Gouna winterlude

gouna villa
The solution to the icy winds and cold floors. Note the blanket serving as windbreaker, the fly swatter, and Sandy’s dish in the corner

Thinking about renting a villa during the winter in Gouna, Egypt, on the Red Sea?

If you are going for a holiday weekend, Gouna is an ideal place to drop in from Hurghada, stay at a high-end hotel (with everything included), and perhaps go clubbing in Abu Tig marina if you’re looking to party.

The brick flooring here — which is only one of two places in the house that has it — retains  heat, and doesn’t suck up the warmth off your bare feet. This was a key discovery!

However, if you are older than, say, 60 years old, and are looking to escape Europe’s winters, and are desirous of peace and quiet, there are quite a few things you need to keep in mind when renting a villa long term.

gouna egypt cat
Sandy loves the new perch area, but after lunch, she morosely went to the stitching area to pine after the Mama (ie, my wife, who is back in the US). Note the freezing marble flooring and the spores under the outside dining table.

Here is a list of 15 “features” of Gouna living that are based on my personal experience of living here for the last 5 months.

  1.  The Cold. Gouna is quite chilly in the winter.  Between December and March, nightime temperatures will average in the hi 40s and low 50s.  Be sure to bring warm layers of clothes, or you will probably get pneumonia from the icy winds, if you go out at night to a restaurant, and, later, don’t have access to many warm blankets at home. The idea of going for a nice swim on the beach is unrealistic during this period, and snorkeling and of course diving will be very uncomfortable even with heavy suits.
  2.  Marble — the somber stone of tombs and prayer. Many villas in Gouna have marble flooring.  While this material is perfect for the long, hot summer months, it is a hypothermia disaster if you are renting a villa during the winter, and the place’s all marble flooring and stone cold countertops.  You will have to wear socks and slippers at all times, and probably purchase rugs (make sure they do not slip underfoot) to prevent your feet from freezing.
  3. No indoor heating or building insulation.  You will have to buy a space heater of some sort.  A small one will cost you around 40 US dollars, but electricity is expensive in Gouna, so your rental costs might spiral out of control from your utilities bill.
  4. The wind in Gouna is almost constant.  In the winter it blows in icily from the West (that is to say, the desert), but also from the North.  The desert winds will usually keep the pestering flies at bay, if you’e sitting, under a blanket of course, on the back porch, but they will also most likely penetrate your villa rental quite easily, as carpentry standards for door and window fittings in Gouna are generally inferior.  You will not only be quite cold at night, but will find that you need to sweep all the floors in your house daily to get rid of all the sand. Moreover, those shoddy window and door fittings will provide multiple entry points for the gratingly thriving colony of mosquitoes that will make your evenings miserable — unless you are prepared to take extreme measures (sleeping under hanging bedroom skeeter nets is just the start of it, which may not even be available to you in your rental) to rid your villa of these disease-laden pests, or at least keep them off you most of the time.
  5. Showers are a pip.  By American upper-middle-class standards, Gouna bathrooms are tiny.  Central heating seems to be unknown in Egypt (the AC units in each room that supposedly turn into heaters usually don’t), and you will not have a boiler outside or in the garage that dispenses hot water throughout the house.  In some villas, there is not even hot water in the kitchen.  The water for your shower will be provided by individual heaters that will hang on the wall of each bathroom.  This is extremely inefficient, as it means that, if you have several bathrooms, you will have to heat water for each one separately. Moreover, the shower spaces themselves will tend to be quite small (by, say, Florida upscale master bathroom standards), and the showerheads will be handheld.  This may be convenient in some cases, but if you will be plum out of luck if you prefer a fixed showerhead that provides an ample stream of hot water that has sufficient pressure to keep you from feeling extremely cold when you are showering in a frigid, marble-floored bathroom in the winter.
  6. No solar technology.  Gouna has plenty of sunshine on most days (which are quite short in winter), but I have yet to see any houses that have solar panel installations. Usage of this technology would go a long way to reducing your electric bill, and also keep the house and pool warm during the winter.
  7. Unless it is heated (which will be very expensive), your lovely pool be unusable — except to seals and polar bears — during your winter stay in Gouna.  Despite this, you will have to pay for a pool person — unless you happen to agree beforehand with the owner or rental agent to empty out the pool, which may not be something they would want to do — who has to come every day to remove the sand and various debris that the constant high wind brings into the pool (as well as skim off the delightful mosquito larvae). This pool guy will take up to an hour to clean the pool every day, and will often have both friends and a smartphone, so be prepared to have uninvited strangers in your back porch every day, day in, day out, unless you are prepared to have a word with someone who more likely than not does not speak a word of English.  If you value privacy, and do not wish to converse in halting Arabic with people you do not know, this can be a major turnoff.
  8. Watering the plants.  The concept of automated irrigation systems seems to be unknown in Gouna, except for the golf courses.  As a result, your villa stay will also feature a daily morning or afternoon visit by a gardener guy who will also have a smartphone and friends.  Again, if you value privacy, you may consider these constant unannounced visits to be a major minus.
