By: Berhane Woldu
The view outside my window included wild birds and cats roaming near the hotel, a majestic caravan of camels marching by the beach, an empty plain sand beach that extended to the rugged coast, and 3,000 kilometers of open sea that separated me from Asia. This is the city of Massawa; “Pearl of the Red Sea” located in the Northern red sea region of Eritrea. Travelers visiting Africa expect a crash course in tropical living. But in Massawa all one needs to do is book a room at the Gergousoum, an antique old hotel, and the most recent upgraded hotel by Massawa beach.
The rooms are moderately priced, air conditioned and specious. There are two restaurants on location one traditional and one Westernized. There is one outdoor café with full service and two bars. The opening of Gergousoum Hotel ultrachic designer boutique hotel in such an unexpected location marked the coming of age for luxury travel to Eritrea. For years, the country properties lacked the aesthetic pizzazz of more high-profile alternatives due to colonization by the Marxist government of Ethiopia: Kenyan’s sumptuous safari camps, Singapore’s jet-set urban hotels and beach resorts, Europe’s courtly manors and country estates. But thanks to a number of investors and tourism favored economic policy, led by Warsay-Yekalo economic development program, and with no crime Eritrea has become the new hotspot for developers of high-end designer boutiques, resorts and villas.
The Massawa International airport with its modern facility has facilitated the fast growing tourism industry in the Massawa metro area. An Italian and Eritrean joint venture Millennium Hotel will open its first luxury hotel complete with air-condition and other luxury items this year in Massawa. Grand Hotel Dahlak much –anticipated Georgina Ocean Hotel, where suites come with private gardens and pools, was completed in 2009, luxurious Grand Hotel Dahlak will soon be full to capacity with Tourism. Dahlak and Desei Islands are nature’s beauty. Desei Island is located 25 miles east of Massawa. Summer 2006 over 150 Eritrean Americans toured Desei Island camped for two days, slept on the beach, cooked, danced and toured the Island and its inhabitants.
The Island is surrounded by coral reefs and pristine coastal lines on all sides. The swimming and scuba diving in the legendarily clear water was miraculous. For the first time in my life I was able to see clearly of what the ocean consisted; vegetations, fish of all kind and coral reefs. In 2011 Desei Island will be a tourist destination thanks to the Tourism Center with its 46 modern huts and a restaurant. There‘s definitely been a lot of really substantial openings and announcement in the area. On a recent trip through Anseba region, I sampled a dozen new constructions of villas and three designer hotels that exemplified the emerging upscale-hospitality scene. My first stop was two lavish modern style grand hotels Sarina and Costina in the historic Keren city.
These new Hotels Sarina and Costina are owned by Eritreans. Sarina sits by the skirt of the entry to the city with a view of the mountains with a roof top garden and a luxuries outdoor café. The rooms are luxurious with top quality furniture. The hotel had a decidedly more rural feel that matched the vibe of the surrounding neighborhood. Costina on the other hand is located in the center of the city with its urban looking, with its trendy cafés and restaurants. The location was great the human touch with its welcome smile and drinks served by the servers the ceremoniously key handed by the door man is touching. Next stop I opted for a bigger Hotel, the Costina which opened to great fanfare last summer in Gash-Barka’s region frenetic hot city Tesseney. Tesseney is a trading city bordering Sudan, its warm climate calls for a cold drink on arrival. From what I observed on my short stay, I and the other hotel guests, many of them traders and businessmen, were noticeably less hip than the members of the young “it” crowed and the tourists who flocked to its trendy outdoor restaurants and famous for barbeque grilled meat. For those who don’t particularly enjoy being surrounded by people who are cooler than they are, I suggest the more laid back Hadish Hotel located as you enter the city of Teseney. My final leg, I drove to Asmara where instead of staying at one of the usual suspects on past-its- prime, I checked in to the Albergo Italia.
Decades before the boutique hotel opened its doors, it functioned as a resort hotel for Italian colonizers. This history has been revived in its renovated design, with the use of Gothic and classical sculptures, Chandeliers settings back to “old Roma” Albergo Italia two story 18th century building boasts two terraces, an outdoor café and a rose garden restaurant. The rooms are furnished with high value furniture; mirrors and chandlers. One’s mind will be occupied by the damages one would have to pay if they broke one of the countless mirrors or chandlers. Thinking I’d be more comfortable with something more practical and childproof I opted for an actual hotel and checked into a surprising good value, Asmara Palace Hotel.
This was perhaps the antithesis of the last property I visited, Asmara Palace Hotel with new management more than 100,000 square-meter, 170 rooms, 7 villas, two restaurants, a night club, an indoor and outdoor café, a full service gym, two Olympic size pools, one out door and one indoor is a contemporary wonder in the sunny peaceful city of Asmara. The over-the-top design of the MESOBB shaped front side of the building looked as if it had been carried by Angles in from St-Mary miraculous church. Mesobb is a traditional dining table where the whole family sits around and eats. Mesobb is a symbol for love and harmony within the family. Such cutting-edge designs in Africa would indeed have looked foreign, but not in Eritrea whose designers use local art to exemplify the rich history and tradition of the country.