Over the past three decades the Red Sea resorts of Sharm El-Sheikh, Dahab and Hurghada have grown into major tourist destinations, superseding the Egyptian Mediterranean coast in popularity. Yet many parts of the north coast have whiter beaches, fewer crowds and considerably better weather.
Alexandria and its environs are well known to residents of Egypt, who flock to the beaches of ‘Agami and Hannoville, Al-Arish and Marsa Matruh in their thousands to escape the summer heat and dust of Cairo. Yet relatively few tourists from abroad think of Egypt as a Mediterranean holiday destination, or realise that a vacation in Egypt need not encompass solely, or at all, a sightseeing tour of the Nile Valley or diving in the Red Sea.
The north coast of Egypt, in fact, is a perfect destination for a lazy seaside holiday. It has at least as much to offer as the European side of the Mediterranean, with remoter beaches, bluer sea, whiter sand, and lower prices. If you balk at the inactivity of a seaside holiday, you can even spend a day at the Giza Pyramids. And if you want a more active vacation, the coast has some excellent locations for bird watching or isiting ruins.
The north coast beach (photo: Ocean Us Tours)
Many Alexandrians have summer homes at beach resorts west of the city or at Muntaza or Ma’mura to the east, while Cairenes often make shorter trips to Alexandria itself or to the beaches and holiday resorts that have sprung up along the coast. Yet despite its agreeable climate, white, sandy beaches and translucent, azure sea, the coast is still relatively undeveloped.
Muntaza beach Alexandria
Egypt’s northwest Mediterranean coast begins at the western edge of Alexandria and extends almost five hundred kilometres to Libya’s eastern border. Interestingly, the coast today, with its whitewashed resorts running into one another as they vie for beach space, have resurrected the coastline much as it was two thousand years ago. During the Greek and early Roman periods a total of forty-eight towns were centered around Lake Mareotis — Lake Maryut, west of Alexandria—and strung along the coast from there to the frontier of Cyrenaica (east of today’s border with Libya). Centuries of neglect followed the Arab invasion, but now, almost two millennia later, resort villages have bloomed as though from seeds long dormant. Most of the villas and apartments are in these resorts are privately owned, but many also have hotels. Some hotels have existed since the glory days following—and in some cases between—the two world wars. If you would like to enjoy a swim but do not plan to stay overnight, most hotels offer reasonably priced day packages of lunch and use of the beach.
While there are some populated resorts east of Alexandria on the coast of the Nile Delta, such as Ras al-Barr and Gamasa, still further east is the quieter north coast of Sinai, which has superb resorts along the shoreline as well as a variety of luxury hotels and more traditional accommodation in the busy town of Al-Arish, famous for its colourful Thursday market.
Ras el Barr (photo: worldmapz)
Now is the perfect time of year to visit the north coast. The Mediterranean basin enjoys hot, dry weather throughout the summer with the surface temperature of the sea occasionally reaching 30°C, but as the shadows lengthen in late summer the temperature falls a little. The winter is mild with temperatures varying between 12° and 15°, which makes the north coast a pleasant weekend destination all year round. However, most hotel rooms are not heated so in cooler months you might consider taking along a hot water bottle (which can be filled from the hot tap) or a small fan heater. If you are not travelling in high summer you will need a coat or raincoat, jumpers, and even an umbrella. In summer make sure you have sun protection—there is a good local variety. Unless you are booked into a luxury hotel it would be wise to take a few items with you like a towel, soap and toilet paper (although these may appear if you ask for them), as well as a supply of instant coffee and an all-size hand basin plug. If you intend to plug in a phone charger or laptop you might also find an extension strip useful, since even five-star hotel rooms tend to have a paucity of electrical outlets.
Mobile phone connections are assured all along the coast, and there is no shortage of Internet cafés. It is worth bearing in mind that many hotels and tourist restaurants in the three and even four star categories do not sell liquor. This may be due less to ideology than the bureaucracy involved in obtaining a licence, so it may be worth inquiring discreetly if you are allowed to bring your own bottle of wine to your table.
Jenny Jobbins is the author with Mary Megalli of ‘Alexandria and the Egyptian Mediterranean’ (AUC Press, 2006).