The Movenpick Resort El Quseir offers a calming weekend experience for a spot of leisurely scuba diving, birdwatching or relaxing on the beach with a good book.
written and photographed by Dominika Maslikowski
When I find a white vase in my room filled with a garland of wild basil, I know this hotel will be different. Striking a balance between being laid-back and refined, the Movenpick Resort El Quseir is luxurious without being pretentious and blends in seamlessly with the surrounding nature.
I had searched for the hotel on Google Maps before flying out from Cairo for a weekend getaway at the Red Sea property. Nestled somewhere between Safaga and Marsa Alam, the location didn’t look promising. Why should I fly all that way when there are beaches a couple hours away from Cairo? Will this be a scuba diving spot in the middle of nowhere? My weekend at the Movenpick Resort El Quseir convinced me it’s not your typical seaside resort. And it isn’t only unique compared to other hotels, but different from other Movenpick properties too.
The weekend begins with a check-in so pleasant I hardly know when it’s over. I take a seat in the airy lobby full of potted palms and oriental touches, and sip a fruity cocktail while a clerk hands me a form to fill out on a clipboard.
A golf cart takes me to my room, and I ride through the spacious property with stunning views of the sea. Designed by two disciples of Hassan Fathy — the ‘barefoot architect’ inspired by traditional Nubian architecture — the Movenpick Resort El Quseir feels airy and authentic with its sandy-colored, domed rooms. It’s a far cry from the towering commercial resorts of the Red Sea, and feels like it belongs to just this specific peninsula on the Egyptian coast.
“We did not dig or fill the site, but we began by making a topographical map and study of the site,” explains Soheir Farid, a Fathy disciple who designed the property with her husband Ramy El-Dehan. “Every room is at a different level, depending on the curvature of the land.” My room has a terrace that faces the shore, and I can hear the waves when I leave the door open to let in the salty breeze. The dome above gives the space an open feel and the floors are bare and cool, while the bathroom has all the state-of-the-art amenities and bowls of soap topped with blossoms of frangipani. The result is effortless luxury; the kind that leaves you feeling pampered but also puts you immediately at ease.
I spend the rest of the day at the swimming pool, surrounded by greenery and views of the sea. The next day, after a leisurely breakfast, I walk down a flight of stairs to the seashore and put on my snorkeling mask for a few hours of fish watching. Floating on the salty water, I follow yellow and black fish as they swim around bits of coral reef, losing sense of time as I immerse myself in their aquatic universe. This is the highlight of my stay: a gorgeous coral reef for snorkeling that’s right on the property and doesn’t require a long bus or boat trip.
There’s also an excellent diving center on site that has a cult following among expats and offers a star on its walk of fame for those who’ve completed numerous dives.
This is a historical bay with a 5,000-year-old history, the diving center’s manager Marc tells me. In ancient times it welcomed spices, tea and cotton from Asia, which were then loaded on camels and transported to the Nile River. Today the bay is archaeologically protected and only allows a certain number of divers at a time, Marc says. The aquatic life here is special: you’ll see seahorses, rare mouse fish, eagle rays and dolphins. If diving isn’t your thing, there’s tennis and basketball, walkways for strolls and jogging, a gym, jacuzzi and sauna, and (my personal favorite) a library where you can trade in your beach reads for new novels. Although it’s not wildly famous, the hotel has a dedicated clientele where about half the visitors are repeat or have been referred by friends. Those who stay 10 or more times can have an olive tree planted at the hotel in their name.
“We would rather be a niche market for Egypt,” General Manager Simone Hoch says. “We have Egyptian divers and repeaters, honeymooners that like to be away from the crowds. People who are into birdwatching and photography come here.”
That evening, I head to Seagull’s Restaurant for a dinner overlooking the sea. I can hear the waves crashing as I dig into an amuse bouche of spicy beetroot atop crunchy bread that gives a nice kickstart to the meal. The Sundried Tomato Consomme with Porcini Dumplings is multi-faceted and strong on the pepper — not too rich or creamy, but still substantial with a touch of hot spice. The Pan-Seared Red Sea Fish is juicy and flavorful, and comes with a generous side of potatoes. I top off the excellent meal with a scoop of creamy ice cream (Movenpick, of course), in my favorite blackberry flavor.
Executive Chef Ralf Schink has freshened up the menus at the hotel’s restaurants during his two years at the property, making them lighter on the cream and butter while keeping the dishes seasonal and authentic. The German chef prides himself on how only the salmon and apples are imported here — the rest of the ingredients are brought in fresh from local markets and fishermen. The hotel has a small fruit and vegetable garden and makes its own sundried tomatoes.
I finish the night off with a beer at a bar overlooking the water. There are quiet couples enjoying a romantic evening, and larger groups of friends. Further off I spot a woman sitting alone immersed in a book, lounging back and looking at peace — a final testament of this hotel’s unobtrusive service and unique, calming charm.