You think you're driving into the middle of nowhere, then thoughts of classic horror plots jump to mind. But once you arrive through the gates of Rouqayah's Ranch, you're transported to a better Egypt and an older Egypt all at once.
It’s not often I get to profile a traditional business like this, but even a city boy like myself can appreciate a break from the pollution, people, and noise and delight in somewhere that can only be described as idyllic.
The ranch is situated west of
Alexandria on the North Coast in Kobry Hammouda. It
offers a unique holiday experience where one can enjoy European
standard riding lessons, or a stay on a traditional working farm
with either catered or self-catering accommodation.
The ranch offers short and long treks, as well as a swimming pool, and a kitted villa and cottage. Those who prefer roughing it can even pitch their tent in the secluded gardens to really experience the fresh air and the clean and friendly surrounding environment.
Rouqayah, also known as Sheridan James, runs the ranch with her husband Alaa' Al-Din Abd Ul-Hafiz. Sheridan is an English farmer's daughter, who came to live her dream in Egypt nearly 3 years ago. “I was looking for horses and I ended up also finding a husband!” laughed Sheridan as she explained how she was introduced to Alaa’. “I’m glad my dream brought me to the North Coast as I’d have gone bonkers if I’d have stayed in Cairo,” Sheridan added.
But an idyllic setting doesn’t always mean an easy life.
“The work is physical of course, and these two years have been
hard. Most of our guests are foreigners and of course they’ve been
scared away by the instability,” Alaa’ explained.
The ranch has also experienced a high turnover of workers, even though they offer well above average wages for the area. “We thought a great working environment, benefits and good pay would be motivating enough,” he says. Reading between the lines, I understood that the workers often respond more to the stick than the carrot, which I think is the unfortunate consequence of living under dictatorship for so long.
But things are looking up as the ranch is now getting a new breed of Egyptian client, one that is looking for a modern yet local experience. Especially when it comes to horse riding, as the ranch specialises in properly cared for and trained horses, correctly fitting tack and properly trained grooms and guides, to make the riding experience safe and above all enjoyable.
Livestock are the basis of the business' second income stream, as the owners sell live ducks, chickens, and rabbits, as well as green-fed beef, free range chicken or duck eggs, Gibna Arish (low fat ‘cottage cheese’), cow butter and samna (ghee), cream and clotted cream (yummy, I’ve missed this since leaving the UK), fresh whole raw milk, full fat yogurt, and homemade jams. Not only is it organic, the company also delivers to Alexandria and Cairo, serving a small but growing and loyal group of customers.
In order to properly assess the product, I obviously had to sample some of the food. The beef is great, and the rabbit is a pain to serve but tasty. The combination of jam and clotted cream however, is a knockout combo that my sweet tooth craves, without the artificial taste that so often comes from mass produced brands. I’m definitely going to take the family there soon for an extended stay and some proper idyllic rest and relaxation.
There’s a growing trend for internal tourism within Egypt, which is perhaps the only thing keeping the local tourism industry alive as it’s taken hit after hit during recent instability. It’s true that most internal tourism is still directed towards mass consumer sun & sea destinations like Marina, Sharm El Sheikh, or more recently Ain Sokhna, but it’s refreshing to find a new style of internal tourism emerge.