Al-Ahram Weekly Online   7 - 13 May 2009
Issue No. 946
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Round the corner

Salonaz Sami and Amira El-Naqeeb on where to go without going too far

Click to view caption
Baboons resting on the car hood; the gorgeous macaws nestling on an Italian visitor (below)

The Dalai Lama once said: "The purpose of our lives is to be happy." Indeed it is; so never let a weekend pass by without getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and the stressful work week, to a nearby getaway. This will help recharge your batteries before returning to the rat race once again at the beginning of the work week. Although it's a short span of time, a weekend getaway could be the ultimate rejuvenating experience, if planned well.

Since "there aren't enough days in the weekend," as Rod Schmidt put it, proximity plays a pivotal role in our chosen getaways, as does good planning. Before you hit the road, go for a car tune-up to avoid any mechanical snags -- unless, of course, you're taking the bus.

After choosing your destination, go easy on the packing since it's only a weekend retreat. The less you take the more at ease you will feel. Most hotels provide shampoos, conditioners, lotions and hair dryers, which lightens your load.

If it is peace and tranquillity you seek, and believe the big city cannot provide it, think again. Other than the tens of top-notch hotels all over Cairo, there are a few hidden places on the outskirts of the capital which also provide a refreshing experience.

SAKKARA COUNTRY CLUB AND HOTEL: Away from the hurly-burly of the noisy capital, the club is located at the Abul-Nomros village on the edge of the desert, about 40 minutes south from Downtown, if you are lucky and traffic is helpful. The place is perfect for many purposes, whether you want a romantic escape or simply to spend some quality time with friends or family. It has a spectacular garden with private bungalows overlooking a splendid pool surrounded by palm trees.

In case of children, they too will have the time of their life. The club has riding stables, beach buggies and 4x4 jeep rides, which take you into the desert and you ride a camel back to the hotel. We recommend you to go there for a day- use and enjoy the open-buffet lunch in the hotel just off the pool area. But if you decide to stay in one of the 20 available rooms, be prepared with your own toiletries, towels and sheets. A single room costs $60 for foreigners and LE200 for locals, while a double is $70 for foreigners and LE240 for locals. Day-use costs LE150 per person, including a lunch buffet.

To enjoy the retreat, the owners built themselves two villas as a weekend residence.

The club is located on the Marioutiya Canal Road. Tel: (02) 3381 1415 or 3381 1282.

SAKKARA PALM CLUB: The name says it all. They have an amazing pool, with hundreds of palm trees everywhere -- there's even one right inside the pool on its own small island. The club is closer to the city and easy to find with several signs on Sakkara Road.

A bar in the centre of the pool offers delicious cocktails and drinks, so you can swim over, sit on one of the high chairs pinned to the bottom of the pool and enjoy a drink, literally, soaked in water. The staff are friendly and the entire view surrounding the location is breathtaking. Ideal for a romantic getaway.

Tel: (02) 338191775 or 338191555 (NINE NUMBERS)

SODFA PACHA COUNTRY CLUB: If you are tense and want to release some steam, then this is the place for you. They have the only paintball field in Cairo. Yes, paintball field, where you can have fun running, ducking, chasing your friends and fire paint shots at them. Paintball is a combination of the childhood game tag, but it is much more challenging and sophisticated. Owned by three young businessmen, who believed it was long overdue to introduce the capital to this action-filled game.

The Strike Force Field, located in the club, provides the necessary protection gear, a vest and a mask, which must be kept on at all times. It costs LE100 per person for half an hour, including 100 paint pellets to begin with. Every additional half hour costs LE30 and a refill of 100 pellets costs LE50.

The club also has a moderate pool with an open-air restaurant, where you could enjoy an open buffet lunch on one of the wooden high tables. After a good meal, consider horse riding into the desert at one of the nearby stables.

If you definitely want to leave Cairo for the weekend, then consider the following.

AFRICA MOTEL: It was a hot spring day when we decided to discover Africa, the first safari park and motel in Egypt located 65km before Alexandria on the Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road. The first thing I noticed when the car approached the park's gates was the gentle breeze, playfully caressing the bamboo plants lining the narrow path leading to the parking lot. The temperature is at least 5 degrees Centigrade less than in Cairo.

The aim of the park is to provide those who cannot experience the real jungles of Africa a taste of what they're missing. The greenery combined with the wildlife provides a unique experience from the usual getaways. Located on Al-Nobariya Channel, a branch of the River Nile, the landscape -- though not as exotic as that found in Kenya -- remains noticeably impressive amidst what once was a barren desert void of any sort of life. The park covers 150 acres of land and 50 acres of water.

The park is home to limas, lions, kangaroos, zebras, and the most photogenic macaws. Their bright and vivid colours were awe inspiring, but it's the hippopotamus's charm which lured visitors to stay longer than they intended. We planned on feeding the corpulent creature some grass from a distance, but its warm greeting encouraged us to go down the ramp for a friendlier hello. Our tour guide's competent knowledge of the animal's habits made for a most informative visit. The baboons, while frightening, were exceptionally funny as they jumped up and down on the car -- we, of course, had kept the windows rolled up.

But this park is unlike an authentic African safari, where there are no boundaries between humans and animals. Most of the dangerous animals, such as the lions, leopards and hyenas, were fenced in. While necessary, it lessened the allure of the experience. The animals come from around the globe, but mostly from South Africa.

We took the tour in our own car. The entrance fee for the car costs LE200, regardless of the number of passengers. Big groups should try the special bus (taftaf) provided by the park for free.

After our tour, we took the boat to the motel and on the way enjoyed a scenic view of the lush grassland. We passed by chimpanzees chomping on some carrots. Upon seeing us, they stopped eating, and were eager to jump onto the boat. The river is made to look the same as the Zambezi River in South Africa, in terms of twists and turns, explained Sherif Hussein, Africa's operation manager.

The newly inaugurated lodges are nestled on an island amid verdant greenery. The 18 suites and rooms offer complete seclusion and privacy, while breathtaking views of the water and the waterfall. The furniture, interior and exterior of the buildings are a mix of African flavour. Leopard bedcovers, zebra rugs, and customised accessories such as shampoo bottles and tissue boxes bestow a sense of the wilderness. The motel offers three types of accommodation: deluxe suite with a private swimming pool (LE1,700 per night), superior room with a private pool (LE1,000 per night) and standard room (LE700 per night). All accommodations have full amenities, and prices are on BB basis and inclusive of the safari, the boat trip and taxes.

Africa has one main restaurant, the Zambezi River Restaurant, with an outdoor terrace overlooking the river. There is also an indoors area with panoramic glass windows.

For reservations and more information, call Sherif El-Torgoman: 002 012 3600 967.

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