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The greens of Taba Heights - Daily News Egypt

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The greens of Taba Heights

Taba Heights’ championship golf course recently hosted the annual Pro Am Invitational Golf Tournament. Daily News Egypt went to have a look


The pools form the InterContinental Resort
The pools form the InterContinental Resort

On the northern tip of the Red Sea, in the Gulf of Aqaba, the resort town of Taba Heights nestles against the imposing mountains of the Eastern desert. The resort has several high class resorts grouped around a world class 18-hole golf course, a purpose-built watersports centre and the picturesque Uptown that encompasses a hotel, shops, restaurants and apartments and villas for those working in the small town.

The resort’s soft colours merge beautifully with the surrounding desert mountains. The orange, ochre and beige domed buildings of the hotels are interspersed with waving palm trees and flowering shrubs, creating the feeling that you have just arrived at a desert oasis. At night the sparkling lights of Jordanian coast just across the Red Sea vie with the multitude of stars in the sky, while during the day the combination of the arid desert on one side and the turquoise waters of the Red Sea on the other create a unique vista.

Taba Heights is purpose built and makes an effort to safeguard the environment that surrounds it. The resort is kept impeccably clean and all hotels and venues recycle their waste as efficiently as possible. The recycling centre in the town separates the garbage and an onsite recycling plant transforms plastic water bottle caps into coat hangers while the rest is sent on to large recycling centres in Cairo. Clean ups of the surrounding desert and the sea are organised several times a year in an effort to reduce the impact of the town on the surrounding ecosystem.

A mere 20 km south of the border crossing of Taba, which gives access to Israel and across from the Jordanian town of Aqaba, Taba Heights is ideally located for excursions in the surrounding desert to the wonders of Petra and beyond.

Taba Heights is open all year round and while in the summer sunseekers make up most of the guests, the winter months, from October to May is the favourite time for golf enthusiasts to visit.

How to get there

Taba has its own international airport that caters to charter flights from several European destinations and is a mere 30 minutes drive from Taba Heights. Most travel agents will offer packages of flights and hotels combined and over the years the resort town has become a favourite of many golf and sun enthusiasts from all over Europe.

From Cairo it is easiest to take an internal flight to Sharm El-Sheikh, which takes less than an hour. The subsequent drive to Taba Heights takes two and a half hours straight across the Sinai Peninsula. The road, curving around the mountains, is well maintained and as you get closer to the destination beautiful vistas of the glimmering Red Sea shine through the browns and reds of the surrounding desert.

Where to stay

Taba Heights is home to several large five star resorts, each offering an array of luxury services, restaurants, entertainment and swimming pools. The golf course is never far away and free transportation around town ensures that all the amenities are always within reach.

We stayed in the InterContinental Taba Heights Resort, a large hotel that offers views of the sea on one side and the deep greens of the golf course and the mountains on the other. The first impression is one of space; the lobby is large enough to accommodate busloads of people without ever feeling cramped. A lobby bar leads to a terrace that offers a stunning view over several swimming pools, the beach and the Red Sea.

The rooms are spread out in different buildings connected by walkways, but easy to reach and have everything a five star resort should. Spacious, both the rooms and the bathrooms, well equipped, and all have balconies that offer beautiful views.

Small reminders to not drink the tap water are accompanied by free bottled water and a discreet notice invites the guests to use their towels responsibly to reduce the impact on the environment.

For those who like to swim, the InterContinental Resort has four pools. Several are heated during the winter, and a large, saltwater lagoon has direct access to the Red Sea. Sun loungers are grouped around the pools, the lagoon and the beach and the distance between them offers the guests the choice of either peace and quiet or the entertainment of the animation team who are always on hand to keep the guests busy.

Taba Heights overlooks the sea and is surrounded by mountains
Taba Heights overlooks the sea and is surrounded by mountains

Like many of the hotels and resorts in Taba Heights, the InterContinental Resort offers all inclusive packages. This means that guests are welcome to order drinks and food from most of the outlets without having to pay extra. Breakfast, lunch and dinner is served in buffet style in the main restaurant for the all inclusive and half board guests and there are several à la carte restaurants on the premises, not included in the packages, that offer Thai, Mediterranean and Egyptian cuisine.

We tried the buffet and the quality and variety of the food was excellent. While often these buffets offer many dishes but with little flavour, the chefs at the InterContinental Resort managed to set up a spread that included several meat, chicken and fish dishes, accompanied by rice and different creations of potatoes, a pasta station, an extensive salad bar, soups and a variety of desserts and fresh fruits to end the meal with. The waiters are quick, polite and remember within a day your preferred drink.

Taba Heights has a dine around programme, which means that all inclusive guests from the different hotels can try out the à la carte restaurants in the different hotels in town and will receive a free starter or dessert.

Golf

The main attraction of the resort town is the golf course. The championship, 18-hole course is designed by John Stanford and is 6,450 metres long. Sandy bunkers, lakes and greenery provide interesting challenges to the golfers and the course is know as one of the best in Egypt.

The Golf Club House includes a shop, restaurant, equipment rental and the services of several internationally-accredited golf professionals who offer lessons to improve your game.

The views from the course are stunning, from the mountain ranges to the sea, and the course is the only one in the world where you can see three countries, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia as you tee off.

