By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
Winter months are the best time to visit Egypt with seemingly everlasting sunshine and mild temperatures. So we recently decided to cruise the Nile aboard a Dahabiya, a tempting different way to visit Egypt. It’s been a terrific experience!
Dahabiyas are typical Egyptian 2-masted sailing boats that take us to a time when cruising the Nile was a luxury trip reserved for lucky ones, far away from huge cruise boats and mass tourism.
Dahabiyas were very popular at the beginning of the 20th century among celebrities, royals, Egyptologists and artists. Decorated in a typical Victorian style they offered luxury, privacy and a majestic way to discover the Nile and all its beauties.
Today the experience has little changed. Thanks to their shallow draught dahabiyas can dock at the most inaccessible sites. We were thus able to see places where big cruise boats never take their guests. Our dahabiya of course took us to the most famous and popular stops in between Aswan and Luxor, but she also allowed us to discover seldom visited sites such as the Gebel Silsilla quarry or the ancient city of Nekhbet and its troglodyte tombs.
We had the rare privilege to have an outstanding guide during the whole cruise. Sherrif is an educated Egyptian who studied Egyptology for several years.
He was able to explain and read the hieroglyphics engraved on the temples’ walls or painted on the tombs’ walls bringing back to life ancient history.
He also showed us how to interpret the different ways gods and pharaohs were symbolised. Thanks to him Philae, Kalabsha, Kom Ombo, Edfu, Karnak, Hatshepsut and Luxor temples as well as the Valley of the Kings now mean more to us than mere beautiful and impressive Egyptian sites.
He gave us a real insider’s point of view and we felt a lot less ignorant after this seven-day cruise. If you are interested in Egyptian history be sure to book a dahabiya cruise with a good guide, it surely makes a big difference.
We travelled onboard the Rois Dahabiya owned and managed by “Les Voyages de Pharaons” a French travel agency ruled by a French-Egyptian businessman.
The Dahabiya Rois has only eight cabins with only 16 passengers at the most. With 23 crewmembers no need to say that the service is more than adequate and excellent.
Like all guests, we enjoyed a vast cabin -21 sq m- with plenty of room to store our stuff, a pretty large bathroom in the world of cruise boats, and a big window to enjoy the Nile landscapes.
Outside on the ship deck
The whole boat is decorated in a typical Victorian style mixing wood panelling, precious materials and ancient furniture. The lounge set on the second desk even has an authentic Werner piano made in 1912 – well kept and tuned- for music lover guests.
The upper deck definitely is the place to be to enjoy the peaceful and unique scenery of the Nile banks. With its welcoming deck chairs, oriental corner and Jacuzzi it’s a relaxing place to enjoy afternoon tea.
The Dahabiya Rois has an inside and an outside restaurant and all guests enjoy a full board cruise. Both the chef and the pastry chef love their work and cook very tasty meals.
Most of the time the wind is not strong enough to allow dahabiyas to travel the Nile without the help of a tugboat. Actually all the dahabiyas we saw on the Nile have one in order to respect the cruise schedules.
Be aware that these tugboats whether push or pull the dahabiya are attached. It may not seem important at first but do opt for the “push” version since the “pull” one has the disadvantage to expose the dahabiya to its exhaust gas!
We were looking for a Nile cruise offering both luxury accommodation and a cosy feeling, away from the crowd. Opting for a dahabiya was obviously the right choice.
We had the opportunity to add beautiful extra excursions (at extra cost) as visiting Abu Simbel and flying an air balloon over the West bank at Luxor. Both need to wake up very early but you will be more than happy to have done them!
Dessert at the restaurant
Website (French only): www.voyages-pharaon.com
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny
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