The grand dame of Aswan: hotel review, Egypt

Aswan, Egypt

In Egypt’s deep south (aka ‘Upper Egypt, because it’s closer to the source of the south-north running Nile River), is the golden city of Aswan.

A world away from the smoke and insanity of Cairo, the city on the banks of the Nile is famous for its granite quarries that helped build the monuments of the ancient kingdoms, and its laid-back inhabitants, Nubians who seem more connected with the African continent than the Arabian north.

It’s also the home of one of the continent’s best grand hotels, and finally I got to visit the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract. 

The terrace, where Agatha Christie wrote Death on the Nile.
Photo: Belle Jackson

Agatha Christie wrote Death on the Nile on its terrace, and I wrote my hotel review for Fairfax Media’s Traveller section (the question is, of course: which will have greater longevity? :))

With an unsurpassed setting, smooth service and the undoubtedly fabulous
history, I rate it this of my top historic stays around the world. Armchair travellers should binge on Secret of the Nile (2016), which is the first Egyptian series on Netflix. The subtitled murder
mystery was filmed in the hotel, which is the undoubted star of the show.

You can read my story, published on Fairfax Media’s Traveller website, here 

Of myth, graves and art: Tasmania, Australia

Hobart
Photo courtesy of Henry Jones Art Hotel

Back in the mists of time, nobody used to admit they were from Tassie, the heart-shaped island state of Australia. If you escaped from Tasmania, you rebranded and moved on.

Now, it’s deeply fashionable to be from somewhere other than Melbourne or Sydney, and Tassie is as hot as it gets, with a bumper food scene, fabulous scenery and its Henry Jones Art Hotel, which claims is position as Australia’s first art hotel.

I popped down just as winter was kicking in – a little too early to catch snow on kunanyi / Mount Wellington – but with a wind imported directly from Antarctica, which howled down the wharves, sending shutters shuddering and reminding me,  in the dead of the night, of the myth and graves on which this island is founded.

You can read my review of the recently renovated Henry Jones, which was published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers here .

Cairo: The palace walk

Lined with palaces, mosques, merchant’s mansions and markets, Cairo’s Al-Muizz is a contender for the Middle East’s most beautiful street.

It’s the ancient thoroughfare of medieval Cairo, the lifeblood of a dozen centuries: every time I return to Cairo, I find myself walking the length of Al-Muizz li-Din-Allah. Like most before me, I’m lured by the street’s imposing palaces and caravanserais, its dusty mosques and vivid markets.

I’ve walked this street countless times over a decade, and each time, I make a new discovery. A forgotten tomb. A synagogue. Cool, dark water cisterns that plunge deep underground or a merchants’ mansion, instructive in the ways of generations of traders, aristocrats, craftsmen and families who filled the streets of Islamic Cairo when it was established by the Shi’ite Fatamid regime in 969AD.

In case you haven’t twigged, Egypt is back on the tourism trail after seven years languishing in the doldrums after its revolution in 2011, which overthrew dictator Hosni Mubarak, who’d run the country as his personal fiefdom for 30 years. They’ve now got another army brass running the country – plus ça change, plus c’est la même.

Cairo’s Citadel, which overlooks the city. Photo: Belle Jackson

But finally, with stability and growth taking place around the country (think, highways remade, new airports open, Nile cruise boats dusted off), it’s fabulous to see the return of one of Egypt’s major industries.

Cairo often gets but a cursory glance while everyone rushes to the Pyramids then down to Luxor, but spend the turn of the day in El Muizz for what I think is one of the world’s most beautiful streets.
Thanks to Vacations & Travel for again going ahead of the trend and publishing my feature on this beloved street.

https://www.vacationsmag.com/palace-walk-cairo/

Walking in Palestine: make hummus, not war

The turn of each year always calls for contemplation, and looking back at last year’s travel, Palestine definitely wins as the most dramatic of the destinations I visited in 2017, which included Jaipur (India), Bali (Indonesia), Egypt, Greece, a brief fling in Qatar and plenty of lovely Australian destinations.

 

Upload FilesIt’s been a while since I entered a country with such trepidation and so many questions (Will they stamp my visa on a piece of paper? (Yes) Will I find beauty? (Yes) Will I starve (An emphatic no) Will I cross borders easily? (No bother until I departed Tel Aviv airport at the end) and, most importantly, Will I be safe? (A resounding yes to feeling safe in Palestine, especially compared with the state-sponsored gun-fest that was, for me, Jerusalem).

Bedouin_campJPG

On my week-long hiking tour through Palestine’s West Bank, I walked with just one other hiker – another woman – and our guide, the fabulously patient, deeply knowledgeable and supremely courteous Anwar. Just the three of us, wandering remote valleys and sunbaked hilltops.

We slept in Bedouin camps, in people’s houses and in small, family-run hotels, drinking an inordinate amount of sweet, thyme-scented tea and eye-poppingly strong coffee, while eating our bodyweight in fresh dates that melt on the tongue like brown sugar.

Highlights include adding our own Banksy-designed graffiti onto the towering concrete walls that separate the West Bank from Israel, wandering ancient markets buying spices and baklava, and visiting remote monasteries hidden in the ravines and valleys that mark the countryside.

DISCLAIMER: In Palestine, I was a guest of Crooked Compass tours, and would recommend them thoroughly for their wildly adventurous destinations and experiences.

From Rajasthani fortress to boutique hotel

FortBishangarh
Photo: Belle Jackson

Catching up on my poor, neglected blog. The reason for my neglect is
good: I’ve been tromping around the wilds of Rajasthan, specifically
Bishangarh, a little village about an hour north of Jaipur.

