Monthly Archives: December 2012

Nazlet El- Samman: A community dedicated to tourism

This was the first story ever to write in my whole life. It was published in Al Ahram Weekly newspaper in May 1991, only few months after the end of the second Gulf War. I chose to write about Nazlet El-Samman because I used to work there for few months after I graduated from University. For me, it was a totally exclusive experience. It was a place that was completely different from the place I live in. I saw a whole community dedicated to one profession, namely, tourism. I saw families who have different customs and traditions from other places in Egypt; families who know each other and form one big community. Here is the story:


A community of shop owners, horse owners, cameleers and fake statutes at the foot of the pyramids

The inhabitants of Nazlet El-Samman live at the foot of the pyramids of Giza. They have a long history of service to tourists and they desire to continue to ply their trade.

“A man called El-Hefnawi was once famous for being able to climb the great pyramid in seven minutes, and a cameleer called Lamea owned a camel of worldwide fame; it was called Canada Dry and people came from far and wide to ride it,” said Zahi Hawwas, director of antiquities of the Giza Plateau (the then minister of antiquities in the last cabinet in Mubarak’s era and also in the first cabinet after the revolution).

Such stories are also told by members of the community situated beside one of the most famous sites in the world, the pyramids of Giza. The settlement was named after Sheikh Hamad El-Samman who settled there in the 7th century; he devoted himself to worship in one of the ancient Egyptian tombs on the necropolis belonging to an official called Debhen who lived in the time of Menakaure, builder of the second pyramid.

Today the settlement has expanded and some 70,000 people live in Nazlet El-Samman. They are the people who serve an estimated 3,000 tourists who visit Giza daily in the peak season. They own the horse stables, they are the cameleers, and they are the traders who own numerous papyrus galleries, oriental bazaars, and kiosks that sell “instant antiquities” in the area.


Selling fake statues is one of the professions of the residents of the area

“Not all of our people are educated,” said Atef El-Gabri, the owner of a perfume shop. “But from our contact with foreigners we know a variety of languages…in fact we consider it our duty to communicate in the tongues of all the visitors who come to Giza.”

So successful is the community that sons tend to follow in the footsteps of their fathers in various trades and “some of our children who became doctors, engineers and graduates in other fields have left their profession and joined us to work in the field of tourism,” explained another resident. “Many do the necessary training and also act as guides.”

In Nazlet El-Samman there are about 100 shops and papyrus galleries, as well as about three times as many carpet shops as there are at Sakkara. The traders do a thriving business on cleverly manufactured fake statuettes, and a large variety of gold and silver jewellery is also on sale.

“Would you like to have your name carved on a cartouche?” is a frequent appeal to tourists; or “Come and look…no charge for looking!”


Horse stables at Nazlet El- Samman

In Nazlet El-Samman, the tribal identity is strong. The inhabitants are of Arab stock; that is to say they are desert people, not Nile Valley dwellers, and they first came to the area in large numbers when the Mena House Hotel was built around the turn of the century.

“We were brought in with our horses to provide services for tourists wishing to ride around the pyramids. Later we built our own stables, and they are now 15 in the area.”

The area is characterized with large families which are closely attached to each other; there are clans that go by such names as Khattab, El-Gabri, El-Shaar, Fayed, El-Komati, Abu- Ghounan, Abu – Ghanem and Abu Talib. Members of each clan tend to intermarry and weddings are a great celebration, when animals are slaughtered for a great feast, drums like the tabla baladi announce the happiness of the families, and horse dancing is part of the festivity. Foreign visitors are always welcome at such occasions.


Camel riding at the Giza Plateau

The celebration of the birthday, or mulid, of the local Sheikh is another festive occasion. It takes place in September, and always falls on a Wednesday or Thursday. “It is like a great feast,” said Samira, another resident of the area. “There is great concern for new clothes, for swings and entertainment for the children, and also sweets, halawet el-mulid. Each house celebrates the occasion as if it were a special occasion for the householder. Large quantities of food are served. For me the mulid means spending the whole day cooking!”

Collective marriages are performed on that day, in the belief that the couples are especially blessed by the holy sheikh. “More than a hundred wedding parties are not unusual,” explained Atef El-Gabri. And just as tourists are welcome to watch or participate in wedding receptions at hotels in Cairo, and share in the happiness of the betrothed, so too are they welcomed at Nazlet El-Samman.


The people do not see themselves as obstacles to archaeological excavation and the protection of the monuments. “If a mummy is found under one of our houses the government can remove it, but there is no need to remove all the houses! is their attitude.

In fact, they are right. The government has decided that houses falling into disrepair will not be rebuilt; instead, their residents will be provided with new accommodation elsewhere. Meanwhile, the shops, stables and cameleers will remain. Tourists to Giza will continue to be enticed by established customs, and to enjoy the services of the people.

“Nefertiti, Nefertiti…..come and buy a statue for only two dollars!”

“Beautiful papyrus paintings, better than the original!”

“Cleopatra will take you for a ride in the desert!”

“You want photograph on a camel!”

Categories: Egypt, Giza | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ageless elegance

Native Alexandrians are a proud sort. Blessed with the open sea as their backdrop and alive with a traditionally polyglot and cosmopolitan community, Egypt’s second-largest city has never settled for second-best. Even so, Alexandria has always lived in the long shadow of its former glory as an ancient cultural and intellectual epicentre, and later, as a hedonistic expatriate playground. Today, the city is most often evoked as a holiday spot for Cairo residents seeking relief from the brutal summer heat, and in relation to ongoing discoveries associated with its rich Graeco-Roman history. As a travel destination, however, Alexandria is really best appreciated in the winter, where the pace of life marches on unaffected by the glut of summer weekenders.


Vigorous, sweet sea breezes and a brisk but embracing chill await you in Alex this time of the year, along with a markedly different milieu from fast-paced, egocentric Cairo. But this was just what I was hoping for when we set out from Cairo and headed out along the so-called Desert Road. I hadn’t come this way for quite some time and as with so many trips to fast-developing tourist centres, I was astounded by the difference from the days when the appellation was more apt. Then the road was desolate, traffic-free, and truly barren, with nothing on either side of the road but sand and a few hills. There were no petrol stations, virtually no service to speak of, and only one place to stop — a cafeteria called the Rest House, located halfway into the journey. Today the “Desert Road” has turned green. Swathes of agricultural land line the roadside, horse-breeding farms are surrounded by gardens, fountains, villas and palatial houses. And of course, the old Rest House is no longer the only game in town.

