Living in El Gouna, Red Sea, Egypt
On my first night in the Egyptian resort town of El Gouna, I’m sitting outside at the restaurant of my hotel, Captain’s Inn, when a German couple stop to chat to the manager. They’re walking back to their home after buying some pastries at the local bakery. They exchange some pleasantries and joke about who will get to eat the best cream bun and then they’re on their way again.
The restaurants around the marina have tourists at most of their tables – visitors who will spend a few days or a week here to relax and enjoy the sun before heading back to their colder European countries. But there are others, like the couple, for whom El Gouna is a life of permanent holiday. As well as the 17 hotels, which offer several thousand rooms, there are about 20,000 permanent or part-time residents living here.
They come from all around the world for different reasons. Some buy a property here as a holiday home – somewhere to escape to for a month or two each year when they need time away. Others see it as a form of retirement and move here permanently for a warmer and relaxed style of living. Others come here to work but have the added benefit of a cheaper lifestyle by the water.
Puddleduck Restaurant, El Gouna
Mick and Jill Hargreaves moved to El Gouna fairly recently for a new life working and living by the Red Sea. Originally from Yorkshire in England, they had been running a restaurant in the Egyptian city of Luxor but were struggling because of a downturn in tourism there. It was disheartening and they saw no improvement coming in the short-term. So they made the decision to relocate their business here.
“We used to come here on holidays every ten weeks or so from Luxor and we enjoyed it and we thought it was more stable in El Gouna,” Mick tells me.
“Luxor is a working town and here it’s a little more sheltered. We’ve never seen any problems like we’ve seen in Luxor here and we thought there was possibly a niche and took the opportunity and moved.”
They opened their restaurant called Puddleduck this year and have already been impressed by the number of guests they get each day. There are a lot of restaurants in the town of El Gouna but they have made an effort to serve something a bit different and try to encourage repeat customers with a changing and fresh menu.
Jill says things are much more stable from a business perspective.
“I think because you’ve got long term residents and you’ve got people who have bought places who come maybe for six weeks and they keep coming back. You’ve got a core of people. You’re not relying tourism as much as you are in Luxor or other places so you’ve got a bit more stability.”
They work six days a week from 10 o’clock in the morning until midnight or so. It’s not easy and they face the stresses of running a business you might expect anywhere – long hours, management of staff and lots of paperwork. But there’s still a big difference to their lives back in the UK where Jill worked in Human Resources and Mick in retail distribution.
“In England we both had big jobs and we didn’t see each other,” Jill says.
“Mick was out at 5am, I was getting home about 7 or 8 pm. The quality of life is great for us here because we’re together 24/7.”
Mick gives Jill an odd look when she says that and they both chuckle. I leave the silence hanging for maybe a bit too long before I join in the laughter. It’s all in good fun, though.
When I try their food for myself, I’m impressed. Mick – who is the chef at Puddleduck – has explained to me that a certain amount of creativity is needed. Unlike England where you can just go to the supermarket and get any ingredients you need, in Egypt you have to work around what’s available much more. He has tried to take recognisable English dishes but make them more suitable for the climate and atmosphere of El Gouna.
Not all the diners this evening are tourists, as Mick and Jill had hoped. With so many residents in the resort town, there are always locals looking for a night out. But this provides more than just customers – it’s also a social network.
“To be honest, we didn’t appreciate the community until we moved here,” Jill says.
“When we came on holiday, you were classed as a tourist so you were on the fringes of the community. Whereas once you get here, you really appreciate it because they are very kind of supportive.”
I see that supportive side of the community during my stay in El Gouna. People who live here stop and chat to me. I have dinner with some and others even ask me over for a barbeque one evening. They’re from all different countries and are here for different reasons but they’ve come together to build a life for themselves and they’ve included each other in that.
It’s a different side to the golf course and the cable park and the diving boats that many tourists come to El Gouna for. Sometimes they cross over on a social level and sometimes they don’t… I guess it depends on what people are looking for. But Mick and Jill seem happier here and, if things continue as they are, they’ll be making visitors and residents alike happier at Puddleduck for a while longer.