The lure was the opening of the new Alila Fort Bishangarh, a fortress turned boutique hotel. I went crazy on instagram – take a look.

It took seven years to convert the 230-year-old fort, and it still
retains a tang of military austerity. Happily, the dungeon is free of
bats, snakes and gunpowder: it’s now an Alila spa, and staircases lead
to rooftop restaurants or a little yoga platform. I did a little
housework, cooking flatbread over an open fire in a mud-floor house, I
cycled past camel carts and flocks of goats and took a brief pilgrimage
to a Hindu temple – interspersed with cool, scented towels, sugared lime
juice and dips in this pool (below) because hey, it’s monsoon season in
this part of the world, and why suffer if you don’t have to?

FortBishangarhpool.JPG
Photo: Belle Jackson

My first review is out, for the Sydney Morning Herald/Sunday Age Traveller: click here to read it. If you’re planning a sojourn to Jaipur in the near future, this hotel absolutely must be on your list.

From Rajasthani fortress to boutique hotel

Oh I’ve been bad – this poor blog! But the reason for my neglect is good: I’ve been tromping around the wilds of Rajasthan, specifically Bishangarh, a little village about an hour north of Jaipur.

FortBishangarh
Photo: Belle Jackson

The lure was the opening of the new Alila Fort Bishangarh, a fortress turned boutique hotel. I went crazy on instagram – take a look.

It took seven years to convert the 230-year-old fort, and it still retains a tang of military austerity. Happily, the dungeon is free of bats, snakes and gunpowder: it’s now an Alila spa, and staircases lead to rooftop restaurants or a little yoga platform. I did a little housework, cooking flatbread over an open fire in a mud-floor house, I cycled past camel carts and flocks of goats and took a brief pilgrimage to a Hindu temple – interspersed with cool, scented towels, sugared lime juice and dips in this pool (below) because hey, it’s monsoon season in this part of the world, and why suffer if you don’t have to?

My first review is out, for the Sydney Morning Herald/Sunday Age Traveller: click here to read it. If you’re planning a sojourn to Jaipur in the near future, this hotel absolutely must be on your list.

FortBishangarhpool.JPG
Photo: Belle Jackson

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Of pharaohs and heroes: Journey to Egypt

Giza Pyramids.JPG
The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt.Photo: Belinda Jackson

I am so pleased to publish this blog about my recent article in Luxury Travel magazine. This is the first story I’ve written for a mainstream publication about Egypt since its revolution, back in 2011. The feature had the invaluable support of Abercrombie & Kent, which maintains its Cairo office, staffed by charming, knowledgeable Cairenes.

While other countries affected by civil unrest and terrorism events have slipped back onto the travel pages within weeks of the events, I feel Egypt – where I have lived and continue to return to every year – has been punished too harshly, and it suffers deeply the loss of one of its key sources of income.

The people lean heavily on tourism with good reason: their undeniable treasures include the Pyramids of Giza, the colossi at Abu Simbel, the gracious and eternal Nile. And they’re just three of its riches.

Egyptians say that once you’ve drunk from the Nile, you’ll always return. Maybe you’re not up for a cup of river water, hopefully this article will inspire you to visit -or to return.

We come to visit the gods. Stern of face, empty of eye, they stare. Blank, sightless eyes see nothing, yet see everything in the future and back to the ancient world. The colossal sculptures of Abu Simbel are in Egypt’s deep south, touching on the border with Sudan, and are the jewel of the appropriately named Nile in Style journey with Abercrombie & Kent.

“Nowhere are there so many marvellous things, nor in the whole world beside are there to be seen so many works of unspeakable greatness,” wrote Herodotus of Egypt in the fifth century BC. Fifteen centuries later, he’s still on the money.

Click here to read on about my journey down the Nile.

 

 

Of pharaohs and heroes: Journey to Egypt

The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt.
Photo: Belinda Jackson

I am so pleased to publish this blog about my recent article in Luxury Travel magazine. This is the first story I’ve written for a mainstream publication about Egypt since its revolution, back in 2011. The feature had the invaluable support of Abercrombie & Kent, which maintains
its Cairo office, staffed by charming, knowledgeable Cairenes.


While
other countries affected by civil unrest and terrorism events have
slipped back onto the travel pages within weeks of the events, I feel
Egypt – where I have lived and continue to return to every year – has
been punished too harshly, and it suffers deeply the loss of one of its
key sources of income.


The people lean heavily on
tourism with good reason: their undeniable treasures include the Pyramids
of Giza, the colossi at Abu Simbel, the gracious and eternal Nile. And
they’re just three of its riches.


Egyptians
say that once you’ve drunk from the Nile, you’ll always return.

Maybe
you’re not up for a cup of river water, hopefully this article will
inspire you to visit – or to return.


‘We
come to visit the gods. Stern of face, empty of eye, they stare. Blank,
sightless eyes see nothing, yet see everything in the future and back to
the ancient world. The colossal sculptures of Abu Simbel are in Egypt’s deep south, touching on the border with Sudan, and are the jewel of the appropriately named Nile in Style journey with Abercrombie & Kent.

“Nowhere
are there so many marvellous things, nor in the whole world beside are
there to be seen so many works of unspeakable greatness,” wrote
Herodotus of Egypt in the fifth century BC. Fifteen centuries later,
he’s still on the money.’

Click here to read on about my journey down the Nile.