A leisurely drive from Cairo to Alexandria takes about three hours. On reaching the city, we headed straight for its heart; to Saad Zaghloul Square, near the main downtown transport terminal Ramleh Station. This is the departure point for trips to Qaitbey Fort (where one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Pharos lighthouse, once stood) and Al-Mursi Abul-Abbas Mosque, as well as to the resorts of Montazah, Maamoura and Abu Qir. Perched on the corner of Saad Zaghloul Square and commanding an uninterrupted view of the eastern harbour is the grand old Cecil hotel, a Moorish style building established in 1929. The architecture is reminiscent of the eclectic style of Alexandria’s 19th- and 20th-century cosmopolitan period. I had long dreamed of staying at this former seat of lavish extravagance and fancied the idea of spending a few nights in a place that has figured prominently in modern Alexandrian lore.


Al Montazah Palace


Alexandria Beaches

Stanely bay

Stanley Bay


Saad Zaghloul Square

At the turn of the 20th century, Alexandria was home to an extensive population of Greek, Italian and other European expatriates, and the culture was decidedly Mediterranean in style. The legacy of this era, in which some of the most celebrated writings about Alexandria are set — Lawrence Durell’s The Alexandria Quartet, the work of Greek poet Constantine Cavafy and Naguib Mahfouz’s novel Miramar — is still palpable in modern-day Alexandria, deftly blended into more familiar signposts of urban Egyptian life: the souqs (markets), cafés, restaurants and hotels. Even the residents are inimitably formed of this hybrid of cultures. It is reflected in well-known buildings that have become Alexandrian institutions like the Cecil and Metropole hotels — both of which can boast an impressive roster of former guests — and legendary cafés and patisseries like the Grand Trianon, Délices and Athineos.


Cecil Hotel



The old elevator of Cecil Hotel

Distinguished guests from King Faisal of Saudi Arabia to the likes of Noel Coward and Somerset Maugham have lingered in the Cecil’s quarters. The hotel is now affiliated with the Accor Group and has seen some ambitious, but bland restoration and refurbishing schemes. Still, the place maintains its historic sense of grandeur and has preserved some pleasant old-style features, like the old-fashioned lift and the lobby’s opulent setting. The rooms, however, are another story altogether and did not hold up to my expectations. Frankly, there was nothing special about them — I felt I could be anywhere, in any hotel, and not in such a historic place. This nondescript characteristic is sadly pervasive in the hotels of Alexandria, which often pale in terms of high-quality service in comparison to hotels in Cairo and Red Sea resorts.

After a generous and meticulously prepared buffet breakfast, we set out the next morning for Al-Nozha Gardens, lovingly set up by Khedive Ismail. Roughly three kilometres southeast alongside the Mahmoudiya Canal, the well-maintained gardens are joined to another park known as the Rose Gardens, as well as Alexandria’s zoo. Nearby are the gardens and palace of a wealthy Greek family built in the late 19th century.


Alexandria Zoo

We started with the Zoological Gardens, another turn-of-the-20th-century project covering some 26 acres. Unfortunately, most of the cages were empty and even those which were inhabited were in deplorable conditions. The place is a popular spot for locals, but the large area allocated for recreation was crowded and the noise intolerable. We made a quick exit and headed for the Rose Gardens, established in 1920. This garden is supposed to offer wonderful species of roses and flowers that are planted in 32 nurseries, but when the gardener found us profoundly disappointed, he explained that winter is not the time to find any remarkable flowers. In spring and summer, he said, the place is a botanical paradise.

Undaunted, we approached the jewel of the Nozha garden complex — the grounds of the Antoniaidis family. A billboard hung on one of the trees announced that the gardens were built by John Antoniaidis in 1860 and given as a gift to the township of Alexandria in 1918. The gardens house 350-year-old trees and classical Roman statues. The palace, built to host the royal friends and acquaintances of Antoniaidis, has sheltered such historical figures as Khedive Tawfik and the former Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, who honeymooned here with his Egyptian wife Princess Fawzeyya. Though the palace’s private gardens are both lush and striking, they are not open to the public.


Greco-Roman statutes at Antoniadis garden


Antoniadis Palace

After a tour of the grounds at Al-Nozha, you’re going to feel pretty hungry. I was full of suggestions for seafood — the Fish Market, Sea Gull, Qadoura — but my husband vetoed all these in favour of what he confidently proclaimed the “best place in Alexandria.” We slipped along the winding backstreets over to Manshiya Square, to a no-frills local spot called Shaaban, near the famous coffee shop of Al-Borsa. The area was once populated with bars and famous in the time of Word War II as the best place for British soldiers to grab a beer. For you, the spot is first-rate for Shaaban’s fresh fish and reasonable prices. Our meal of fried and grilled fish, calamari, shrimps and salads came to about LE70.


Shabaan fish restaurant


Trianon Cafe

From Shaaban, we took our dessert at the Grand Trianon café — my favourite for sweets or a light meal. An ideal spot to sit and watch the world go by, the Trianon is situated at the base of one of Alexandria’s most stunning hotels, the Metropole. Recent refurbishments have restored the Metropole to its former glory, with sumptuous saloons and an elegant reception. The building was once the headquarters of the Division of Irrigation, where the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy worked.


The famous tram of Alexandria

As we packed our things and loaded up the car the next day, I realised that our stay had been more of a foray into daily Alexandrian life than a typical tourist visit. While the ancient sites and the famous beaches on the outskirts of Alexandria are well worth visiting, the city itself should not be overlooked. Easily accessible from Cairo and only a few hours away, a taste of the Alexandria winter is a welcome change of scenery and a dip into this city’s distinctive atmosphere.

Categories: Egypt, Mediterranean Cities | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Colours of the Sun Bird

If you want to know, or want your child to know, how the environment has influenced the farmer’s character, his life style, traditions, customs, tools, and ethnic dress in Egypt — then this culture garden at Mansouriya is the place for you and your family to visit.

The Sun Bird garden in Mansouriya, south-west of Cairo near the Giza pyramids, is unlike any other garden. This is a place where you can not only enjoy nature, but also learn: how fruit and vegetables are cultivated and what their seeds and flowers look like. On this living museum of contemporary life one can also observe how farmers live, what their homes are like and the traditions and customs they follow. The display encompasses a glimpse of the life of all the farmers of Egypt, from the Nile Delta in the north to Nubia in the south.

