This was our first trip to Egypt, and we were hoping for a good quality, upmarket experience after looking at the impressive photos of this hotel online and the fact it is a "Thomson Platinum 5 star" hotel. I have to say we were both disappointed. I'll come to why in a moment, but first of all I will cover the positives. The food was excellent and in my view couldn't be faulted, although perhaps at the end of two weeks it did become a little repetitive. Most of the staff are friendly and helpful (though certainly not all of them.) There are lots of pools in the grounds, including a saltwater pool and a "quiet pool", mostly pleasant enough to sit around. The shisha tent on the beachfront is a really relaxing place to sit at night. And the spa facilities in the hotel are great, although you have to pay British prices for any treatments (the sauna is free, though.)
It's a big hotel and superficially grand, which is why it looks good in the pictures. The trouble is, it really does not have an upmarket or classy feel. Quite the opposite, in fact. Whether this was affected by the large scale cancellations meaning that it only had 25% occupancy for most of our stay, with all the troubles in Egypt, I don't know. It definitely felt downmarket to me. We looked around the Hyatt and the Intercontinental, other nearby hotels, and both seemed to me to have a much classier atmosphere. I realise the Sofitel has a band of devoted followers, because we talked to someone there who had stayed umpteen times and some of the reviews on here say the same, but it really wasn't my kind of place and I felt quite uncomfortable. It's a difficult thing, commenting on the "feel" of a hotel, and to some extent I accept it is a subjective judgement. However I did feel that I did not get what I was expecting for the money paid - £1900 for the pair of us for 2 weeks - and that annoyed me. I certainly will not fall for the package holiday marketing again - they tell you all the facilities and facts about the place, but you never know what the atmosphere's going to be like, and I haven't yet been to an all-inclusive place with a classy atmosphere.
You arrive at Taba Airport which is a weird place - it's at the top of a mountain range, so you go on this long twisty, windy road to reach Taba Heights, escorted by police outriders. It's a little unnerving; you half expect armed bandits to jump out and hijack you at any moment! Then you arrive at the resort, which is a gated enclave. It seemed safe enough but again, it was unnerving to have the underside of the vehicles constantly being checked with a mirror - to see if there was a bomb attached.
Taba Heights itself was a curious place. Clearly built to attract upmarket customers, with a big golf course and watersports centre, it was dead most of the time we were there, and walking around "uptown", the main shopping area, felt like being in an episode of "The Prisoner" - a very eerie experience, with hardly a soul in sight. The atmosphere was a bit better at night, but I didn't much like the place and found it highly artificial.
At least when Eid came around, the place filled up and it was quite nice to have a feeling of life in the place. It was a bit like Christmas with all the family getting together and celebrating, and on the whole I didn't mind the cultural differences between the Europeans and the Arabs who were visiting. However, it must be said that queuing was a foreign concept to them and this did annoy me at reception. Basically, the rule is that whoever pushes to the front quickest and shouts the loudest gets served first. It's very impolite from a British point of view. One advantage was that a second restaurant opened up (The Mediterranean) which had a much nicer atmosphere than the main one, which frankly was little more than a glorified canteen.
We were let down badly by the staff when we arrived, which got our holiday off to a bad start. We had requested a room on a high floor but were given one on the ground floor, for no apparent reason. We were then promised a move the next day. However, when we came to make the move, we were quite rudely told by Hussein at reception that it was no longer possible (remember this is in a hotel which is three-quarters empty!) That man was dreadful - he constantly had a pained, supercilious expression on his face and we actively avoided dealing with him when he was there. And this in a supposedly five star hotel! What a joke. I've had better service in dirt cheap budget hotels in England. Quite unlike Mohammed at reception who was extremely professional and polite.
At least the room and bathroom was OK. It was a little battered and I don't think the rooms have been updated since the hotel opened ten years ago, but they aren't too bad. You get free tea and coffee sachets and water every day, as well as basic toiletries, although we were only given two bars of soap throughout the entire stay. Again, not exactly five star service.
The excursions from Taba are really interesting and I would especially recommend the trip to Israel (£109). What an enormous difference you notice as soon as you cross the border. You go along a dirt road with street lights that don't work, then you cross the border and straightaway you are in a First World country with all the associated infrastructure. It's really quite sad - to say Israel has only been around for 65 years, it rather puts Egypt to shame. First you go to the Dead Sea which is an amazing experience - to be able to float in the water is unique and should be experienced by everyone once in your life. Then you go to Jerusalem - what a fascinating place that is, though I couldn't say it felt holy or spiritual at all. Avoid the souvenir shop you are taken to in the Arab quarter where everything is marked in dollars - the prices are ludicrous. (20 dollars for a fridge magnet - I kid you not. Only a stupid American tourist with more money than sense would fall for that one.) Either haggle hard, or walk out and shop at one of the numerous stalls nearby.
Incidentally, despite the horror stories we had heard about crossing the Israeli border, we got through in 30 minutes flat, and our group included British Asians who were admitted without any difficulty. It is true that they are thorough and security conscious, but that's understandable. I was talking to an Egyptian guy at the hotel about going across and he told me it wasn't so much a problem for him getting into Israel; the problem would come afterwards in returning to Egypt, where apparently the secret police would follow you around to find out why you went. Obviously that doesn't apply to British tourists!
The location is one of the most interesting things about Taba Heights as you can also easily cross to Jordan and go to Petra, one of the wonders of the world. In fact, from the hotel beachfront you can easily see four countries - Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. There can't be many places in the world where you could say that.
All in all, this holiday was a disappointment and it does boil down to the "feel" of the place. I thought Egypt seemed to have quite a heavy atmosphere - as soon as we crossed the border, the atmosphere lightened and it was quite a relief. Whether this will change when the current troubles are over, I don't know. But if going to Taba Heights, I would personally recommend a different hotel.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- A truly magnificent location, at the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba between the southern Sinai mountains and the Red Sea, Sofitel Taba Heights is also a uniquely designed hotel, inspired by traditional Oriental architecture. This exceptional resort is an all-inclusive property with easy access to the private beach, 3 exquisite restaurants, 5 swimming pools, a fitness center and 3 meeting rooms. Just 20 km from downtown Taba and 40 km from the airport, it's convenient for business and pleasure. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Sofitel Taba Heights Hotel Taba
- Taba Heights
- Accor Taba Heights
- Taba Sofitel