Our Luxury Custom Travel consultants have the enviable task of taking to the road to scout destinations for our guests. Whether revisiting favorite haunts to remain up to date on the latest offerings and behind-the-scenes access, or delving into up-and-coming destinations, they aim to stay a couple of steps ahead of the crowd.
Consultant Kate Mayer recently returned from a scouting trip to Egypt. She sat down to tell us why she would recommend this incredible country to guests, from its awe-inspiring ancient monuments to the infectious bustling atmosphere of Cairo and wealth of delicious Middle Eastern food.
Where did you go?
Egypt! More specifically, I started in the Cairo region and visited Giza and Saqqara in addition to the Cairo city center itself. Then I headed to Abu Simbel and Aswan, located in the Nubia region. My trip along the Nile River included stops at Kom Ombo, Edfu and Luxor, which is right next to the Valley of the Kings and Queens.
Where should our guests start for unique experiences and destinations in Egypt?
Cairo is the obvious place to begin exploring the country, but there’s so much to see and do there that goes beyond the typical tourist experience. Right next door to the Giza pyramids is the fascinating yet often overlooked area of Saqqara, which boasts the Step Pyramid, the oldest known stone structure ever built. Because we had arranged a special Egyptologist guide, we were granted access to nearby tombs of important officials to see their well-preserved hieroglyphics. In Old Town Cairo, sitting at a street café is a great way to feel like a local. Sip on mint tea and enjoy some shisha as you watch the organized chaos of traffic flow by.
Further up the Nile are two other incredible destinations—Aswan and Luxor. In Aswan, be sure to wander around the bazaar in search of one of its authentic spice shops, which are a sensory experience of sights and smells. A friendly shop owner will probably offer you tea as you browse the bounty of colorful options. At Karnak Temple in Luxor, we can get you special access with an Egyptologist guide to a guarded room containing a striking black basalt statue of Sekhmet, the goddess of war and magic. She was called “The Powerful One” and was said to breathe fire at the pharaoh’s enemies. The staff she holds is the symbol of the lotus.
What are some can’t-miss experiences and destinations?
For those who don’t mind enclosed spaces and crave an Indiana Jones-style adventure, I recommend having us arrange for you to crawl up the passageway inside the Pyramid of Khufu (the Great Pyramid of Giza). After walking, crouching and ducking under some low passageways you reach the Grand Gallery. It’s empty now and no one knows for sure what it contained, but the thousands of years of history inside make your imagination run wild.
A day trip to Abu Simbel is an absolute must so you can revel in the grandeur of the temples of Ramesses II and his wife Nefertari. Abu Simbel is a short plane ride from both Cairo and Aswan and is a perfect stop en route between the two. These two temples stand side by side. The Temple of Nefertari is notable because it represents the second time in ancient Egyptian history that a ruler dedicated a temple to his wife.
Exploring Luxor Temple at night brings the area to life. As lights illuminate the monuments against the night sky, the temple takes on an ethereal quality. Despite the bustle of tourists and local street hawkers just outside the temple, the sight of the avenue of sphinxes, towering obelisk, Great Hypostyle Hall, shrine and mosque transports you to another era.
You stayed in some remarkable properties. What made them special?
The Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at Nile Plaza is a luxurious escape from the cacophony of Cairo’s streets, yet centrally located for easy access to all the city’s main sights. The eight restaurant options leave you spoiled for choice.
I also stayed at the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan, an example of old-world charm located in the Nubian Desert right on the banks of the Nile. Its pool is the perfect place to kick back after a day of sightseeing or before a treatment in the luxurious spa. A night here wouldn’t be complete without dining at the signature 1902 Restaurant, which features French cuisine under a decadent Arabian domed ceiling.
Describe some of your favorite food experiences.
While touring Old Cairo, our guide had the local insight to recommend we stop at neighborhood bread and falafel shops. We assembled our own midday sandwich snacks to enjoy with mint tea at a street café. I also loved Felfela Restaurant, a popular local spot in the heart of Cairo that serves delicious and simple Egyptian classics. The restaurant features a to-go window that students frequent for the tasty sandwiches at cheap prices. A popular dish here is the taameyya, an Egyptian falafel made with fava beans and lots of green herbs.
During my stay at the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Hotel, dining at the 1902 Restaurant was a refined experience in a stunning location. The French cuisine is sumptuous with every bite and worthy of the hotel’s famous past guests, which include Agatha Christie and Winston Churchill.
What surprised you about Egypt?
Despite Egypt’s tumultuous recent years, I never once felt unsafe there. The country is moving forward, and the warmth and friendliness of the people is intoxicating. Cairo is truly enormous. It’s a bustling, modern city that hums along while sitting right next to the imposing ancient pyramids. The city sprawl is overwhelming and accounts for the largest urban area in Africa. Speaking of overwhelming, that’s a good word for the number of artifacts in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. You could spend a week wandering the halls and rooms and still not see all the treasures contained in the building.
I learned a lot about Egypt’s history and culture that surprised me too. No one knows what the ancient Egyptians called the Sphinx. “Sphinx” isn’t an Egyptian name but actually the name for the human-headed lion in Greek mythology. Also, camels are so much better adapted for desert life than I realized. It’s a myth that camels store water in their humps. The hump is a fatty deposit and when the camel’s energy reserves get low, the hump shrinks and flops over to one side. After a few days of good grazing, the hump returns to its normal upright position. Camels also have a third eyelid and two rows of long lashes to protect their eyes from sand, as well as the ability to close their nostrils during sandstorms.
This is just a small sampling of some of the things we can arrange for you in this fascinating country. We can design the perfect Egypt trip for you, based on your interests and time constraints. Just give us a call or click on the “contact a consultant” button below to get started.