This “culture garden,” as its owner likes to call it, is a place where adults and children from at home and abroad can see the birds and animals which help the farmer in his daily life. Visitors can tour sections demonstrating such traditional crafts as pottery, weaving and the production of honey. The culture garden is divided into sections representing Egypt’s governorates, of which Fayoum and Sinai are particularly interesting. Here are illustrations of migratory birds and plants indigenous to the area, as well as examples of local traditional crafts and customs: wedding parties, the arrival of a new baby, and festivals — religious, social and folkloric.

Image                         Young visitors enjoying the garden Photo:Magdi Abdel Sayid

“This project came to mind when I was still working as a tour guide,” Sun Bird’s owner, Leila Sadiq, says. “I found I was always having to answer questions from travellers on bus tours as to the name of a plant, an animal or a bird, or how the farmers lived or why they wore their clothes in such and such a way. In this garden, I have supplied all the answers. It is not only for foreign tourists; it’s for Egyptians too. Some of them have never seen a field or a farm, and know nothing about rural life. This place will provide them with this kind of knowledge.”

The name of the garden, Sun Bird, Sadiq says, is symbolic. This is the name given to a small bird which lives in the Nile Valley and flies from flower to flower, feeding on nectar. The bird’s bright colours of violet, yellow and green represent, it is said, the colours of the Nile, the desert and the rich green valley. In the garden this delightful bird, one of the main attractions, flies from tree to tree.

The garden covers two feddans, and on every tree and plant is a sign, written in Arabic, English, French and German, providing information.

Guides show visitors round the sections of the garden, while small children can spend the time playing in a large green area. Older children can try their hand at cultivation or making pottery. As for adults, there are shady palms under which to sit and relax on mastabas (benches) covered with mats and cushions. As visitors enter Sun Bird they are served cold mineral water and other refreshments. Later, fatir (traditional pastry) is served hot from a baladi (country) oven by one of the farmers.

This ambitious project is not run by a tourist company or a group of investors. It is owned and run by one enthusiastic woman, an ex-tour guide, with the help of a group of farm workers. They cultivate the land, bake the fatir and do the cleaning and maintenance. Sadiq herself designed all the sections into which the garden is divided, drew the maps and executed the paintings of the birds.

Sadiq says that although all the fruits and vegetables grown in the garden are the same varieties as those on sale in markets and supermarkets, many people do not know how they grow or what they look like in their natural environment. They do not know which are indigenous to Egypt, whether they have become extinct and reintroduced, or whether they are imported. “Sweet potatoes, for example, are known worldwide, but the plant itself grows only in certain countries, including Egypt. Here is where people can learn such things. They have an opportunity to react with Nature and see how generous she is,” Sadiq says.

No artificial fertilisers are used at Sun Bird, so there are no large, standardised tomatoes or green peppers. Rather, the produce comes in the shape that nature gave them, in various sizes, and in varying shades of colour. This applies to okra, regular potatoes, sweet potatoes, artichokes, aubergines, pumpkins and limes. “Artificially grown fruit and vegetables are sold at greengrocers and supermarkets. Here I want to show people the way they grow naturally,” Sadiq says.

The section on Fayoum is well recommended. A large concrete map shows details of the great depression in the Western Desert, outlining its history, geology, agriculture, resident birds and birds which migrate through the area in September and April. The traditional crafts of Fayoum, especially basketry, are shown. “Fayoum is extremely fertile, and wheat was cultivated there on a large scale in Roman times. The area then was one of the granaries of Rome,” Sadiq says. “Once a visitor sees this section and has all this information to hand, he or she will be inspired to visit Fayoum itself.”

Image                      Section showing the birds of Fayoum Photo: Magdi Abdel Sayed

Traditional dress is always of interest, and on display here are galabiyas (loose gowns) from the different regions of Egypt — from the north coast, the Delta and Upper Egypt, to the oases of the Western Desert and Sinai. Here one can become acquainted with different traditions and customs concerning wedding celebrations: the bridal dress, the wedding feast, the contribution of the bride’s family to the marriage, the gifts of friends and the entertainment.

“Pottery played an important role in Egyptian history. It was extremely important for utilitarian reasons. The clay used in pottery manufacture used to come from Qena or Aswan in Upper Egypt, and people in ancient times did not fire the pottery or use a glaze, as we do today: they dried the pottery in the sun and its natural colour survived,” Sadiq says.

In the Sun Bird’s pottery section are examples of all the instruments used in its manufacture, including a foot-operated wheel. Also on show are cooking pots, butter or ghee pots, pickle pots and oil pots, along with pigeon houses and other items. Pottery chips are of great use to farmers, who put them on the roofs of their houses for the dual purpose of protecting them from rain and insulating them from the heat of the sun.

Few people have the opportunity to enter a farmer’s home. This, then, is your chance to do so. You will notice that the door and the high windows are so designed to prevent passers-by from seeing inside. You can see the farmer’s brass bed, the oven in which his bread is baked, the plates from which he and his family eat, the oil lamp, the oil cooker and the pigeon cage. You can even look inside a home typical of the Ababde, a tribe of the south-eastern desert, which has its own distinctive features.

Image      Celebrating the baby’s first seven days at the sebou Photo: Magdi Abdel Sayed 

“This place could be attractive to tourists at the end of an excursion, or for conferences, since businessmen also need to relax in a green space at the end of the day. Here they will learn aspects of Egypt that they would not otherwise be exposed to,” Sadiq says.

Sun Bird neither seeks nor needs wide promotion. “People tell one another about this place, and the word gets round. I also have a nice brochure which I distribute to schools and nurseries — that serves us well enough,” she says.


Categories: Egypt, Environement | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tour and cure

Egypt may be famous worldwide for its ancient monuments, but it also has much to offer the traveller in search of natural healing.

The last years have seen a huge growth in health spas in Egypt’s major cities. But while these spas often make use of natural healing processes, there are also certain places which have been specially blessed with natural healing resources that have been known for many centuries — features such as exceptional dry weather, the special composition of the sea water, black sand and hot water springs. Moreover, a number of studies have been conducted by the Egyptian National Research Centre, which prove that a trip to places such as Safaga on the Red Sea, Aswan in Upper Egypt, Ras Sudr in South Sinai and Siwa Oasis to the west, can cure certain ailments, such as rheumatism, rheumatoid joint pains, psoriasis and other skin diseases.

Below, we list some of the most famous sites in Egypt which can help you put illness behind you and face life with renewed energy and vigour.


