Egyptian Beach Vacations
Part II: Egypt's Mediterranean Coast
by Jimmy Dunn
Today, one of the hot spots of tourism development is Egypt's north coast, specifically between Alexandria and Marsa Matruh, and even more specific to the region between Alexandria and Al-Alamein. In fact, this section of the coast is so much under development that it presents a bit of a moving target to discuss, with new vacation oriented beaches seemingly popping up everywhere along the coast. Much of the new development is not unlike the Ain Sukhna area on the Gulf of Suez, where village-like compounds are the common denominator.
It should be noted that the beach region of Egypt's mainland north coast does not really include the region east of Greater Alexandria. For the most part, Abu Qir, which is a bit east of Alexandria proper, but really on the city's eastern edge, signals the eastern end of Egypt's north coast beaches, because of the more marshy Delta coastline. Abu Qir has historical significance as the place were Admiral Nelson destroyed the French fleet in the Battle of the Nile in 1798.
Today, it is not a very good location for swimming, but very notable for its many seafront restaurants that serve delicious seafood.
Otherwise, the beaches extend to the west all the way to the Libyan border. Much of this development revolves around local vacation retreats for Egyptians themselves, but there has and continues to be a big push for foreign tourism to Alexandria, which for many years was largely ignored by tour operators. However, since the antiquity finds along the coast of Alexandria and the construction of the New Library of Alexandria (Bibliotcheca Alexandrina), together with much promotion, Alexandria is indeed becoming much more popular among foreign tourists. It is likely that the northern beaches will also benefit from these efforts. However, it must be remembered that many of the Red Sea beach goers arrive in chartered tours arranged by large European travel agencies, and unless these companies decide to focus more attention on the North Coast, it will probably never be as popular as the Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh regions. Also, while the North Coast resorts may very well be more pleasant during the summer months, they do not enjoy the year round warmth of the more southerly locations.
Map of the Alexandria Beaches
Many people probably still consider the North Coast to be "underdeveloped" from the standpoint of tourists. Indeed, in comparison with traditional developed beach regions in the west, it may very well be underdeveloped, unless one considers them to be overdeveloped,
which is often the case. Historically, there have always been a few beaches and beach resorts on the North Coast, particularly around Alexandria. In fact, the Corniche (also known sometimes as Sharia 26th of July and Sharia al-Geish) along the shore of Alexandria is lined with beaches, though these are public areas that are not altogether suitable for most western visitors. Specifically, the unofficial dress code for these beaches is decidedly conservative, not to mention the fact that they can be very crowded during the peak season. Nevertheless, some beaches are much more suitable for foreign tourists. Specifically Mamoura Beach, located about one kilometer east of Montazah Palace, is a semipublic beach that requires an entrance fee.
But if you really want to be spoiled, treat yourself to horse-riding and swimming in the absolute serenity and privacy of the King's Ranch, which is operated by Hilton Alexandria Green Plaza and is located on King Mariout Road 10 kilometers from the Alexandria-Cairo Desert Road.
King's Ranch is an extravagant weekend venue for North Coast vacationers and an ultimate romantic escape for couples and honeymooners. Although standing away from the beach, the ranch's lush greenery and nice landscaping creates a spectacular atmosphere for those who would like to laze by the swimming pool, ride horses, enjoy all kinds of sports or just exercise in a health club.
Several other older beach regions along the Mediterranean coast west of Alexandria include, specifically Agami, which is an exclusive resort about 20 kilometers west of downtown Alexandria where Cairo and Alexandria elite spend their vacations. Agami actually lies on the western end of Greater Alexandria. Known also as the Egyptian St-Tropez, Agami today also caters to the middle and working class. The resort village was founded in the 1950's, but there are few structures remaining from this period. While most of the housing in the area is simple, there are exceptions, including the Villa Lashin, built in 1962 by architect Ali Azzam and the Beit el-Halawa built by Abd el-Wahid el-Wakil. Most of the upmarket hotels are in Agami, while near here, you will also find the resort villages of Hannoville (about one kilometer further west) and Sidi Kreir, which are also popular summer retreats. Sidi Kreir has a 3 kilometers long private beach. A model tourist village and casino were established there recently. There are a number of small hotels in this region.
After the beaches around Agami there is Sidi Abdel Rahman, just east of Al-Alamein. Actually, this is only a small village, but the stunning white sandy beaches and clear seawater make it one of the coasts most beautiful locations for a little time on the beach. Nevertheless, it seems to remain a somewhat secluded region that has not attracted any horde of tourists to date.
Another small village further east, only about 48 kilometers short of Marsa Matruh, is Ras Al-Hikma, which is a land spur jutting out into the sea. It also has some attractive beaches, but little else. One of the main traditional beach resorts, which is like Alexandria, packed with Egyptian tourists during the summer, is Marsa Matruh. Unlike Sidi Abdel Rahman and Ras Al-Hikma, this is a much larger city with a population of around 80,000. It has a charming bay with stunning turquoise waters and clean, white, sandy beaches, but also like Alexandria, it is packed during the summer.
Two well known beaches include Cleopatra Beach, where the famous queen is said to have bathed, but is in fact a difficult place to swim. It is located about seven kilometers west of Marsa Matruh. The best place to swim is Agibah Beach, about 28 kilometers west of town. It should also be noted that Marsa Matruh is a frequent stopover for travelers to the Siwa Oasis.In fact, Alexander the Great is said to have founded this city on his way to visit the oracle at Siwa. Later, it served as a port for Anthony and Cleopatra's fleet.
