Organised chaos with a twist

Mahmoud Bakr , Tuesday 13 Jul 2021

Featuring spectacular views of the Red Sea and a handpicked collection of antiques, the Farsha café in Sharm El-Sheikh welcomed Mahmoud Bakr for a visit

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Nestled in the arms of the Um Al-Sid Hill in Sharm El-Sheikh is the Farsha café. Laid back, cosy, and romantic, it enjoys breathtaking views of the Red Sea and is frequented by those who want to leave worldly matters behind.

Taking the stairs down into the multi-storey café, it can be confusing which seating area to choose. Each has a different mood, although all are made up of fluffy cushions placed on the floor surrounding a round metal tray that serves as a table.

Farsha is not just an ordinary café that serves light snacks, hot and cold beverages, and water pipes, or shisha, before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, along with a section on the menu for vegetarians.

What distinguishes it is that it also houses a valuable collection of antiques that Alfred Suleiman, the owner, handpicked from all over Egypt. Each piece has a story to tell and a history that has left its mark.

The best time to visit Farsha is before sunset. Upon arriving, visitors can take a tour of the café to see the antiques collection before sitting down to enjoy the enchanting views of the sea as the sun disappears into the water. At night, the café is lit by spotlights placed carefully on different parts of the surrounding hill, allowing visitors to delve into a different and more relaxed realm and to unwind to the sounds of music.

Farsha is Suleiman’s project, the idea of which has been with him since he was 10 years old. He is now 40, and he remembers that as a boy “I used to travel to Sharm El-Sheikh with my father in his old car and stay 20 days in the desert. This is where I grew to adore the simple life of Sinai and its primitive, exquisite nature, its camel and livestock herding, and everything else about it,” he said.

“Sharm El-Sheikh has a smell that I can instantly recognise. Now, I live here with my mother, and I visit the capital only every two or three years,” Suleiman told Al-Ahram Weekly.

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Farsha was an idea in his mind when he was just 16. “I wrote in my diary ‘a place in the mountains like a cowboy’s house made of wood and a stable like a hut that operates only at night to the sound of music’. At the end, I wrote ‘fool,” knowing that this was a difficult dream to come true,” he said.

“My goal wasn’t about making money as much as it was about a journey in search of identity, taste, and belonging,” he added.

Suleiman grew fond of decoration due to the skills he learned at his church in Cairo’s Rod Al-Farag district. He used to go to the Red Sea Mountains where Farsha is now in his adolescent years when he was frustrated due to the failure of one of his projects.

“I would sit pensively looking at the sea and recall my aspirations. Then I thought about renting the place to set up a small Bedouin-style café. Together with a friend, Suleiman Ghabboush, and his son from Tor, we hired this place to serve tea and Arab coffee to our clients.”

“After Ghabboush went back home, I thought of styling the café differently. Realising the value of antiques, I decided to tour the country to collect everything old and precious as the theme of the new café. By the age of 25, I had visited many villages and acquired many works of art. It became a hobby, and every time I travel anywhere today, I go on a hunt to collect unique pieces.”

Suleiman’s collection is very special. “If I see a nail on the ground, I immediately know where it comes from. This is because I designed and decorated the café myself, and as I did so I grew closer to nature, and we became friends,” he said. “My primary concern now is that visitors feel happy, enjoy the scenery, and the food and drinks served in the café.”

There is a small house covered with goat hair. “I bought the cover from a Bedouin lady in Rafah city,” Suleiman explains, adding that “I also collected trays of different shapes and sizes that double as tables in the café. These I bought from the countryside and re-forged at Am Mohamed’s workshop located in Jews’ Alley. When Am Mohamed died three years ago, I wanted to buy his tools and equipment from his heirs, but they refused unfortunately.”

There are many doors and windows in the Farsha café, and each was handpicked by Suleiman after he related to the stories behind them. “One of the doors was installed in a famous church. It took a lot of negotiating skills to convince its vendor to sell it to me,” he continued.

Placards with folk sayings decorate the walls. “I bought the placards which have a personal meaning for me. One of them reads ‘patience is the key to relief.’ Another says, ‘patience can bring mountains down,’ and so on.”

Farsha has become famous today owing to its ambiance and the friendliness of its staff. “The café employs 15 staff members who are all very polite, friendly, and connect with visitors,” he said. The idea behind the name is a simple one. “When I was designing the place, my late brother would frequently call me to ask whether I had ‘fitted out’ the café yet,” he said. From here came the name of Farsha, which means “to fit out”, Suleiman stated.

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“What is sold at Farsha is not just food or drink, it is more quality time,” he said. At most times there is no minimum charge, and nor are reservations required and the menu prices are extremely reasonable. Because Farsha is loaded with antique objects, children are not allowed into the café.

Maybe one visit to Farsha is not enough to notice the intricate details of the place. On their first visit, and upon coming down the stairs, customers may be dazzled by the awesome views and miss out on the fact that the stairs are made of wood decorated with metal, for example. The place caters for those looking for simplicity, quiet, and unification with nature.

The location of the Um Al-Sid Hill and the views from the top are some of the advantages that Farsha enjoys. The café is located 12.5 km from the King Tut Museum, 13.7 km from the Sharm Papyrus Museum, and 13.8 km from the Sharm El-Sheikh Old Market.

 “The Farsha café is an expression of organised chaos,” Suleiman concluded.

 *A version of this article appears in print in the 15 July, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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