The town of Helwan is located 30kms from Cairo on the east bank of the Nile, and lies around 40 metres above sea level. The climate is dry, with humidity not exceeding 58 per cent. Moreover, the town has several incomparable mineral and sulphurous springs which are known for their medicinal properties, and which led to the founding of a health centre for natural healing, where sulphurous water is used to cure rheumatism and rheumatic pains.

The history of the medicinal use of the Helwan springs dates back to 1899. The health centre, which has been designed in the Islamic architectural style, was restored in 1955. There are 38 treatment rooms, relaxation areas and chalets for the accommodation of patients, all surrounded by beautiful lush gardens. The staff include a number of doctors specialising in rheumatism and natural healing. All patients are given a thorough check up before being assigned a personalised healing programme. Complaints which can be treated include joint inflammation, chronic rheumatoid pain, nerve inflammation, gout, respiratory tract infections and skin diseases.

GETTING THERE: Helwan health centre is easily accessible by public transport, including taxi and underground railway. Road access from central Cairo is via the Corniche Road.


Siwa Oasis is located 300kms to the west of Marsa Matrouh. Of all Egypt’s natural healing centres, this is doubtless the most attractive to the tourist, with its moderate climate, unpolluted air and clear blue sky.


Natural pools in Siwa

There are a number of healing centres in Siwa Oasis, of which the most important is Al-Dakrour Mountain, in the south. The mountain is famous of relieving rheumatism, joint pains and general weakness. Several aged sheikhs are responsible for treating patients suffering from these ailments by burying their bodies in sand. The cure takes place during the summer at specific times of the day: immersion can last from quarter to half an hour, daily for two weeks.


A mixture of greenery and desert

Siwa also has hot springs which have been proven effective for the treatment of psoriasis, rheumatism and diseases related to the digestive system.

GETTING THERE: By bus, change at Marsa Matrouh for Siwa. There are also trains from Cairo to Alexandria or Marsa Matrouh, where cars can be hired to complete your journey. For more information, contact (+202) 257 53555. If you wish to fly, EgyptAir operates regular flights during the summer season from Cairo to Marsa Matrouh, where you can continue your journey by bus or car. For more information, visit


Aswan is situated on the eastern bank of the Nile, about 899kms south of Cairo. It is probably the most famous winter resort in the world, with its year-round dry weather and clear sky which ensures a high proportion of ultra violet rays in the light. This weather is particularly suitable for patients suffering from kidney and respiratory problems, as well as for people with rheumatism.


The Nile in Aswan

There are two centres in Aswan that specialise in treatments using black sand and water, on Elephantine Island and Isis Island. At the Elephantine centre, treatment by burial in sand takes place between March and October, when the sun rays are strong. The Isis Island centre has been the subject of studies by the Egyptian National Research Centre. These investigations showed the condition of rheumatics are greatly improved when they undergo daily immersion in the mud of the island for three consecutive weeks, and are also exposed to the ultra violet rays reflected from the mountains surrounding the Island and from the water of the Nile.


Abu Simbel Temples in Aswan

GETTING THERE: Aswan is easily accessible by train, including wagons-lits air-conditioned express trains. For more information, call (+202) 349 3365. There are also air- conditioned buses which run from Cairo to Aswan, and flight that go daily to Aswan. For more information, visit


Located to the south of Hurghada on the Red Sea, Safaga is the number one destination in Egypt for the treatment of psoriasis. The sea water here is very salty, containing 35 per cent more salt than other seas: treatment with this water can produce a big improvement in the circulatory system, thus increasing the flow of blood to their limbs and skin. The water has been shown to provide significant alleviation for sufferers from psoriasis, and the high density of ultraviolet rays in the area also help cure a number of other skin diseases.


Embraced by the mountains and the sea

The sands of Safaga are also exceptional. Laboratory analyses have shown that 40 per cent of Safaga sand is made up of three radiant components in low-intensity non-toxic doses, namely, uranium, thorium, and potassium. This explains the power of the sand to cure rheumatoid patients and those who suffer from various joint ailments.


Healing powers of sea water and black sand in Safaga  Photo: Mohamed Waseem

GETTING THERE: Safaga is easily accessible by car or by bus. SuperJet buses from Cairo run as far as Hurghada, from where a taxi or limousine will take you on to Safaga in only 20 minutes. For more information, contact (+202) 575 6333. EgyptAir has two flights a day from Cairo to Hurghada at 8.30am and 8pm. For more information, visit

Ras Sudr

The Ras Sudr area of southern Sinai on the Gulf of Suez boasts two sites which are very popular with patients, namely, Pharaoh’s Bath and Moses’s Bath (Oyoun Mossa).

Pharaoh’s Bath is located 250kms from Cairo. It consists of a group of natural hot springs whose temperature is 27 degrees. The water flows directly from the mountain into a 100- metre-long natural lake right beside the sea shore. A small cave has been carved out of the mountainside above for use as a natural sauna. It has been scientifically proven that the water from this spring can help alleviate a number of diseases, including rheumatism, rheumatoid pains, kidney diseases, lung inflammation and several skin diseases.


Ras Sudr: A destination for natural healing and water sports

Moses’s Bath is a wonderful oasis surrounded by lush vegetation with a natural hot spring at its centre. The water here has the ability to heal skin diseases and wounds, especially those of diabetics. It can also be of more general use to relieve stress and help people to relax.


GETTING THERE: Ras Sudr is only two-and-half-hour drive from Cairo, and thus makes an easy day trip by car. The East Delta Company also runs air-conditioned buses to Ras Sudr. For more information, visit

Categories: Body and Soul, Egypt | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Queen of the Nile: A Historical Tribute to a Landmark Hotel

Cairo has undergone so much change in the last 40 years that it is difficult to visualise what it once was. Before a decree was promulgated for the protection of the historical buildings of Cairo, a great many hotels were demolished to make way for new ones. Semiramis was one of them. This was a great loss because it was landmark of the city, a meeting place of the intelligentsia, a place where afternoon tea on the broad open terrace overlooking the Nile was a tradition. In the foyer air was circulated with huge ceiling fans, and Nubian servants with red tarbooshes and tight cummerbunds hurried hither and thither serving clients.

The book, Queen of the Nile: A Historical Tribute to a Landmark Hotel, was written by Adel Sabet, King Farouk’s biographer and cousin, and is not only a book on the history of a hotel in its heyday, but shows to what extent it was witness to the history of tourism in Egypt; what travellers were like before World War I; their favourite tourist destinations, and how all this changed in the period between the two world wars and afterwards.

