A famous star, high fashion and a fabulous yacht; the perfect ingredients for an ultra glam holiday. Exclusively for our
Luxury Travel issue, Enigma’s Fashion Director Maissa Azab took Egypt’s favourite silver screen sweetheart to the
gorgeous Red Sea resort of El Gouna for a dazzling dose of sun, sand and high-octane glamour, turning up the heat with the season’s sexiest pieces. Meanwhile while Editorial
Executive Omnia Zaied talked travel and timeless memories with the irresistible Mona Zaki.
You had quite the nomadic childhood. Tell us a little about that…
Whenever my dad used to travel for work, he’d take us along with him. So as a kid I lived in Canterbury, England for two years. Then we moved to Kuwait and stayed there until I was 13. Eventually my family decided to settle back in Egypt and it wasn’t long before I started getting into quite a bit of trouble at school. After having such a varied childhood, I couldn’t get into the scheduled swing of things. I couldn’t fathom the concept of wearing a uniform or being scolded for not wearing white socks and not tying my hair back. So after a year my dad shipped me off to Louisiana in the United States to finish high school.
So do you still get itchy feet when you stay in one place for too long?
Yes definitely! Whenever I get the chance, I pack up and go. If my daughter is on holiday I’ll take her with me, if not I’ll leave her with my mother and just head off.
Where do you like to escape?
I have been almost everywhere; the Far East, South Africa, Europe and of course America. I just love going to new places, learning about new cultures, and shopping of course.
Do you ever get recognised in Europe?
Yes, there are so many Arabs there so I inevitably get spotted.
Does it bother you?
Not at all! I actually have a very touching story concerning just that. When my aunt got cancer we took her to Paris for treatment. It was high season and we just couldn’t get a reservation in any centrally located hotel. We had to stay an hour’s drive outside of Paris, taking a taxi in and out of the city everyday, which as you can imagine in the circumstances was very stressful. Then one day we met an Egyptian just outside of the hospital. He was a very simple and down to earth guy. He recognised me and asked if there was anything he could do to help us while we were in town. We swapped numbers, and I thought that would be it. A couple of days later, I got a call from him informing me that he and his family had cleared their apartment – which was close to the hospital – so that we could stay there instead. I couldn’t believe it until he personally came with his wife, helped us pack and took us there. And everyday he’d call and check up on us!
Where do you like to go in the Middle East?
I am a big fan of Egypt’s North Coast, but not when it’s crowded. I also like El Gouna but can only stay there for a maximum of four days. I also love Lebanon and Bludan in Syria.
Who is your favourite travel buddy?
My best friend Jumana Shehata. Before I was married I used to go everywhere with my girlfriends. I remember once Jumana and I went to LA. We were still students and our parents were slightly upset for making them pay for the whole trip, so they gave us very little pocket money. To save, we stayed at a student hostel. We were supposed to pay our board each day, first thing in the morning. Of course we never woke up early enough, so the manager threatened to kick us out. We didn’t take her seriously, and then one morning, while I was still asleep, the door flung open and she was shouting at me, threatening that if I don’t leave within an hour she’d call the police. I didn’t know what to do and I couldn’t find Jumana anywhere, so I started gathering all of our stuff, the shopping bags and everything. Then I had to sit on the pavement waiting for Jumana to show up. Suddenly a car screeched in from round the corner and it was Jumana in a rented car that she was so excited about. Then I told her we were kicked out and we had to take the car back so we could afford to stay in a hotel. Of course looking back, those types of experiences make for some of our best memories.
Do you ever get the chance to go on girlie trips anymore?
I’m the only one in my group of friends who is married with kids, and we are all very busy with work so it’s become virtually impossible to arrange those sorts of trips.
Speaking of kids, which countries will you make sure to visit with your daughter?
It was very important to me to take her to South Africa and Disney Land, which I did. I would love to take her to China some day; I’ve never been there but I’d love to go with her.
What is your favourite mother-daughter activity when you are abroad?
I love taking her for walks in Central Park in New York and Hyde Park in London. We don’t get to do that a lot in Egypt, unless it’s in an empty place like Seasons Country Club or Palm Hills. So to be able to take her out in public is always great.
Would you let her travel alone?
Sure! Actually at her school, at around the age of 12, she has to go to Germany for a while. That’s fine with me, because I used to travel alone when I was even younger than that.
Which one trip would you do all over again?
Malaysia. I went there with my mum a very long time ago. I would love to go again with friends. I loved how it’s an Islamic country yet they are all chilled out and not restricted.
What about your honeymoon?
Oh my God no! It was one of my worst trips. I went to South Africa and even though I love it there and I love my husband, I couldn’t help but think, “Is this really it?” I kept looking at Ahmed and thinking, “Who are you? Why am I here? I said I’d get married when I’m 30, what happened? Why am I married now?” You just get that feeling you’re stuck after your wedding.
What is your favourite romantic getaway?
Zanzibar, I went there once and it is just beautiful.
If you had to live in one country forever, which would it be?
South Africa. One of my dreams is to buy a house there. I also wouldn’t mind living on a yacht somewhere in the sea, as long as it’s spacious! I’d just relax, tan and sleep on deck, waking up with the sunrise. I am a summer person so I love that kind of life.
What about the worst places you’ve been?
Ukraine, I went there when I was filming Taymour & Shafika and it was horrible. We spent the second part of the trip in a hotel where there was no hot water, even though it was freezing. The heater wasn’t working and there was only one blanket, so I had to wear four pyjamas in order to sleep. The other horrendous trip was in a desert oasis in Egypt during the filming of Abu Ali. We were staying in a place we started calling ‘the mental hospital’. It wasn’t a real hotel and we basically had to sleep on bricks. The smell of pesticide there was strong enough to kill and the whole time we had to keep on the look out for snakes. It was a disaster!
What is your favourite international cuisine?
I love to try the traditional food of every country I visit, so I usually gain lots of weight when I travel. In Spain I loved the paella and the tapas. I also love Lebanese food.
What are your favourite dining spots outside of Egypt?
I love the Sushi Bar and Abdel Wahab in Lebanon, and Olive Garden in New York. There’s so many more but I’m really bad with names.
What are your favourite fashion destinations?
America, Spain and Italy. I know my way around and I know where to go to get some great bargains on designer brands.
What’s your travelling style?
I usually keep things simple; jeans, trainers, flip-flops and sweat pants.
What are your ‘must-have’ travel accessories?
I never wear makeup on a daily basis, so I never wear it while I’m travelling. But I carry a mascara, concealer and lipstick just for emergencies. I also have to have a loofa wherever I go. I never really understand why they don’t have them in hotels; I need to have my loofa to feel clean.
So with all your jet setting over the years, have you learned to pack light?
Not at all! I always have fights with my husband because he wants to travel with a single suitcase between the two of us. Of course this sounds ridiculous to me and I blame everything I forget on him.
What are your packing tips?
I don’t fold the clothes, I straighten them. And I put the shoes in the corners. You can fit more in that way. It’s also easier for last minute packers like me who don’t have the time to fold.
What about general travel tips?
Try to really experience the country you visit; don’t rent a car or take cabs. Take the underground or buses so you can get a taste of the real country. Also keep a map with you just in case.
If you were stuck on a deserted island, what three things would you want with you?
I would love to have my family with me. My mum, my dad – God rest his soul, my husband, my daughter, my cousins, my brothers and a couple of my friends.
The island is supposed to be deserted, remember!
Well, that’s still deserted! I’d want to have some books and bathing suits as well. To be honest I wouldn’t mind being stuck on a deserted island. I’d love to just sit on the beach, tan, eat fruit and read. And it would give me time to meditate.