Travel consultant focused on cultural travel in the Middle East & Mediterranean
The Land of the Pharaohs has appealed to the imagination of travellers for centuries. Centred on the timeless Nile River, the vast temples, pyramids and tombs never lose their power to impress. But Egypt has a great deal more to offer – Coptic quarters that are home to the world’s oldest Christian community, UNESCO listed Islamic areas that welcome all humanity, thriving towns and cities, the rugged landscape of the Sinai, Nubian villages in the south of the country, and above all an energetic and friendly people.
These are some of the places that I like to take travellers –
In Cairo, the Pyramids and Sphinx (of course!), the wonderful Old Kingdom site of Saqqara with its Stepped Pyramid, the Citadel of Saladin overlooking the older quarters, the exotic bazaar of Khan al Khalili, the ancient churches (and synagogue) of Coptic Cairo, the treasure house of the Egyptian Museum and the rarely visited maze of back streets in medieval Cairo, where commercial life goes on as it has for centuries.
Alexandria is not on most tourist itineraries, but this atmospheric Mediterranean city is a great place to spend a few days. It has the restored Fort Qaytbay overlooking the sea, the Roman Amphitheatre (the only one of its kind in Egypt), the eerie Catacombs of Kom as Shoqafa and the magnificent modern Library. An evening stroll along the waterfront, perhaps looking out for a seafood restaurant and chatting to the locals, is a beautiful and relaxing way to pass the time.
Between Alexandria and Cairo is the World War II battlefield of Al Alamein with its sombre Allied War Cemetery. Not far away is a cluster of ancient Christian monasteries at Wadi Natrun – my favorite is the serene and beautiful Deir Anba Bishoi, little visited but most welcoming to the traveller.
The Nile River has been the heart of Egyptian civilisation since time immemorial. Our three or four night Nile cruises between Luxor and Aswan take us to the magnificent Temples of Kom Ombo and Edfu, in great comfort and style, as we slip past riverside villages untouched by modernity – a striking contrast to the noise and bustle of Cairo.
Luxor was the spiritual capital of ancient Egypt, and is now the biggest concentration of antiquities in the world. The vast Temple of Karnak, the Valley of the Kings, the Temple of Hatchepsut (the only female Pharaoh), the artisans’ village of Deir al Medina – none need an introduction, and all live up the high expectations of travellers.
Aswan is a convenient starting point for a visit to the wonders of AbuSimbel – the huge rock-hewn temples of Ramses II and Nefertari, cut up and reassembled by UNESCO to escape the rising water of Aswan’s High Dam. And Aswan itself is a delightful laid-back city, where we vist the High Dam and the charming Temple of Isis on Philae Island, as well as a Nubian village, and indulge in a little shopping in the bustling souk.
The landscape of the Sinai peninsula is best described as biblical – mountainous desert with a few oases. Our destination there is Moses’ Mount Sinai and the ancient Greek Orthodox monastery of St Catherine, built around the Burning Bush and thriving as a place of worship and pilgrimage. Climbing the mountain to watch the rising sun is an experience never to be forgotten.