Semiramis Hotel was inaugurated in 1907 in Kasr El-Doubara, an area of gardens and gracious town houses. The ruling Khedivial family made the beautifying and developing of the cities of Egypt matters of priority and in Kasr Al-Doubara and its Garden City extension the process reached something of a climax.


The front of the Old Semiramis Hotel

There are no gardens in Garden City today, and its winding circular roads are so congested with traffic that it is difficult to visualise a time in which it deserved its name. The book describes the large number of aristocrats who lived there and the hotel that was designed to be palatial, with a luxury unexcelled, a home for royal visitors, prestigious celebrities and world figures.

The hotel was the brainchild of Swiss hotelier Bucher-Durrer who owned a chain of hotels in Europe including Rome Quirinale, the Palace in Milan and several prestigious hotels in Switzerland. He purchased 6,000 square metres overlooking the Nile in the vicinity of Kasr Al-Doubara, in a prime position between the palace of the Walda Pasha and Kasr Al-Nil Palace.


Charles Baehler, former owner of the hotel

During the last years of the 19th and those of the early 20th century, Cairo attained a social apogee. To the well-heeled, affluent and well-connected, a winter in Egypt was a social adventure difficult to resist. “Cairo’s winter world was one of great receptions and intensive socialising,” the book says. “Every major hotel held a splendid ball at least once a week. Thus the Semiramis Ball was on Saturday, Shepheard’s on Wednesday and so on. In the great lobbies of the hotels, be-fezzed pashas and great archaeologists mixed with world famous leaders of society, distinguished authors, stars of the entertainment world and the swinging aristocracy of Edwardian Europe.”

Image      Image  Image

The wife of Agha Khan is greeted by the hotel’s famed jeweller, Onning Alixanian; Aristotle Onassis (in the middle) is shown the hotel on his arrival; the original price list and services

With the outbreak of World War I, an era ended and another started as far as the history of Egypt and Egyptian tourism was concerned. The book reveals that “Cairo took no precautions and uninhibitedly carried on its way of life. But the tourists were replaced by a new kind of visitor. The city had become the main war base of the Eastern Mediterranean battle area. Gatherings in Cairo included Australian and New Zealand armed forces, as well as soldiers from the Indian Empire and troops brought back from the muddy battlefields of northern France. The battles in the Aegean swelled the number of victims of the blood baths of Flanders and Piacardy, which claimed the lives of many young men who had attended the dancing balls of the Semiramis and other Cairo hotels.”

One of the luxury bedrooms

One of the luxury bedrooms

The reception area

The reception area of the hotel

The Queen of the Nile describes how tourists — a different kind of tourist — returned to Egypt after the war. They were less affluent and could no longer afford prolonged winters. The aristocrat from Europe was replaced by a breed of war profiteers. Moreover, Egypt had become a monarchy and the book points out that “monarchies tend to stimulate tourism”.

The tomb of Tutankhamun in the 1920s was a tourist bonanza. There is no doubt about that. The treasures of the Pharaonic king caught the imagination of the world and tourists flocked to gaze in wonder at the superb workmanship of Ancient Egyptian goldsmiths and the incredibly rich funerary furniture. Egypt also became a favourite destination for literary figures like Britain’s Agatha Christie, Finnish Mika Waltari who wrote his best-selling Sinouhi the Egyptian, Freya Stark, the noted traveller and explorer, and French writers like Jean Cocteau, Andre Gide, Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Celebrities included Agha Khan with his wife who came regularly, and film stars Douglas Fairbanks and his wife. With the eruption of World War II everything changed. Cairo became the home of a large expatriate British community because it was the Middle East supply centre, and the book describes how the Semiramis and other hotels of Cairo “offered solace, comfort and entertainment to the embattled crowd of resident expatriates. They served the morale of both civilian and military personnel snatching a few hours leave from the battlefields almost within sound of the guns of Alamein where men were dying”. They began to provide a new service: ballrooms. Theatres sprang up for entertainment, and Cairo became one of the most prestigious entertainment centres of the world.

After the war, the Semiramis reverted to its role as a premier luxury hotel. Some of its old and faithful clients like the Agha Khan drifted back. A great Ismaili rally was organised in the ballroom. It was attended by Prince Ali Khan and his companion, the glamorous Rita Hayworth. The event coincided with the polo season. This prestigious game attracted the visit of the polo-playing Maharaja of Jaipur who came accompanied by his attractive wife. For a short space of time, Semiramis became the home of a dazzling group of international polo players.

Semiramis roof became the ‘in’ place for Egyptian upper-class society. To quote the text of Queen of the Nile, “Under a full moon, one danced in a magic world overlooking the Nile. One tangoed, waltzed, fox-trotted those intimate dances of the recent past. One held one’s partner in one’s arms and romance blossomed under the stars.” Egypt’s royal family were frequently to be seen there: King Farouk and his sister Princess Fayza.

Semiramis Hotel and Shepheard Hotel overlooking the Nile

Semiramis Hotel and Shepheard Hotel overlooking the Nile

After the revolution of 1952, the pace and quality of life changed. The call for a new modern establishment on the bank of the Nile was heard. Old-fashioned luxury such as the Semiramis offered was considered uneconomic. The era of mass tourism and conducted tours was about to begin.

Semiramis, and all that the name meant, has gone. The glitzy Semiramis Intercontinental with modern facilities which has sprung up in its place is particularly popular with Arab tourists and upgrade tour groups from America. Nubian waiters have been replaced by smart suited waiters. For those who remember, there is a feeling of regret for “the good old days”!

Categories: Egypt, Travel History | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Travel in the good old days

Egypt’s ideal environment — the legendary Nile and its eternal sunshine — have brought visitors to Egypt since Graeco-Roman times, but tourism as an industry was only born when Thomas Cook began to organise cruises and package tours to Egypt some 130 years ago.

It was a different world then. The year 1869 was crucial for Egypt, being the year that the Suez Canal was inaugurated — a momentous event not only for trade but also for tourism. With a sea route to the Orient opened up, this was an opportunity to tap a new potential market and the first escorted Thomas Cook “Nile cruise” was a resounding success. The Reverend Newman Hall was one of the passengers; he became one of the company’s most loyal propagandists. He wrote articles that were published in New York, which Cook reproduced in his magazines, Excursionist and Tourist Advertiser.

Cook was suddenly inundated with requests for trips to Egypt and the Holy Land. What was he to do? The interest was there, the potential was huge; Cook could do naught but respond. In 1870 his son, John Mason Cook, opened an office in the grounds of Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo. Business was launched, and it soon flourished.


