The sun, a cool breeze and a scenic lake; what more could Rasha Sadek want to experience a totally relaxing weekend in Ismailia
Why go now?
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Fishermen's lake, a part of Lake Temsah; De Lesseps collection, all piled in one room in his house; Ferdinand De Lesseps; Ismailia's main square
Although Cairenes travel to Ismailia all year round, Ismailia is famed as a winter resort with its fabulous dry, sunny weather and peaceful atmosphere. In winter, temperatures average 19- 22 degrees Celsius whereas in summer it soars to 34-37 degrees Celsius.
Ismailia, also known as the "Garden of Egypt", is the capital of the Suez Canal region. It is situated mid-way between Suez and Port Said, on the western shore of the Timsah (crocodile) Lake. The city is 127 kilometres northeast of Cairo, a journey that takes just an hour and a half by car or bus.
Ismailia is surrounded by water, making it an attractive water resort known for its various sporting activities like rowing, swimming, wind surfing, jet skiing and fishing. The Suez Canal intersects with the city, dividing it into six distinct areas, five to the east of the canal and one in the Sinai, on the canal's western bank. Ismailia is also situated close to Lake Temsah and the Bitter Lakes.
Ismailia's architecture is dominated by a colonial European style, and a stroll around the elegant colonial streets, filled with beautiful old villas, is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. If you prefer to cycle, a shop near the Al-Gandool restaurant rents bikes by the hour.
Ismailia can be reached by private car, train or bus. Super Jet buses leave from Cairo's Almaza Station every 20 minutes from 6am until 8.30pm for LE7.25, while East Delta buses leave every half hour from 6.30am until 7.30pm for the same price. Trains leave from Cairo's Ramses Station at 6.25am, 7.30am, 8.45am, 11.30am, 2.30pm, 5.45pm and 7.10pm for LE11.50.
Once there, transportation is easy and affordable with all taxi fares within the city are fixed at LE1.50.
City fact file
Many believe that the history of Ismailia began with the digging of the Suez Canal in 1862, when the city was founded. However, recent historical research dates human settlement in the area to the advent of the Arab conqueror Amr Ibn Al-'As. The area is also mentioned in the Bible.
As far as the modern history of Ismailia is concerned, the city was invigorated with the construction of the Suez Canal in 1862. It was built up to accommodate the foreign employees of the Suez Canal Company. Ferdinand de Lesseps, the director of the company, lived there until the canal was completed. Ismailia is named after Ismail Pasha, the then Khedive of Egypt.
Until 1960, Ismailia was considered one of the cities within the Canal governorate. However, Law 24 gave the city independence, making it a governorate in itself. Now the governorate includes six cities: Ismailia, Tell Al-Kabir, Fayed, West Qantara, Qassasin, Abu Sweir and the city of East Qantara on the west bank of the Canal. There are also a vast number of villages scattered throughout the governorate.
Lake Temsah, which occupies an area of 14 square kilometres, is the focal point of the city. Much of the city's tourist industry has sprung up on its shores. This is where you can find tourist villages, hotels and youth hostels.
Cultural life is thriving in Ismailia with several local and international festivals held there every year. Perhaps one of the most attractive festivals is the International Folklore Festival. Each year folkloric troupes of different nationalities gather in Ismailia to present the culture and art of their countries through dance and theatre performances.
Ismailia is also known for its annual Spring Carnival, when vehicles are decorated with flowers and "Miss Strawberry" is chosen from amongst the children; the Documentary Film Festival; the Experimental Theatre Festival, and the annual Tourism and Shopping Festivals. In February, Ismailia hosts the annual Camel Festival, which consists of two days of camel racing on a race track at the intersection of the Sarabioum- Cairo road, 20 kilometres from Ismailia.
A number of hotels, holiday villages and youth hostels are scattered around Lake Temsah, and many of them have private beaches. Finding reservations is usually not a problem. For those who like to really live it up, there is a minor disappointment in store: while many resorts maintain excellent standards, there are no five-star hotels in Ismailia.
