By Maria Lenhart
The world’s largest & most notable sphinx awaits. It’s the starting point for an unforgettable Egyptian odyssey with Alexander + Roberts.
Egypt is one of the world’s oldest destinations and yet one of its most dynamic, a place where thrilling new discoveries from the ancient world are constantly revealed. Taking part of this discovery, guests on Alexander + Roberts’ 13-day “Between the Paws of the Sphinx” can savor rare behind-the-scenes experiences while the timeless magic of Egypt unfolds before their eyes. With visits to eight UNESCO World Heritage sites, a five-night Nile cruise on board a luxury small ship and in-depth exploration of the multi-faceted cities of Cairo and Alexandria, it’s an adventure of a lifetime.
Discovery begins in Giza on the first full day of touring following an overnight in Cairo’s five-star Kempinski Nile Hotel. Here you’ll not only visit the Great Pyramids, but actually stand between the paws of the Sphinx, a spot normally off-limits to visitors, for a private field talk by a noted Egyptologist with extensive experience mapping excavations on the Giza Plateau. And even before Giza’s lavish new Grand Egyptian Museum opens in the next year or so, you can arrange for a side tour to its state-of-the-art workrooms for the chance to closely observe archaeologists meticulously rejuvenating recently recovered artifacts from around Egypt.
“You might see someone carefully working on a 5,000-year-old item that is still recognizable as a pair of leather shoes,” says Robert Drumm, president of Alexander + Roberts. In nearby Sakkara, new marvels to witness include the brightly colored wall drawings and inscriptions of the 4,000-year-old Tomb of Mehu, recently opened to the public for the first time since its discovery in 1940. The afternoon also brings a tour of Memphis, the ancient Egyptian capital, an open-air museum where marvels include a mammoth statue of Ramses II and a stunning sphinx carved from a more than 80-ton slab of alabaster. Cairo’s layers of history are the focus of the next day’s exploration, including a tour of the medieval portion of the city and a chance to browse among the exotic spices, jewelry and textiles at the Khan El Khalili bazaar. Providing a splendid orientation for the upcoming wonders along the Nile, the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities is a trove of treasures unlike any other. Among its collection of over 120,000 objects are dazzling displays of jewelry, sculpture, royal mummies and objects from the tomb of King Tutankhamen, including his gold face mask, perhaps the ultimate icon of Egyptian civilization.
“Even though Egypt is ancient, it’s still alive. There’s always something new to see.” — Robert Drumm
Then comes two nights in Alexandria, once the city of Cleopatra and Alexander the Great and now a revitalized cultural capital along the Mediterranean. Unveiled in 2002 close to the site of the Great Library — the largest archive of knowledge in the ancient world — Bibliotheca Alexandrina is a stunning tribute to its predecessor, lavishly embellished with carved letters, pictographs and hieroglyphs from more than 120 different scripts. With the Four Seasons Hotel Alexandria as home base, there are opportunities to explore sites such as Pompey’s Pillar erected around 300 A.D. and wander along the seaside promenades as well as the palm-shaded gardens of Montazah Palace.
Upon returning to Cairo, the fascinating Nile cruise portion of the journey begins following a flight to Abu Simbel in southern Egypt to visit the temples of Ramses II. These massive twin temples with rock relief figures were relocated in 1968 to a hill above the Aswan High Dam before their original site was flooded during the creation of Lake Nasser.
You then fly to Aswan to board the Oberoi Zahara for a five-night cruise along the Nile in a style befitting the ancient pharaohs. With just 27 staterooms, the luxury vessel is small enough to enjoy intimate docking facilities along the river, enabling passengers to avoid the crowds. On board, you’ll savor skillfully prepared international cuisine and spacious accommodations with large viewing windows, rain showers, LCD televisions and other comforts.
A stirring introduction to the Nile experience comes on the first evening with a sound-and-light show at Philae Temple, a spectacle of lights and music telling the story of the Egyptian god Osiris and goddess Isis against a magical backdrop of soaring towers, obelisks and relief carvings. The next morning, your ship docks at one of Egypt’s unusual sites, the Temple of Kom Ombo built to honor both the fearsome crocodile god Sobek and the falcon-headed sun god Horus. Horus is also featured prominently during the next day’s visit to Edfu, where falcon-headed statuary and reliefs are throughout the magnificent temple many consider the best preserved monument in Egypt.
The next few days are punctuated by visits to spectacular ancient sites, but there’s also time for leisurely cruising along the Nile, with a timeless panorama of palm groves, mud brick villages and hand-hoed fields of corn and sesame that seem to have changed little since biblical times. You’ll also have an opportunity to sail on a felucca, a traditional wooden sailing vessel that relies on the winds and river currents.
Kings + Queens
The last few days of the journey reveal some of Egypt’s most storied sites, including the temples of Karnak and Luxor grandly connected by the nearly two mile-long Avenue of Sphinxes. Among the many astonishing sights are Luxor’s carvings of people clapping, beating drums and performing acrobatics, scenes so vibrant they almost seem to leap off the ancient walls.
Opposite Luxor on the river’s west bank, the dramatic Temple of Hatshepsut is built into a half circle of cliffs, an architectural masterpiece of stepped platforms and pillared porticoes built as a funerary temple for one of Egypt’s great queens. The temple lies at the entrance of the Valley of the Kings, perhaps most famous as the site of King Tut’s tomb, but also containing a vast network of underground burial chambers built from the 16th to 11th centuries B.C. As you descend into the pharaohs’ tombs, protected from centuries of desert sun, the wall paintings of birds, snakes, boats and other symbols in eye-popping shades of blue, yellow, red and white are so vivid they seem to have been painted yesterday.
But this sense of timelessness is part of the fascinating contradiction that is Egypt, a place of antiquity where many of its deepest secrets continue to unfold.
Learn more about this exciting itinerary (and others) at one of our “Discover Egypt” events in Charlotte, N.C., and Greenville, S.C.! See Navigator for more information, or visit AAA.com/Events!