Tourists to Luxor and other sites made their bookings at the first Thomas Cook Office in Shepheard’s Hotel

How could it not? Anyone who could afford it wanted to escape the cruel European winters and Egypt offered the Nile, a dry climate and a wealth of ancient monuments — an irresistible combination. The weather was a particular attraction, since the dry climate was supposed to be good for pulmonary diseases, especially tuberculosis (a common Victorian complaint).

John Cook was anxious to start up business in Egypt and he began to court the British authorities, as well as members of the Khedival ruling circles and the Turkish governor of Egypt. The rumour that Nile traffic was solely in the hands of David Robinson, another travel organiser, was a challenge to him. He began to pitch for the business himself, finally succeeding in obtaining a five-year contract for a new service between the First and the Second Cataracts south of Aswan.

By 1877, Cook was being challenged by others trying to get into the Nile cruise business, including his old rival, Henry Gaze, who had been running Holy Land tours before Thomas Cook’s time. Cook tried to resist the competition, arguing that the Nile was becoming overcrowded, that there was not enough coordination of the services … any number of excuses so that he could monopolise the business himself.

He managed to obtain a contract for control of running of the Khedive’s steamers on the Nile. Nile tourist traffic increased and soon, defects in the services became apparent. The steamers had fulfilled the demands of modest local traffic, but such matters as punctuality, navigational skill, cleanliness and reliability were of relatively little importance. So long as there was some sort of a service, most people were patient and tolerant about the facilities. With the arrival of tourists visiting for limited periods of time and not prepared to rough it, the demand for higher standards of comfort and improved facilities became apparent.

Cook realised the importance of catering to these travellers. He saw that clients in Egypt were, for the most part, of the same level of society as those who had been travelling on Thomas Cooks’s tours to France, Switzerland and Italy since 1855. They were the new middle class and if he wanted to attract them to Egypt, he would have to provide them with something that was not too far removed from their own home comforts.


British travellers to Upper Egypt

The Khedivial Nile steamers, for which John Mason Cook had been granted a concession, were revamped. An atmosphere was created that was somewhat like a up-market hotel. Cabins were furnished with beds and bed linen from England, imported bathroom fittings were installed, separate toilets were provided for men and women and much of the food that could be transported safely in tins was brought from England. The cabin crew was upgraded; waiters dressed in spotless white galabeyas and were made to wear white gloves while serving food.

Cook’s clients proved extremely demanding. They expected their every wish to be met while they, for their part, did not always honour their booking commitments. They complained about the food, about the saddles on the excursion donkeys and about the way the donkeys were beaten. It is an indication of the high esteem in which they held John Mason that they thought he could set right every small thing they did not approve of.

And, in fact, he did manage to achieve most things. At a time when there were no suitable hotels in Luxor, he arranged tent parties in the desert in such a way that they were, to all intents and purposes, on the scale of the most lavish five-star hotels, complete with folk dancing and dancing horses. He made adventure travel a luxury — and the clients kept rolling in.

John Mason had to cope with problems relevant to the times that do not confront today’s tour operator. A matter that constantly concerned him was how to prevent the vandalism of the ancient monuments. In Cook’s day, there was no antiquities law to control illicit digging and the chipping off of pieces from wall paintings and architectural decorations. Tourists were excited when they were aided by local inhabitants who chipped souvenirs off walls of monuments in the hope of gaining bakshish (tip). This only served to increase the vandalism that would continue almost unabated into the 1930s.

When Cook renewed his contract with the khedive and obtained control of the mail-service from Assiut to Aswan, followed by a 10-year contract, he was encouraged to build a fleet of modern steamers. The vessels were built during the 1880s, largely in Britain, and transported in pieces to Egypt, where they were reassembled at a shipyard built by Cook at Bulaq (then still an important river port of Cairo). By the end of the decade, Cook was the master of Nile traffic. He could offer passenger and mail services, a fleet of luxury vessels and accommodation that would satisfy the most discriminating of Europe’s distinguished citizens.


The route trekked by steamers between Luxor and Aswan

Soon there were 40 vessels plying the river Nile, including four large, luxury paddle steamers: Ramses, Prince Abbas, Prince Mohamed Ali and Tewfik. All had private cabins with portholes looking out on the river, wash basins, and some even had a small fireplace for the cooler nights of January and February. A large dinning room served food prepared by a European chef and there was a lounge with comfortable chairs and a library with the latest magazines and board games. The public rooms had fan-cooling systems.

In those days, a voyage in one of Cook’s luxury vessels took 23 days and cost 50 pounds sterling, including shore excursions, the hire of donkeys and guides. Smaller vessels, like Anubis, Cheops, Delta, Isis and Horus, were of the same standard. For the less well-to-do, it was possible to travel on the lower decks of the cruisers, where there was a second-class dining saloon.

The dahabiyas, the quaint paddle steamers, were perhaps the most romantic form of river travel and it was refined to an art. Thomas Cook was at first reluctant to use such an outdated form of transportation, but he quickly realised the potential market for people who did not wish to join the type of tourists attracted to the big steamers. John Cook eventually took over some of the dahabiyas and improved their amenities, adapting the vessels to be driven by a steam engine. They proved to be a booming success, ideal for private parties and for those who wished to travel where they would; not on a regular itinerary, but choosing places to stop as they went along. Arranging their own travel plans, increasing numbers of tourists were happy to organise a holiday in the style of a land-based house party.


An advertisement by Thomas Cook for the Nile trips

This was by no means cheap travel. Among those who used the dahabeyah were the nobility of Europe, including the Crown Prince and Princess of Sweden, Viscount Wolseley, General Gordon, Lord Randolph Churchill and many others whose names were recorded by John Mason Cook in his leather-bound Nile guidebooks.

Interestingly enough, the itineraries followed by Nile cruises today remain essentially along the lines of those established at the turn of the 20th century. Travel agents have been hard-pressed to improve on the near perfect. Today vessels sail only between Luxor and Aswan, (no longer on the Cairo to Aswan stretch); donkeys have been replaced by luxury coaches for onshore tours; visits to monuments are coupled with visits to bazaars; but the experience is little changed. Perhaps one thing that has regrettably been lost is a certain intimacy impossible to foster in the air-conditioned comfort of today’s immense floating hotels; a familiarity that early tourists must have found so delightful in the tastefully-furnished smaller vessels.

Major world events have adversely affected the tourist industry and with each upheaval, it changes. World War I, for example, naturally put a damper on the business. Things did not really pick up again until the discovery of Tutankhamoun’s tomb in 1922. By that time the land of the Nile had become a cult theme for novels, fashion houses and even cinema, then the newest form of entertainment. Each, in its way, helped promote tourism and brought a different breed of tourists.

