Daily Express

ANCIENT WONDERS AND ALL MOD-CONS ON THE NILE


A felucca glided past, its tall white sail filling with a gust of wind.
I could hardly believe I was enjoying such peace and quiet on one of the busiest tourist trails in the world. With its abundance of ancient wonders, the Nile between Luxor and Aswan attracts around two million visitors a year - most of them on the hundreds of cruise boats that are moored six deep at the height of the season each winter.

So it was a delight to find myself aboard the Alexander The Great, which could be renamed the Dark Horse Of The Nile. Looking just like dozens of other Nile cruisers on the outside, inside it is the opposite of an Aladdin's cave - positively minimalist by Nile cruise standards. My boyfriend Jonathan and I stepped up the gangway at Alexander's private dock in Luxor and found ourselves in a floating boutique hotel.


Our airy cabin had a double bed with crisp white Egyptian cotton duvet and linen throws, a chaise longue, two large windows, room to swing a suitcase, polished wood floor, and a full bathroom with tub and shower. When the ship was refurbished three years ago, out went 60 pokey cabins and in their place just 30 double-sized ones were created. With only half the number of passengers, the public areas are spacious and uncrowded. Delicious meals - sumptuous buffets for lunch and breakfast, and à la carte for dinner - are served in the stylish restaurant, which had plenty of tables for two. 

The teak deck has a small pool and lots of smart white sunbeds and sofas with cool calico cushions to lounge around on.

It was the perfect base for sightseeing, as all the top sites are close to the banks of the Nile and our six-night voyage took us to Aswan and back, visiting them all.

As two of a handful of Britons on board (others were French, Italian, German and Spanish) we had an expert guide for our small group. We started in the Valley of the Kings where Howard Carter memorably uncovered Tutankhamun's tomb (now empty, his treasures are in Cairo) and descended down long tunnels to exquisitely decorated burial chambers. We visited the huge, stark mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut and had a quick photo stop at the Colossi of Memnon.

So much beauty and so much history made our heads spin, and that was only the beginning.

On the opposite bank, the temples of Karnak and Luxor were familiar from the movie Death On The Nile - a great deal more crowded but still awe-inspiring. At Edfu we climbed into horse-drawn caleches to whisk us up to the wonderfully preserved Temple of Horus, the falcon-headed god, which had been buried in mud until the 1860s and is overlooked by ramshackle houses.

As we approached Kom Ombo we could see the temple pillars in the distance. From the boat it was just a few steps up to the temple and the late-afternoon sun made the stones glow. As darkness fell the magnificent carvings sprang into deep relief, highlighted by cleverly positioned lamps. In the chapel of Hathor (the cow-headed goddess) we were intrigued to find three mummified crocodiles in glass cases.

Then it was time to get down to the important business of shopping for outfits for the Galabaya Party that evening, at the market stalls beside the dock. The party is a Nile cruise institution, when the passengers are jollied into "Egyptian" dress.

And after a lot of flattery by the merchants and haggling by us we were kitted out. A flowing black two-piece number with lots of gold dangly bits and a beaded cloche for me, and the full Lawrence of Arabia for Jonathan, were assembled for a tenner. Back on board we got dressed up and went for dinner feeling rather ridiculous but it was an Egyptian menu, with meze starters, a delicious pigeon dish and grilled Nile perch among the choices.

After dinner about half the guests joined in two very silly party games. Wrap your partner in loo roll like a mummy (Jonathan made a note to bring his own roll of Andrex another time, Egyptian ones are very flimsy) was followed by a wacky game of musical statues. Then the disco started and we escaped on deck.

As we sipped our coffee under a starry sky we agreed that ancient monuments are best enjoyed from the comfort of a modern and luxurious Nile cruiser.

 


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