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Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt.
Novotel Cairo El Borg: Basic Day-Use Pool in Zamalek
In the ongoing search for Cairo’s most relaxed and chilled-out pool the Cairo 360 team are spending an awful lot of time jumping from pool to pool around the city. Though our bodies are nowhere near bikini ready (damn those restaurant reviews) we have taken it upon ourselves to keep searching for your sake. Looking to escape the harsh Cairo sun, we found refuge at the Novotel Cairo El Borg in Zamalek.
The best part about the Novotel is the fact that hardly anyone is ever there, ensuring lots of privacy. Another nice feature of the hotel is the children’s playground with the huge Barbapapa and Barbamama dolls. The pool is located on the ground floor and is fairly small; with just 10 sun beds, it doesn’t cater to large groups at all. For 250LE you can use the pool, gym and Jacuzzi. The Jacuzzis are very inviting but instead of being near the pool on the ground floor, the Jacuzzis are actually on the roof – this means you have to walk into the lobby, take the elevator and go up to get to them. The gym is small, basic and almost seems like a token feature.
The sun beds are comfortable and though the pool is small, it’s clean and cool. At around half past four, the shade starts creeping in so you’ll find yourself having to move around in order to catch some rays. Another unfortunate detail is the fact that the staff from the upstairs restaurant seem to spend much of their time gazing down onto the pool which had us feeling quite uncomfortable. The staff by the pool are friendly but when we saw a member rolling up towels that were used by other guests we became sceptical about the hygiene. Said staff member actually came over to tell us we could use all the towels we wanted while pointing at the folded used ones. Thanks, but no thanks.
The available menu is diverse with lots of different fruit juices and iced teas, where the Dad iced tea is the most expensive at 31LE; it is a refreshing combination of cinnamon and tea. The beef burger (41LE), which comes with fries, was lacking flavour and the bun was stale.
At a price of 250LE, the Novotel is one of the more expensive day-use pools out there, but unfortunately it didn’t live up to its price. The facilities, while adequate, are completely unspectacular and little staff peculiarities made the experience all the more uncomfortable.
This reviewer’s experience at the Giza-located Four Seasons First Residence Spa was a little like finding the Holy Grail of spas in Cairo: the spa was so luxurious and impeccable, we had separation anxiety within minutes of leaving.
Located on the third floor of First Mall (you can access it from the hotel via an ill-designed route of corridors), the spa is decked out in quiet beige marble flooring, dim lighting and smiling staff members in freshly pressed uniformed who insisted on speaking to us in English. We had been asked to determine our treatment of choice in advance, so via their website we selected the Balinese Massage (691.15LE for 60 minutes) and the reflexology treatment (510.85LE for 60 minutes).
Other massage options include deep tissue, Thai, Swedish and the Imperial, which involves two therapists working simultaneously using Thai, Swedish, Balinese, shiatsu and lomi-lomi techniques (249USD for 60 minutes). The spa also offers body treatments ranging between almost 100USD for a body polish and 200USD for an anti-ageing treatment, as well as a variety of facial treatments for between 85USD and 180USD. If you find the prices staggering, wait until you add on the currency exchange rate and the tax and service charge.
This spa is quite possibly the most expensive spa ever reviewed by Cairo 360, but as previously stated, its Holy Grail status makes it worth the price, even if you can afford it only once in your lifetime. After a staff member serves you with a hot towel and a cup of hot herbal fusion tea, you are escorted by your therapist through the corridor into the women’s section (there are two equally sized but separate spas for men and women), which includes private dressing rooms, a sauna, steam room and Jacuzzi, and a lounge area with relaxing lounge chairs, dry fruits and delicious hot herbal teas.
After you slip into a plush robe (terry cloth lining with a silken outer layer) and leave your belongings in a locker, the therapist will escort you into a dimly lit, heated room. The temperature and lighting can be changed according to your preference and you will be provided with a sweet smelling eye pouch to cover your eyes with.
For the reflexology massage, the therapist focused most of the 60 minutes on the feet, massaging, kneading, smoothing and tapping the soles, ankles, arches and calf muscles. Occasionally, the therapy was a little painful, but she can adjust the pressure if you ask. The extensive massaging and use of lotions showed this reviewer just how much pressure and strain was carried in the feet. By the end of the sixty minutes, your feet and legs feel exhausted but refreshed with the intense circulation of blood that the therapy has induced. The therapist focuses on the hands, palms and arms for a few minutes, before ending with a dry hair massage and swift neck and shoulder massage.
The Balinese massage left this reviewer’s companion in a perpetual state of bliss, claiming it to be of better quality than a competitor hotel in Dubai. Balinese santi oil (coconut oil blended with patchouli and vetiver) is kneaded into the body using deft hand movements for six minutes. The treatment is both relaxing and refreshing, as the massage releases tension and loosens knotted muscles.
After relaxing in the lounge area and paddling in the large Jacuzzi, we reluctantly left the spa behind, refreshed, happier and a lot poorer – our bill reached a whopping 1492LE for two massages. Clearly, this isn’t a spa we can frequent on a regular basis (or ever), but if you can afford it, you’re in for a truly luxurious experience.