Then came World War II, and after that a less discriminating kind of tourist; people who sought culture at the expense of comfort. Today is a time of mass tourism; larger groups of people are coming to Egypt than ever before. They move en masse to places from as far afield as the Mediterranean to Nubia, the Red Sea to Sinai, from Lake Nasser to the Siwa Oasis. But even those who pride themselves on being new-agers — with a new spirit in travel — it is easy to see that it has all been done before. There is nothing new about Nile cruises or adventure travel; desert picnics or donkey rides. Travellers today are following a well-beaten track.

It is true that Cook’s steamers no longer rule the Nile, but they still feature largely on the Egyptian tourist scene. Without doubt, contemporary tour operators are still indebted to John Mason Cook, a pioneer of the Victorian era and the father of all those luxurious cruises between Luxor and Aswan.

Categories: Egypt, Travel History | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Ghosts of traders past

Once a major commercial and industrial centre in the Ottoman era, Assiut is known for its wikalas where merchants and traders used to assemble to sell their goods. Despite their historical importance, they are neglected.

Well-known for its Pharaonic and Christian monuments, Assiut is still more in the business of daily living than shuttling tourists from site to site. A relaxing and picturesque city, it is nonetheless heavily populated and hardly accustomed to catering to the needs and expectations of the foreign traveller. But as someone familiar with this generally undervisited city, I have always appreciated my visits as an opportunity to explore the area’s lesser-known spots.

One of the wekalas in the old market of Assiut.Photo: Ayman Ibrahim

One of the wekalas in the old market of Assiut.
Photo: Ayman Ibrahim

Assiut is a natural departure point for interesting sites like the rock tombs of Mier and the Coptic monasteries of Dronka and Al-Muharraq. But during my last visit, when I found myself with some extra time on my hands, I decided to search for something new. A friend had suggested I go to the western part of the city and visit the wikalas in Al-Qesariyya. “It’s the oldest part of the city,” Adel told me, “and if you want to capture the real spirit of old Assiut, that is the place to go.”

Not that I didn’t trust my friend Adel, but I wasn’t so sure. So when he started to tell me how the wikalas — old commercial centres housed in large buildings — in Assiut were comparable to the vibrant trading centres we have in Cairo, like Wikalat Al-Ghuri and Wikalat Al-Balah, I got interested. What he didn’t tell me was that the communal trading of Assiut’s old wikalas is alive and well: the wikalas, however, barely remain.


Photo: Ayman Ibrahim

 The wikala has served many functions, both as public and private space, since its introduction in Egypt during the Fatimid era. Historically, however, wikalas were large buildings, usually two stories, where merchants and traders assembled in a large main hall to sell their goods. Off the main communal area were chambers used for storing the merchants’ goods and the upper floor functioned as something of an inn, providing rooms complete with kitchens and bathrooms for itinerant traders. Money raised from the wikala sometimes went toward an adjacent mosque — the builder or owner’s way of offering a community service. Wikalas continued to be a feature of urban society through to Ottoman times.

Ready to take on the wikalas of Al-Qesariyya, I left my hotel in Assiut early in the morning, thinking it would be a straightforward journey westward. But like most big cities, Assiut’s streets were crowded with women and children buying the day’s household needs and people making their way to work. Students and school-children clogged the little road space that wasn’t blocked up with cars. I seemed to have hit the rush hour and it was hard going.

Stuck in the car, I had a little time to contemplate Assiut as the major commercial and industrial centre it once was in the Ottoman era. A major stop on the Darb Al-Arbi’in road, which leads south, Assiut was also famous for its textile and oil industries. Merchants regularly passed through the city, either as a stopover or to replenish their supplies on their way to what is now Sudan. With this in mind, I had envisaged Assiut’s wikalas to be grand, stately halls, perhaps tarnished and worn down by time, but still carrying vestiges of their former prominence.

When I finally reached Al-Qesariyya, what I found was a far cry from what I had imagined. I found myself in a large, bustling marketplace with rows of shops on both sides stocked with every item imaginable: food, clothes, spices, plastics, perfume, vegetables, fruit. I saw carpenters, upholsterers, blacksmiths and other craftsmen at work. The marketplace was colourful and buzzing with activity — but where were the wikalas?


Photo: Ayman Ibrahim

It didn’t take long to realise that the historic wikalas were not monuments to be visited and toured; they were simply crumbling buildings interspersed among the modern trading areas. Goods were displayed and stored alongside ahwas (coffee shops), where the merchants gathered, drinking, smoking and socialising. They may be historic Ottoman sites, but to the locals of west Assiut, they were nothing more than walls on which to lean. I was tempted to give up and go back to my hotel when I spotted a big billboard in the middle of the marketplace — a professional sign that looked like a tourist marker bearing the names of the wikalas and the so-called Bath of Sabet.

I sought out the Bath of Sabet, only to find that it was closed. After asking around, I found a guard who told me that the site was being restored, but I found no evidence of this in its run-down entrance or the painfully neglected surroundings. Feeling somewhat discouraged, I decided to check the place out anyhow, and was allowed in. From the moment I entered, I saw immediately that the bath, comprised of several halls used for different stages of hot water and steam, was once quite beautiful. We passed through another domed hall into the central hall, its floor made of marble and dotted with a number of benches where people could rest after their bath and sauna.

In one of the few books on Assiut I was able to lay my hands on, the Bath of Sabet is described as the only medieval public bath in Assiut and its neighbouring cities. Situated beside the mosque of Galaleddin El-Siyouti, its architecture is said to be unique. To me, the tourist potential was obvious, but whatever the previous efforts to take advantage of the site were, they have long since crumbled with the scaling walls. The monument is in sorrowful condition. The wikalas I found in Al-Qesariyya have hardly fared better.

laWikalat Lutfi, whose western facade overlooks Al-Khan alley, was built in 1629 by Lutfi Abdel-Gawad, then one of Egypt’s important magnates. Lutfi turned the wikala into a waqf (charitable endowment), which would benefit the neighbouring mosque that bore his name. Wikalat Al-Kashef was built by Prince Mohamed Kashef Bekzada in 1821. Wikalat Sabet, situated alongside the mosque of Galaleddin El-Siyouti and overlooking Mohamed Mahmoud Pasha Street, was built by Mohamed Sabet in 1822. Down the street from Wikalat Sabet is Wikalat Shalabi, built two years later.

