Ker & Downey travel specialist Nicole Porto just returned from a trip to Egypt where she visited Alexandria and the Siwa Oasis. She recounts her trip below.
This spring I took a trip that I had been dreaming about for years: starting in Alexandria, Egypt, I traveled the long distance through the desert to Siwa Oasis and stayed at Adrère Amellal. Although it makes sense logistically to start in Alexandria, it is also essential from a historic perspective. Alexander the Great founded his city by the sea, but the Oracle Temple at Siwa was a place of spiritual importance to him, and the oasis itself was the site of his coronation.
I kicked off my stay at the Four Seasons San Stefano in Alexandria, and what a beginning! Gorgeous views of the blue Mediterranean beckon from every room, and somehow the staff of this large hotel makes you feel like you’re the only guest in a very small B&B. During my stay, I visited Pompey’s Pillar, the catacombs, and the New Library of Alexandria. It had long been a goal of mine to make it to this ancient center for learning, and I was thrilled to see the effort that not only Egypt is making, but that the rest of the world is contributing to make this place an epicenter of knowledge once more.
We finally headed out on our drive to Siwa, approximately seven hours south west of Alexandria on a two lane highway that seems to go on forever. Of course there is always an option to charter a flight, but I personally felt like the drive was a great preparation for the destination. It’s important to realize how far out in the desert you really are in order to appreciate how special this place is. Arriving at Adrère Amellal, it looks like you’ve come to a village of sand castles, and indeed the buildings are all made of local mud brick and salt blocks. Nestled at the foot of Gafa Mountain, it is a striking sight. The staff was so friendly, even sending me home with gifts of dates and hibiscus. They grow their own vegetables and fruit there, so the menu is nearly all organic. You can spend your time visiting the few sights in the town of Siwa: the Oracle Temple, the Cleopatra Bath, the Moutain of the Dead, or if you’re like me, you can relax by the huge salt lake and next to the infinity pool that is fed by underground springs. An afternoon hike up Gafa Mountain brings you to a plateau where you can see for miles around. It is a guarantee that you’ll be the only person up there! Your dining venue changes nightly, and lanterns guide your way to a hidden alcove lit by many candles -there’s no electricity at the lodge, but you won’t miss it!
I will never forget an afternoon dune bashing and all of a sudden stopping at a real life tiny oasis – just like a cartoon! Or the driver stopping to build a fire for tea as the sun is setting over the Sahara. The desert is a special place for many people, but Adrère Amellal truly owns this sentiment.
I’m hoping that in the coming months tourists will start returning to Egypt, but especially I hope that we’ll return with renewed interests in seeing all that the country has to offer. Not just the tried and true sites at Giza, Luxor, and Aswan, but those that are off the beaten path and invite us to experience something truly unique in this world.
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