Mercure Forsan Island Hotel: ((+2064) 916 316) a four- star hotel in the Sheikh Zayed district, offers double and single rooms overlooking the garden for LE200, and rooms overlooking the Canal for LE235. Some sections of the hotel have been renovated and new rooms are charged an extra of LE40. The hotel offers one-room suites for LE450 and two-room suites for LE575. Rooms and suites are charged on a half- board basis. Villas in the hotel can be rented for LE450 per night. Day users can rent rooms for LE120 per person excluding meals. The hotel has a water sports centre, billiards and a pool.
The Olympic Village: ((+2064) 361 136) also known as the Sports Village, lies on the Ismailia-Fayed road, 11 kilometres south of Ismailia, overlooking the Suez Canal. The village covers an area of 24 feddans (approximately 24 acres), lying alongside the Suez Canal. The village has 140 rooms, with doubles for LE112 and singles for LE84. Prices don't include meals. The village has a number of sports courts, billiards and an indoor Olympic-sized pool.
The Fairuz Village: ((+2064) 320 388) was constructed in 1983 on the Beach Road located on Lake Temsah over an area of six feddans. Currently, the entrance fee to the village is LE5 for both Egyptians and foreigners. The village has a private beach, pool, fun fair and gym. Many water sports are available, like motorboats and pedal boats rented for LE50 and LE20 per hour respectively.
Rooms are currently under construction and should be open shortly.
There is a lot to see in Ismailia. The governorate offers tour guides to show tourists around the city. Arrangements are coordinated with the tourism office located in the new governorate building ((+2064) 326 626) in the Sheikh Zayed district.
Maritime Training and Simulation Centre: A training centre for pilots, specialising in practical training and educational flying courses. The Suez Canal Authority arranges tours for small groups. Visitors can enter cockpit simulators free of charge.
Area Number Six: This is where Lieutenant General Abdel-Moniem Riad was killed in 1969 during the war of attrition, and is the exact spot where soldiers began initial attempts to regain the Sinai peninsular, culminating in the war in October 1973.
The memorial is located on the eastern bank of the Suez Canal opposite to Area Number Six and can be reached by ferry. It was established by the Egyptian Armed Forces in the grounds of the first fort freed during the war.
The Memorial of the Unknown Soldier: located on Gabal Mariam, seven kilometres south of Ismailia, overlooks the Suez Canal. The memorial is composed of two obelisks behind two girls carrying an olive branch and a peace dove. It symbolises the victims of World War I. However, the site is an inaccessible military area and can only be seen from a distance.
Al-Mallaha Park: A beautiful garden with rare flowers, trees and palms, and a lovely place to enjoy the sunshine and cool breeze. Entrance is free.
The Ismailia Regional Museum: located in Salah Salem street, the museum was constructed in 1932. Before 1952 it was only open for foreigners, but after the revolution its doors were open for everyone.
This small but interesting museum has more than 4,000 objects from Pharaonic and Graeco-Roman times. There are also statues, scarabs, stelae and records of the first canal built between the Bitter Lake and Bubastis by the Persian ruler Darius. In the garden attached to the museum is a small sphinx from the time of Ramses II.
The museum is open from 9am until 5pm all year round. The entrance fee is LE6 for foreigners and LE1 for Egyptians.
De Lesseps's House: located on Mohamed Ali Street, this was the residence of the French consul to Egypt. The house used to be open to the public, however visitors are now required to obtain permission from the Suez Canal Authority. Inside the grounds is De Lesseps's private carriage encased in glass. His bedroom still has his small bed, a desk and a cupboard, while various utensils, old photos and books are scattered around the room. The licence to dig the Suez Canal is hung on one of the walls.
Ismailia has a wide selection of restaurants catering to all tastes and budgets. It is worth trying one of the many seafood restaurants, serving fresh fish. The Moonlight and Fish Land seafood restaurants lie on the Beach Road. Al-Saqia is on the same road and serves good food in a rustic-style dining room. There are also a number of fast food chains located on Orabi Street.
The Grilled restaurant in the Mercure Forsan Island Hotel offers international cuisine. Both the Olympic Village and the Fairuz Village also serve international cuisine.
Into the night
Al-Waha (the Oasis) area, downtown Ismailia, is packed with cafes and various kinds of evening hangouts. The Mercure hotel has a disco with a live DJ every night. On Thursdays there is a special programme including a belly dancer, a band and a comic show, with a minimum charge of LE25.