In 1853, Wikalat Mohamed El-Hilali, a commanding 23-room structure built with rock and roofed with palm tree trunks, was established by Hagg Mohamed Farghali Abdel-Fatah El-Hilali. El-Hilali, then the head of the merchants guild, was said to have had good trade connections with Sudan. Moreover, he was also a relative of Omar Makram, who at the time was a prominent Egyptian leader under Mohamed Ali.

Surprised to find that such precious historic sites were so poorly treated, I looked into the matter on my return to Cairo. Speaking with Amaal El-Amri of the Faculty of Antiquities at Cairo University, I learned that of the nine wikalas established in Assiut, only five remain. “They are of great historical importance,” El-Amri told me. “However, their state is miserable. Too many people and sellers have encroached on them.”

Well, I had experienced this for myself. Upon entering one of the wikalas in Al-Qesariyya, I found a group of merchants occupying most of the building, with every corner and storage space crammed full of either goods or garbage. Here plastics, there cartons, in a far corner, metal tins. The second floor, once a comfortable hotel for traders, looked as though it was on the verge of collapse. But no sooner had I asked my accompanying photographer to take some photos of the interior than a guard materialised out of nowhere warning that pictures were “mamnu’a!” (forbidden). This, I was told, was because the site was “under restoration” — yet I noticed that this antiquities guard did not seem to think that merchants sitting around smoking shisha (waterpipe) and using the place as a private shop was a threat to the supposed restoration.

El-Amri scoffed at the situation as “absurd,” claiming that the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) should save the sites since the wikalas of Assiut are the only places there that dates back to the Ottoman era. When asked about the local inhabitants who have inhabited the area, she added, “these people will have to be relocated before any restoration begins.”

Sometimes, the more you dig, the more you find that you might have been better off never knowing. I left Assiut with mixed feelings this time around, having discovered an area of the city comparable in historic relevance to many places in Old Cairo — but also saddened by the decrepit condition in which these sites remain. Forgotten by time and deemed, for the time being, unworthy of restoration, I realised that there was little hope for the wikalas of Assiut. And though I have always enjoyed this city, I worry about what other assets the city may hold, buried in neglect.

Categories: Egypt, Upper Egypt | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Go Holistic

Meditation, yoga safari and underwater yoga are new terms being used in Egyptian coastal tourist resorts.

Stresses of life have changed travel trends. Two decades ago, travellers looked for culture holidays where they could visit ancient sites and museums. When city life stress increased, the trend changed to resorts where travellers could spend most of their time relaxing on a beach, swimming, snorkelling and diving.

Travellers of today are more demanding. On top of the sand, sun and sea, they want something that really releases the tension, something that solves the difficult equation: how to spend free time on a vacation doing something positive with your body, mind and soul.

From here came the introduction of meditation and yoga in several Egyptian resorts. Many in South Sinai, particularly in Dahab, are offering yoga vacations for beginners and experts. These include practising yoga in simple but clean hotels, usually run by the Bedouins of Sinai. Sometimes, the itinerary transcends the boundaries of the hotel and into the desert for meditation in a peaceful and serene atmosphere or deep into the sea for a unique experience.


YOGA ON A SHOESTRING: A possible yoga vacation is offered by Yoga on Shoestring Holidays. They have packages in Dahab from 2 to 9 February, from 16 to 23 March and from 11 to 18 May. Accommodation will be in Coral Coast Hotel which offers two types of accommodation: standard and superior rooms.

Mornings begin with meditation and pranayama (breathing techniques) for early risers, followed by another class from 8.30am to 10.30am. There is an evening yoga class at 5.30pm.

Each holiday has an overnight trip into the desert. Delicious food cooked on open fires prepared by the Bedouins, camel riding and sleeping under the stars all combine to make this an amazing and unique experience.

Your mere presence in Dahab, this small village in South Sinai, is an exclusive adventure. Dahab offers an array of exciting things to do from snorkelling, scuba diving and windsurfing to horseback riding, camel riding and jeep driving in the desert.

Dahab in fact has many diving centres offering introductory dives, PADI certification and dives for the more experienced. The tranquil Bedouin village of Abu Gallum is a glorious walk from the famous dive site at the Blue Hole. Mount Sinai and St Catherine Monastery are a short drive away from Dahab. The package offers a night-time walk up Mount Sinai to view a spectacular sunrise.

For more information, visit


DIVING AND YOGA HOLIDAY: This holiday package, offered by Adventure Yogi, is a combination of yoga, meditation, massage, sunbathing, camel rides, desert safari, snorkeling and diving.

Taking place at Marsa Shagara on the Red Sea, Adventure Yogi offers two programmes, one in the winter, from January 9 to 16 and in the summer from June 5 to 12. For accommodation, you can choose from Safari beach tents on the beach, traditional domed lodges and en-suite guest houses. Led by experts in their field, the week will give you an introduction to yoga and diving. It is suitable for everybody – divers and non-divers, experienced Yoga practitioners and beginners in both fields.

The yoga diving course combines techniques of hatha yoga, asanas, pranayama and meditation with scuba and apnea (breath-hold) diving in a beautiful, natural environment. This approach brings yogis to incredible close encounters with nature and help them feel stillness, relaxation and altered states of consciousness. For all, yoga and diving removes stress and encourages a freedom from thought. As well as diving travellers can snorkel, camel ride, horse ride, indulge in massages, and sunbathe.

For more information, visit

Yoga 3

YOGA RETREAT: This eight-day package in Sinai Desert is a yoga retreat rather than a yoga holiday. It is designed for people who would like a more in-depth and holistic study of yoga, rather than just doing the asanas (postures). The main activity on this holiday is yoga, ie yoga asanas, pranayama, (breathing techniques), meditation and yoga philosophy. There will be two classes per day with meditation and chanting morning and evening. Camel, horse riding, windsurfing, diving and desert safaris are also available. The camp has its own house reef with beautiful corals and rich marine life, perfect for swimming snorkelling.

On the first day, yogis will arrive and settle in the camp. Second and third days are dedicated to yoga, sunbathing, swimming, snorkeling, and camel riding. On the fourth day, besides yoga, travellers will do a desert excursion to the Coloured Canyon; climb Mount Sinai for sunset and visit Saint Catherine Monastery. Fifth day is a day off whereas on the sixth day, there will be evening yoga at Castle Zaman. On the seventh day, travellers will enjoy a traditional desert Bedouin dinner and will have an after evening yoga session. The eighth day, yogis will gather for a closing ceremony.

For more information on this package, visit


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