There are a few other older beaches frequented by mostly Egyptian tourists along the Mediterranean coast, but the real story of Egypt's northern coast is the new resorts that are springing up, almost exclusively between Alexandria and Al-Alamen. Unlike Egypt's older beaches, these are mostly resort compounds as opposed to actual villages or cities. Most of these resorts really have only villas, some of which are privately rented out to guests, but many of which are vacation homes for affluent Egyptians. However, there are apparently at least a few villas in each location that can be rented. Some of the newer tourist villages that really have very little or no hotel accommodations, but mostly consist of privately owned villas, include Marakeya tourist village, which lies about 52 kilometers from Alexandria, and is considered one of the largest tourist village on the northern coast, the Al Ahlaam Tourist Village, about 93 kilometers west of Alexandria, Sondos Village about 138 kilometers from Alexandria in the Bay of Gazelle at Sidi Abdel Rahman, the Ibn Sina Village I and Ibn Sina Village II, near Marsa Matrough, which is said to have at least one hotel, and the Marbella Village. Foreigners who do wish to visit these resorts, perhaps renting a villa, will have enjoy a unique experience, mostly surrounded by very upscale Egyptians who are usually well traveled and sophisticated.
Other's have fine, and sometimes very fine hotel accommodations, which is a growing trend.
Map of Egypt's North Coast Beaches
Marakia is one of the first resorts west of Alexandria. Due to its marble-like nature, Marakia was originally known as Marmarina in the old times. The name is extracted from the Arabic word "marmar" which means marble. This is the oldest of the new North Coast Villages, located about 51 kilometers from Alexandria. Clear sea and pure sand are its two main characteristics. It consists mostly of a fine beach, housing units and public service units. The beach is 1500 meters long and there is a pedestrian road that separates it from the housing units. The public service units are in both the middle of the village and at its main entrance, including administrative, emergency, communication, commercial, and entertainment services. The entertainment facilities include restaurants, a cinema and an open theater. There is also an airport that serves this area. Just after the Marakia residential village is the Borg el Arab Hilton Hotel Marina is 15 Km from "Marakia", and has a 750 meters long beach.
Many service units are constructed on the beach. It has a center for administrative, commercial, medical, religious and entertainment services which can be found in the middle of the village. Marina specifically has had a reputation of opulence, but some of the beaches here are apparently becoming more available as at least semipublic.
Al-Alamein is actually an older beach location, old enough in fact that Romel is said to have used its beaches during World War II for relaxation. However, though it has historical significance, it has never had much in the way of tourist facilities. Now, however, Movenpick has a fantastic resort at Al-Alamein that may change all of that.While there have always been a few hotels in the area, this five star hotel is exceptional. Of course, Al-Alamein has historical importance as the location where, in World War II, a battle between the British Eighth Army under General Montgomery attacked Field Marshal Rommel's German-Italian Afrika Korps. Montgomery won that battle and changed the course of the North Africa campaign. Along with the beaches, there are World War II cemeteries and a War Museum.
There is, of course, all of the usual beach activities at many if not most of the North Coast resort areas. Certainly there are water sports, such as skiing and jet skiing, parasailing, surfing in some locations, snorkeling, sailing, sail boarding, boating and scattered about are even scuba diving centers. There are not many water sports that cannot be found, and many of the better resorts provide a range of such activities. And while the parents play, most resorts offer good facilities for children, with exciting and safe activities so that the entire family can enjoy there holiday.
However, the many North Coast resorts, as vacation getaways, also offer many opportunities for fine dining. All villages have open-air cafs with big screens displaying films and video clips, where people can have pizza, fetir (pastry) and zalabya (small balls of sweet pastry) or just go for a soft drink.
But if you would like to stretch your budget a little bit, Marina boasts a number of elegant dim-lit cafs, such as Jomana, which has a strategic location on the lake. Sea Gull, a fish restaurant and hotel in Marina, also has a nice dim-lit caf, where tables are elegantly encircled with lush greenery to ensure the privacy of guests. Or you can get an extraordinary fish meal at the Sea Gull restaurant overlooking the lake.
There is also a famous street in Marina named the Chanzillezer, where you can find a wide variety of elegant restaurants and coffee shops.
At the Borg el Arab Hilton, you can also enjoy a seaside barbecue while listening to the charming tunes of lutes and singing, or just go indoors where you can eat Italian food.
Other eateries can be found on the road. You can eat grilled chicken with special spices at Andria (which stands in front of Marabella resort, 63 kilometers from Alexandria), or go for oriental food at Al-Tikkeya (65 kilometers from Alexandria). Other food outlets include Al-Safwani, Fish Market (which has a fish restaurant and a number of American fast food franchises, located three kilometers after the Borg el Arab Hilton on the way to Al-Alamein).
In a more active mood? You can dance the night away at Borg el Arab Hilton's or Marina's open discotheques or have an extraordinary night at one of Marina's famous summer parties, Layali Al-Telifizyon, which host famous Egyptian and Arab singers every week.
The Sinai North Coast
Port Said marks the boundary between Egypt's mainline Meterranean coastline and Egypt's Sinai Mediterranean coastline. However, there is not much between Port Said and Rafah on the border of Egypt's Sinai, with the exception of El-Arish. In fact, much of the north coast of the
El-Arish is the capital of the North Sinai Governorate and still receives a few tourists, but probably because of its proximity to the Palestinian territories, it has had little opportunity to live up to its potential, at least from the standpoint of westerners. There are reportedly a number of Egyptians who use it for a summer retreat. It does have nice beaches, along with a Bedouin crafts market, some reasonably good hotels and even a Pharaonic fortress, but until some of the regional differences between its neighbors are solved, it is unlikely to progress much as a mainstream tourist destination.
Last Updated: June 9th, 2011
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