Waterworld

Parasailing on the Red Sea
Parasailing on the Red Sea

Unlike other resort towns, Taba Heights has a centralised watersports centre. Located right next to the yacht marina, the centre offers everything from diving, snorkelling, sailing, windsurfing, waterskiing and wakeboarding, to parasailing and banana boats. For those who want to enjoy the beauty of the underwater world but do not want to get their feet wet glass bottom boat trips are on offer and a small yellow submarine takes guests for one hour tours to see the corals and fish.

The centre is a certified PADI diving centre and offers courses for beginners and advanced divers. The diving is done by boat and is organised in half day trips, with two dives offered in the morning and one in the afternoon. This allows the guests to enjoy lunch in their hotels, making it easier for those on vacation with non divers to both enjoy their hobby and the company of their loved ones.

While Taba is a perfect location for almost all watersports, the popular kitesurfing is not on offer due to the many variations in the wind caused by the close mountain ranges.

Quad Canyon Tours

Starting from Uptown, quad bike tours take you on an adventurous trip into one of the beautiful canyons in the mountains behind Taba Heights. Ten minutes outside of town, a winding desert path takes you through a stunning canyon carved in the rock by wind and water. The rounded shapes in red and bronze hues vie for your attention as you steer your quad over the sandy and rocky trail. A rest at a Bedouin tent where tea and other refreshments are offered will allow you to explore the canyon on foot.

Guides lead the tours and helmets with visors and elbow and knee protectors are issued to all participants. It is a good idea to bring a scarf to tie around your nose and mouth under your helmet to avoid the worst of the dust.

Uptown

The small town, which incorporates The Three Corners Wekala Gold Resort, has many little shops and outlets to buy those souvenirs that can be found all over Egypt. Supermarkets, telephone shops and restaurants line the small streets.

The Salt Cave is a large room that has a thick layer of Dead Sea salt spread around the floor and is the only such venue in Egypt. Indirect lighting and comfortable chairs are spread out around the large space and soft music adds to the sense of relaxation. Dead Sea salt is thought to have many healing properties and the 45 minute sessions are said to not only relax and replenish your energy, but to be beneficial for a myriad of health problems.

Excursions

Taba Heights is ideally located for day trips to the surrounding areas. The Castle Zaman, a medieval fort high on a cliff overlooking the Red Sea is close by and well worth a visit. If you like to hike, several tours are organised to the surrounding mountains where you can climb through the canyons in the mountains and the famous Mount Sinai where Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments is within reach.

A recently started 30 minute ferry service leaves from the marina in Taba Heights to Jordan and another 130 km will allow you to visit the wonders of Petra. Several tour operators offer excursions to all of Egypt’s major cities and trips to Eilat, the Dead Sea and Jerusalem are also possible.

The Taba Heights Pro Am Invitational Annual Golf Tournament

Every year the golf course of Taba Heights hosts a Pro Am Golf Tournament during the winter season. Golf professionals from around the world are invited to join the tournament and four rounds of golf are played over four consecutive days. The professionals team up with three avid amateur players and the scores are tallied in several ways. The pros compete for cash prizes and a free stay at the Sofitel Taba Heights in the individual tournament. The teams as a whole compete for the honour and a trophy and individual feats such as the Magic Two, holing out in two, and a hole in one are awarded prizes.

“This year we had 11 teams in the competition, which is not bad considering the political instability in the country,” said Adrian Cafaro, the general manager of the golf course. “During four days the teams play 18 holes each morning and we adjust the golf course to keep it exciting.” By changing the placement of the hole, taking elevations on the course and the weather into account, Cafaro and his team set fresh challenges for the competitors each day. Referees keep an eye on how the teams are doing, but as everywhere in the world, the teams keep cards with their scores and the traditional honour of the game ensures the participants are honest.

View from the golf course
View from the golf course

When asked what makes the golf course in Taba Heights so special Cafaro said, “the variety of the course. Many golf courses are designed with the holes staggered next to each other. Our course is spread out, offers something different on every hole and the surrounding scenery makes it one of a kind. The course is challenging, but that is what makes it so great to play on.”

Cafaro has been in charge of the golf course for six months but has been long familiar with it. “I used to have my own golf academy in London and we would come and visit Taba Heights each year. When I was asked to become the general manager here I was thrilled,” he said.

Taba Heights used to welcome predominantly British players, but the number of French golfers has increased now Club Med has opened a hotel in Taba Heights. “We get lots of repeater guests here, like I used to be, and from many different nationalities,” Cafaro said.

The price for a round of 18 holes is very reasonable. “We charge about half of what people would pay in Europe for 18 holes,” Cafaro said, “and the price includes the use of a golf cart.” The carts are no luxury on a golf course that is so spread out. “A reasonably experienced golfer can play our 18 holes in 2.5 hours and a group of four, as we have during this tournament, will take around 4.5 hours to complete the course,” Cafaro said.

The greens were in impeccable condition and a lot of work is done to ensure the optimal conditions of the course. Cafaro heads a team of 65, from groundsmen to several pros who offer lessons.

During the tournament the scores of the day were written on a large board outside the Golf Club House and on the last day of the tournament a gala dinner was held in the Sofitel Taba Heights during which all the winners were announced. All participants had been staying in the same resort and had spent a lot of time together and the atmosphere was friendly and full of laughter. Each winner was celebrated with applause and Cafaro and his staff were thanked for all the hard work that had gone in to making the tournament a great success.

“We had a really good week,” Cafaro concluded, “and we hope that next year we will be able to welcome many more teams to the tournament.”

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