Dar Dahab

Dar Dahab My Egyptian Home

Driving north from Sharm el-Sheikh airport, the road winds through an hour of copper-colored rugged, desolate mountains. Rounding the last curve, a hot asphalt gives way to the cool breeze rolling off the blue waters of the Gulf of Aqaba. It is here, in this quiet Bedouin town that Swiss-Egyptian, Nahed Ismail, founded Dar Dahab, My Egyptian Home, in 2015. “The idea to return to Egypt after my retirement was deeply compelling,” explained Ismail. “My father, an engineer, moved us to Switzerland when I was a little girl but we always spent our summers in Egypt and this is how I kept my relationship with the country.” In 2011, Ismail retired and returned to Egypt. She wanted to live simply in authentic surroundings. Dahab made an immediate impression. She bought a piece of land to build a small home but then decided that an income generating project would be more practical, as long as it was authentically Egyptian.

Above: Dar Dahab is a guesthouse of three floors, 9-full service apartments. A rooftop space an accommodate group gatherings. Delicious Egyptian cuisine is served upon request oreach apartment has a full kitchen for the guest convenience. The friendly staff can arrange all outdoor activities.

To achieve this goal, Ismail hired Swiss architect Anthony Julen who had studied Egyptian local building materials and was keen to design a building that used natural and sustainable materials to incorporate the craftsmanship of Egyptian builders and artisans. The plot of land Ismail chose skirted the shores of the turquoise waters. The new edifice would bask in a constant refreshing breeze and sounds of the surf.

Open courtyard reflects traditional architecture of North Africa and the Levant with fountains and greenery; the courtyard invites conversation, a glass of sweet black tea or Turkish coffee. The outer wall, open to the sea, is influenced by mashrabiya, an architectural element traditionally used in the Islamic world as a wind catcher.

The courtyard, bedrooms, and dining room are furnished with sturdy palm frond chairs and tables. Palm trees are grown in all parts of Egypt. The person who makes chairs, tables and other furniture from palm fronds is known as an artist, fannan. The legs of chairs and tables are cut from the trunk of the palm frond. The seat and back of the chair are made with slender palm branches in lattice work design.

During previous visits to Egypt, the owner and the architect found inspiration while visiting Siwa Oasis. Studying local building materials in Siwa, they took the decision that the outer walls of the Dahab guesthouse would be built of salt bricks allowing gold and yellow light to stream through the luminous bricks. Interior walls were plastered with a mud/salt/sand mix, a Siwa building technique applied by hand. Ismail’s insistence on an open courtyard reflects traditional architecture of North Africa and the Levant and for special effect, the outer wall is a mashrabiya (carved latticework) design, which allows air and light to play throughout the day within the courtyard. For the furnishings a minimalist, sturdy and comfortable approach was taken; a craftsman from Monsoura was selected to construct palm frond furniture. From the village of Tunis in the Fayoum Oasis, ceramic plates and bowls add charm in the guest rooms and on dining tables.

Salt bricks are produced in the Eastern mines of Siwa Oasis. The white salt is called ‘karshif’, composed of salt crystals that contain impurities of sand giving it a brownish color. Salt bricks exude negative ions, which are believed to produce biochemical reactions that enhances serotonin levels, relieve stress and promote energy.

In Arabic, dar means ‘house or home’.  Nahed Ismail prides herself in welcoming guests to Dar Dahab, home away from home. She says, “Welcoming people back…welcoming them home, means, to me, that people return to their Egyptian family, their Egyptian home.” She continues, “Every Egyptian family has a suitcase of old photographs and my daughters said, ‘why don’t we hang these photographs throughout the guesthouse?’ They believed it is important to share our family history with guests.” 

Ceramic bowl from Tunis Village in the Fayoum Oasis, sits atop the table made from palm fronds. The outer wall constructed of salt brick architecture brought in from the Siwa Oasis allows the natural light to cast various shades of gold across rooms throughout the day.

Tip: Fayoum Pottery, Ceramic Arts and Crafts in an Egyptian Oasis by R. Neil Hewison, AUC Press.

All rooms are equipped with a full kitchen so guests can cook if they prefer not to eat out. Even though Ismail prefers the guest house to remain on a small-scale, there is more and more demand. Ismail smiles, “We are successful but it is a challenge to stay small. I want the guesthouse to remain homelike and familiar. I don’t want ten people working with me.” She continues, “We are starting to be known as a well-being retreat. Perhaps the dar concept enhances well-being. Groups take over the entire building. We have space for yoga, gatherings, and meals together, just like a big family.” Ismail explains that in Dahab cats adopt their owners, not the other way around. Every establishment has a cat that walks in and makes itself at home.

Address: Dar Dahab Street, Assalah, Dahab 46629 – South Sinaï
WhatsApp: +20106 789 4913

Website: https://dardahab.com; Email: info@dardahab.com

Instagram: @dardahab.official; Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dar.dahab/

**All rights reserved by Lesley Lababidi. To copy or re-produce photography and/or writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required.