Touched by the energy of a meditation rock on an island in Aswan, Mohamed Sarwat left his demanding job for a piece of paradise.
Once upon a time, a high-strung TV producer trying to escape the daily pressures of his career went to Aswan, climbed a rocky peak on an island and came back down a different man.
This is the story of Mohamed Sarwat, founder of BenBen Hotel in Aswan - or the short version, at least. Having spent decades navigating the daily pressures of his demanding career, Sarwat’s life perspective was changed that fateful day, as he skeptically followed a local tour guide on Aswan’s Heissa Island who promised him an experience of a lifetime. On that peak sits a meditation rock that pulls travellers from across the world into its gravitational, transformative energy, beckoning them to marvel at one of Egypt’s most stunning and historical landscapes, one defined by Philae, Isis Temple and clear blue waters.
He pledged to bring friends and family to experience that same intangible feeling and what started as a wish to build a modest, private guesthouse for exactly that, has now turned into one of the historic city’s unique holiday destinations, a boutique hotel for high-strung urbanites to escape, recharge and maybe even experience a similar epiphany to Sarwat. They can do so through one of the hotel’s gorgeous 24 suites, split into seven several different types; 11 chalets, three suites and a further three 'one-of-a-kind' rooms - the Infinity Room, the Off the Map Chalet and Family Suite, each one catering to a different type of holidaymaker. Each one boasts a private jacuzzi that looks out on the visually vivacious vista that surrounds it, giving visitors a taste of the view that set Sarwat on his journey so long ago.
“When I went up the first time, I was amazed by the view. In the blink of an eye, five hours had passed,” Sarwat tells #SceneTraveller of ‘that’ moment. “I’d been up there for five hours without realising, just looking out at the view. I felt this indescribable sense of calm.”
This sentiment sits at the heart of the hotel’s soul. While it would be a stretch to use words like ‘wellness’ and ‘retreat’ to describe it, BenBen Hotel feeds off the energy of the magical rock, offering classes and activities aimed at balancing mind, body and soul. “I initially thought of making the hotel device-free,” he remembers, as a smirk breaks-out across his face. “But everyone argued against me - they told me I was crazy!”
One man’s crazy is another man’s genius, of course, and while he backed down on this matter, the hotel is very much his vision. He refuses to take full credit, however, and credits one key player in fleshing out his vision.
“It was the island,” he says with a completely straight face. “The island told us how to build the hotel. We would get to a particularly difficult area of the land to lay the foundations in - so we’d simply change the plan based on what the island was telling us.”
With this kind of figure-it-as-you-go-along approach, the hotel is far from what was initially intended, but it’s this sense of freedom and flexibility that defines the hotel, affording guests the same freedom and flexibility.
“You can come and do what you want, when you want,” Sarwat explains. “There’s no specific time for breakfast like most hotels, for example,” he continues. “There’s no check-in - we take you straight to the room and figure out the details later.”
It’s just one unique feature of staying at the hotel, which also affords each room a private, 24-hour aid that is some kind of fusion between a butler, a concierge and a BFF. This all-in-one super-person will cater to guests’ every whim, even picking them up from the airport and taking them over the waters of Nuba Lake, which surrounds the island.
The meditation rock’s influence on Sarwat and the hotel can’t be underestimated. It’s such a key factor, in fact, that every guest is given a necklace to wear for the duration of their stay, each with a rock whose energy responds to your holistic healing needs.
The word holistic can be used for the construction of the hotel itself. It’s made on the island and of the island. It’s granite formations have been a source of material and Sarwat and his various collaborators have been keen to ensure that the hotel’s very existence doesn’t interfere with an ecosystem and environment that has been untouched by man’s instinct to come, see and conquer for centuries.
Benben Hotel is set to launch at the end of September, 2021. Stay tuned…