib’s ability to pay the dowry, schemed to block his ships entry into the main Red Sea port of Aidhab. Ghalib not to be deterred, sailed north and found a natural bay that was said to be haunted by a fleet of ancient Pharonic ghost ships. Undaunted, he sailed into the bay and in so doing managed to cut a week off the established spice route to the Mediterranean, and in the process, founded a new port, which he modestly named after himself… Port Ghalib.
The port became a bustling harbor and soon Ghalib had the money to pay the dowry and build for his bride a beautiful palace. Salim in his furry convinced the governor of Aidhab to attack the merchants of Port Ghalib with armed ships. Things were looking grim for Ghalib, when out of the mist emerged a ghost ship, and then another, until an armada of help arrived. The oarsmen on the phantom ships were heard to chant in a tongue no one had heard before and the terrified Aidhab sailors hoisted their sails and sped away. Port Ghalib continued to thrive and the legend lives on, whispered by the sand dunes… or it is the ancient oarsmen chanting in their archaic tongue?
Back to the present, and the Port Ghalib resort development Kharafi Group project. This massive undertaking includes the airport at Marsa Alam (pronounced Marsala with an almost silent “m” tacked on the end as an afterthought). The modern airport is a short flight from Cairo and is equipped to receive charter flights.
From there it is a brief drive to the InterContinental Port Ghalib Complex and the 5* deluxe Palace Resort Hotel. The rooms are large and well laid out and the décor is up to the minute glamorous, with private balcony or terrace overlooking either the Red Sea coastline, the resort’s meandering salt-water lagoon, or the lush terraced gardens and man-made waterways. The level of service and attention to detail make this a world-class hotel for business or leisure travel. The complex has an unrivaled Meetings & Events multipurpose convention center – the only one of its size and technical complexity on the Red Sea - for catering to gatherings of all sizes, be it a formal banquet for 1,500 in the ballroom or an intimate corporate board meeting. It is equipped with the latest audio-visual technology and has a compliment of professional MICE (Meetings, Incentive Travel, Conferences, Exhibitions) personnel at the ready. www.intercontinental.com
Sister hotels of Crowne Plaza Sahara Sands and Crowne Plaza Sahara Oasis share a single grand entrance, the lagoon, kid-friendly activities, and dining options, but each has its own charm and personally. Of course, guests staying at any of the three hotels can make use of the convention center or any of the leisure activities available such as scuba diving or deep-sea fishing, rock climbing, camel and horseback riding, quad biking, go-karting, tennis and all manner of water sports. Imagine, a paradise were you can have dinner in a tent in the desert with a Bedouin family one day and the next, dive into a world of brightly colored and patterned tropical fish in a startling sapphire-blue sea… from the same base hotel.
The marina is equipped to receive as many as 1000 yachts in sizes ranging up to 60 meters long. And with ready access to many of the historical temples along the Nile only a few hours drive or a short flight from Marsa Alam Airport, Port Ghalib becomes a versatile destination for individuals, family or group travelers.
© May 2009 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.