Sokhna

Coral reefs and popular beaches
St Paul and St Anthony monasteries
The arid Red Sea Hills

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Sokhna

An unexpected treasure

Around 55km south of Suez is the town of Sokhna, whose beaches are popular with Egyptians but attract few foreigners. The town’s name derives from the hot springs (35°C) originating in the Jebel Ataqa.

During your MSC Grand Voyage you’ll be able to see light patches offshore that indicate coral reefs. MSC Grand Voyages also offer excursions to mystic places. Secreted amid the arid Red Sea Hills, Egypt’s two oldest monasteries – dedicated to St Paul and St Anthony – trace their origins back to the infancy of Christian monasticism, observing rituals that have scarcely changed over sixteen centuries.

You don’t have to be religious to appreciate their tranquil atmosphere and imposing setting, however, and there’s also scope for birdwatching in the vicinity. Around 30km south of Sokhna, the town of Za’Farana is the nearest settlement to the Red Sea monasteries. West from here, a wide valley cleaves the Galala Plateau and sets the road on course for the Nile, 168km away.

Called Wadi Arraba, its name derives from the carts that once delivered provisions to the monastery, though legend attributes it to the pharaoh’s chariots that pursued the Israelites towards the Red Sea. Travelling for 33km along this road brings you to a turn-off to the south, from where a dramatic ridge of cliffs known as Mount Qalah can be seen in the distance, with the Monastery of St Anthony situated beneath.

The monastery is effectively a self-contained village complete with lanes of two-storey dwellings, churches, mills and gardens of vines, olives and palms, surrounded by lofty walls with an interior catwalk – although most of the buildings themselves are recent compared to the monastery’s foundation.

Qué ver en Sokhna

  • Citadel of Salah Dein

    Citadel of Salah Dein

  • Cairo, Egyptian Museum

    Cairo, Egyptian Museum

  • Las Pirámides de Guiza

    Las Pirámides de Guiza

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Egypt

In the shade of the pyramids
In the shade of the pyramids

Ancient Greeks and Romans started the trend, coming to goggle at the cyclopean scale of the Pyramids and the Colossi of Thebes.


During colonial times, Napoleon and the British looted Egypt’s treasures to fill their national museums, sparking off a trickle of Grand Tourists that eventually became a flood of travellers, taken on Nile cruises and Egyptology lectures by the enterprising Thomas Cook. A cruise to Egypt today boasts not only the monuments of the Nile Valley and the souks, mosques and madrassas of Islamic Cairo, but also fantastic coral reefs and tropical fish, dunes, ancient fortresses, monasteries and prehistoric rock art. The land itself is a freak of nature, its lifeblood the River Nile.

From the Sudanese border to the shores of the Mediterranean, the Nile Valley and its Delta are flanked by arid wastes, the latter as empty as the former are teeming with people. This stark duality between fertility and desolation is fundamental to Egypt’s character and has shaped its development since prehistoric times, imparting continuity to diverse cultures and peoples over seven millennia. Though most visitors travel to Egypt for its monuments, the enduring memory is likely to be of its people and their way of life.