  9. Neighbors. I will be very blunt here. Egyptians are an extremely loud people.  They cannot seem to do without loud music, loud conversations on their phones, loud screaming children, noisy cars and loud motorcycles.  During the winter months, many villa owners rent out for the holidays or weekends.  Be prepared to live next to a constantly revolving cadre of vacationers who will not care one iota if the noise they are making — whether in the middle of the night or early in the morning — disturbs you.  This is a severe problem in Gouna, and security is often called in these situations.  But if you do not want to have to constantly deal with calling security due to loud neighbors, you should probably think twice about renting a villa in Gouna, especially if it is located in a area where there is a lot construction (beware of this big time) or demo work being done (usually apartment renovations).
  10. Food.  The fare served at most Gouna restaurants ranges from the mundane to the atrocious — but at three times the price of similar fare in Hurghada or Cairo.  Moreover, make sure you have plenty of Immodium, as it is guaranteed that you will get severe diarrhea at some point during your stay. If you wish to cook your own food, it will be very tedious after a while to constantly go to the very small supermarkets (remember:  you will not have a car) that offer a limited variety of often strange food products of inferior quality. (keep in mind that you may also not be able to make sense of the labeling)  And be prepared to pay twice or three times the price for an imported product that you would find back home.  Your best bet will be to buy chicken breasts from the local butcher shop, if you want meat now and then. It is reasonably priced, but only compared to the same fare in a restaurant in Gouna.
  11. No automatic dishwashers.  If you cook at home, you will soon grow very tired of constantly having to wash all your dishes by hand in a tiny kitchen sink.  Dishwashers are a technology that also seems unknown in Gouna, even in the back kitchens of large restaurants.
  12. Side loading washing machines.  Your Gouna villa will most likely have a European style side loading washing machine.  Americans generally prefer top loading as they are more convenient (particularly if you have back problems) and generally can accommodate more laundry.  You might also have some trouble deciphering the at times quite mysterious settings that will all be in Centigrade readings.
  13. No clothes dryers.  Yes the sun shines daily, so you can dry your stuff outside, but the constant wind more likely than not will blow over those flimsy metal racks that are used here to hang laundry (setting up a laundry line may means having to drill the hooks into the house, which the owners would frown upon).  This means that the clothes you just washed will be covered in sand after the rack falls to the ground from the wind. And if that does not happen, your clothes when dry will turn out to be stiff and wrinkled, unlike how they would dry in an automatic dryer.
  14. Glass stovetop ovens.  There are some people who swear by these things; I am not one of them.  As someone who loves to cook, I prefer that much greater degree of flexibility and control that gas cooking provides. Moreover, they are dangerous (the surface can be quite hot, and you might not notice the tiny H indicator) and quite difficult to keep clean.
  15. Finally, if you rent a villa in Gouna, you will be totally dependent on the tuc tucs and the bus service, unless you walk everywhere, which is good in terms of physical fitness, but a pain in the butt if you have to brave icy winds at night for 30 minutes to get to downtown Gouna, just because you’ve run out of TP.  The bus service is often a complete shambles, due to faulty doors or engine break down, and can be quite unreliable:  not only do the drivers not adhere to a schedule, but sometimes will change their routes on a whimsy, and you can be left waiting at a stop for an hour, not realizing the bus driver decided to take a short cut.  As for the tourist-harassing tuc tucs, they are extremely noisy, throw off lots of oil/gas mix pollution, uncomfortable to get into, have no suspension system to speak of (same with the buses, so be prepared to suffer if you have a bad back), and quite dangerous (you can fall out of one quite easily, or bang your head getting in, and the young drivers often tailgate or engage in races, while talking on their phones and/or smoking). As an aside, smoking is a very big problem in Gouna, not just with bus and tuc tuc drivers, but in restaurants, where you’re often forced to sit in some undesirable inside room to get away from all the cancer stick patrons, who are in abundance in Gouna, as in most of Egypt.

So…. does this mean than living in Gouna is all negative?  Not at all, even though you should not come here expecting much by way of culture (few here seem to read books, and it remains to be seen if there’ll be a repeat of the expensive dud that was last year’s highly touted inaugural Film Festival), you can still come here, sit in the sun as it warms up your arthritic bones, kick back, put on them earbuds, and listen to Dylan sing Winterlude, as the Gouna cat who decides to adopt you does the Suzy snoozies beside you. Could life be any grander?

The point of this post is to make readers (particularly American expats, who would not necessarily come to a third-world country to speculate in real estate — as do many Brit and European villa owners — but simply want a break from the All-Orange-Clown, all-the-time circus routine in the States) of this blog aware of what to expect if you are thinking about renting a villa in Gouna LONG TERM — as opposed to coming for a long weekend of partying and snorkeling and kitesurfing.

In a future post, I will cover some of the positives that I have found from living in Gouna for an extended period. Stay tuned!


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