A stunning facade awaits guests

If you’re looking for a chance to swim among schools of multi-coloured fish or climb aboard a yellow submarine, look no further than La Résidence des Cascades on Egypt’s Red Sea coast, as Ruth Styles reports.

Set on a peninsula with a coral reef on one side and a gentle, natural bay on the other, the resort of Soma Bay would be perfectly placed but for one thing: it’s on the Hurghada side of the Red Sea. Generally seen as the less cool little sister of Sharm-El-Sheikh, the area has developed a reputation for student thrills and spills and low rent Club 18-30 package deals. It has also, until recently, suffered from poor UK connections and, although you can now get direct flights, the only option is with Easyjet. But don’t let the prospect of five hours in close proximity to orange clad airhostesses put you off: Soma Bay’s seclusion has done it a serious favour.

Having arrived on the 5am red eye from Cairo, all I really wanted when I arrived at Soma Bay’s La Résidence des Cascades was to flop into a king-size bed, preferably with some plumped up pillows and a fluffy duvet. While I did get them – eventually – check in was delayed because no-one had thought to check the rooms. An irritating 20 minute wait ensued, made all the more irksome because up to then, the signs had been good.

The 40-minute drive through the Western Desert in a Soma Bay ‘limousine’ (read Jeep) was a lovely one, with spectacular views of the surrounding pale lemon sand and craggy desert hillsides. The first sight of the hotel was encouraging too. Set away from the beach and in the middle of an incongruously bright green golf course, La Résidence is a palatial gingerbread pile with colonial architecture and taste in décor. The reception’s buttercup walls and striped cream and red curtains made it feel very English in a patrician, middle-class sort of way; an impression reinforced by the walnut panelled bar upstairs. I later discovered that the English country house theme was deliberate when the front desk manager asked me whether I had any ideas to make it look even more Anglo-Saxon. Back in the reception, I’d started to doze off when the flustered concierge turned up to show me to my room. It wasn’t a great start, but things soon started to improve.

SomaBayspa200Les Thermes de Marins offers indulgent massages
Nina Wessel / Soma Bay

Having barely looked at my room before crashing out in the king-size bed, which, as hoped, had gorgeous fluffy pillows and a big duvet, it was daylight before I even realised I had a balcony. With a stunning view of the navy blue waves crashing over the resort’s home reef, it was worth the wait. As was the pretty pool, surrounded by bright pink bougainvillea flowers, and the huge buffet breakfast served on the terrace. The mega-yacht belonging to Russian billionaire, Vladimir Potanin, could be seen floating out in the bay and there was no shortage of people out on the links.

But you don’t need billions of roubles to spend a couple of nights at La Résidence. Rooms start at a very reasonable £70 for a single and rates also include the use of the facilities at Soma Bay’s other hotels, including the beaches belonging to the Sheraton and Kempinski hotels. Since both come complete with Jamaican-style palm trees and woven parasols, they’re by far the best place for sunbathing. La Residence doesn’t have a beach, thanks to its coral reef frontage, but it does have an excellent spa: Les Thermes de Marins.

A thalassotherapy operation specialising in salt-water treatments, the spa is the hotel’s main attraction along with the aforementioned PGA golf course. With its own entrance and a warren of treatment rooms and pools, it’s big and very busy. Like the rest of the resort, it takes its architectural and decorative cues from a smorgasbord of countries, including a section that looks like a faithfully recreated Thai temple and another that could be the double of a traditional ayurveda centre for the Indian massages. The ayurvedic massage was brilliant and easily as good as anything found in Kerala, although the underwater massage was a bit hit and miss, thanks to the water jets which kept switching between scorching and icy. Good though the spa and the golf course were, the real reason to visit La Résidence was to be found out on the reef.

SomaBaypool200There's nothing like reading a paperback by the pool.
Nina Wessel / Soma Bay

Feeling faintly ridiculous, I headed out of the resort’s marina on a real-life yellow submarine. An upgraded version of the glass-bottomed boat, it lets you get close to the rainbow residents of the resort’s reef without getting wet. Bright orange and iridescent blue, buttercup yellow and tyrian purple, shimmering green, blood red and fuchsia; fish of every colour imaginable could be seen swimming through the curling yellow tendrils of the coral reef. The utterly cute Nemo fish (not its real name) and the endearingly gawky parrotfish were favourites, although the sparkling silver shoal of sardines was an unexpected highlight. Back on dry land, there was plenty more to do, including a visit to the enormous kite surfing beach and a spot of sunbathing at the Sheraton. But nothing too energetic though: most people seemed content to do nothing more arduous than turn the pages of a paperback.

Quiet, secluded and self-contained, you won’t find much in the way of wild parties or cultural treasures at Soma Bay – try Cairo for those instead. La Résidence does have a bar – the Eagles Nest – and several restaurants, while the nearby Sheraton and Kempinski have great Italian and Japanese options. Food and parties aren’t really the point of La Résidence; the beach, a round of golf or a spot of diving are what it’s all about along with the spa. But for a chilled out break with everything in easy reach, La Résidence is perfect.

La Résidence des Cascades.
Hurghada P.O. Box 403, Soma Bay - Red Sea, Egypt
Tel: (20) 65 356 2600
Website: www.residencedescascades.com
Price: From £70 per night

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