Al-Ahram Weekly Online   1 - 7 April 2010
Issue No. 992
Travel
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Slowly sailing south

The River Nile has forever inspired artists, intrigued adventurers and fascinated tourists. And one of the many ways to enjoy this majestic waterway is to go on a snail-pace cruise, which was the choice of Mohamed El-Hebeishy

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Smooth sailing in a relaxed and romantic ambiance

The longest river in the world runs through the entire length of Egypt; from the Sudanese border in the south to the Mediterranean Coast in the north. Though cruising the entire river would be a fascinating experience, taking you on a scenic journey through Egypt's countryside, current options are limited to two routes: Luxor-Aswan and through Lake Nasser between Aswan-Abu Simbel.

There are numerous cruises on the market, offering between three- and four-night cruises and more or less the same service. But I was looking for something more than a cabin on a giant boat, where I would share the deck with hundreds of other seafarers, dine in a large restaurant, and take a plunge on the sundeck pool. I wanted a unique Nile cruising experience, so I chose to sail on a Dahbiya.

Dahbiyas are small wooden sailing boats fashioned after the vessels nobility traversed the Nile in during the 19th century. Today, Dahbiyas build on their legendary reputation and offer a personalised experience, draped in exquisite luxury. It is the perfect way to relive Egypt's belle époque floating on river waters. Dahbiyas are very small with six to eight cabins at the most; unless you book the entire boat to yourself, it doesn't get more private than that.

I travelled on a Dahbiya named El-Bey (which refers to an honorary title dating back to Ottoman rule). Naturally, the cabins are named after prominent contemporary figures such as incumbent Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif or former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed El-Baradei. The individuality of each cabin extends to unique interior designs in each. Mine had twin brass beds with a dangling chandelier, another housed a king- size wooden bed and period fixtures. Opening up the closet, I came across a life jacket and safety instructions. Finding both was a relief and reassured me that I was in good hands.

Cabins are located below the deck, and so is the dining room. Calling it a dining room is actually a misnomer because it serves more of a living room, equipped with a small library and a reclining couch where you can sit back and relax with a good book in hand. The room has the same cosy feeling as my own at home, but the décor is very different. Dahbiyas relive the past of slowly sailing down the Nile in aristocratic and chic fashion, so the ambiance, furnishings and tiniest details serve to create the ambiance of days gone by.

In the living room, there are hunting trophies on the wall, arabesque windows and even old vinyl records to listen to. On the deck, the same concept is maintained with period furniture inlaid with contemporary Arabic decorative elements. Here, there is a semi open-air bar area where you can enjoy five o'clock tea or a typical gin and tonic sunset drink. This is also where you would have your lunch.

Food is sophisticated gourmet, such as lentil with mayo salad and exquisite fish with vegetables and curry. Enjoy grilled ribs with pineapple, but if you prefer surf over turf, you will love the calamari stew in creamy sauce. Gastronomical preferences are accommodated if management is notified ahead of time, and the talented young chef will serve the delights your palate desires.

You will spend most of the day further up the deck towards the stern, either sunbathing or immersed in a lengthy book. Unlike large Nile cruisers which offer three- to four- night trips, Dahbiyas usually offer a full seven-night cruise between Luxor and Aswan. This means the pace is very slow and you have a lot of time in between dockings to contemplate the surrounding nature or just unwind. If this concept is appealing, you will not get bored especially that Dahbiyas are often equipped with fishing rods and binoculars.

Fishing in the Nile can always be a thrilling experience, and so is bird watching. Dahbiya cruises are not all entirely spent on the boat; there are daily sightseeing activities -- and not only to landmarks in Luxor and Aswan. The small towns along the shore also make for interesting attractions. Esna is home to the Graeco-Roman Temple of Khnum, while further south, the Temple of Kom Ombo is a fascinating monument because it is symmetrically twinned on its central axis. Another big attraction is the very well preserved Temple of Horus in Edfu, which was built in a later kingdom and away from the devastating annual Nile flood. It is certainly one of the most attractive ancient Egyptian temples to visit.

Cruising the Nile on a Dahbiya is a relaxing experience which revitalises one's energy and offers a much-needed break. It is a remarkable and exceptional experience which is highly recommended at least once in a lifetime.

Belle Epoque Travel operates its Dahbiyas from September to June. For prices and reservation please log on to www.dahabiya.com or call 02 2516 9649.

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