Top Essentials Packing Checklist for a Nile Cruise

Top Essentials Packing Checklist for a Nile cruise

When people think about booking a cruise they usually picture massive cruise ships travelling to busy ports and packed beaches, but river cruises provide an equally excellent holiday option. And there are few rivers in the world that are more famous than the Nile. Who else’s banks hold the relics of one of the world’s most important ancient cultures, the Kingdom of Egypt? All Egyptian holidays are certain to be rewarding and fun, but a cruise down the Nile is an experience unlike any other. If you’re looking to plan your adventure on the Nile, here are a few essentials to bring along. You can also get more information on what to wear at Saga blog.

nile1

Pack for Warm and Cool Weather

The summers in Egypt are extremely hot, reaching temperatures into the high thirties, but things can still cool off in the evenings, especially when you’re on the water. Be sure to pack clothing that is lightweight and will protect you from the sun, as well as warmer layers, like light cotton sweaters and long sleeve shirts for later into the night.

nile2

Bring Plenty of Sun Block and a Hat

The Egyptian sun is incredibly strong, and if you’re wandering about archaeological sites like the Great Pyramid, or the Valley of the Kings, you are bound to be exposed to the rays. The best way to avoid getting burned is to limit your exposure by wearing a wide-brimmed hat, and to coat yourself in plenty of sun block.

Purchase a Pair of Sturdy Walking Sandals

While you can get away with wearing flip-flops on the boat during your cruise of the Nile, walking over the rough terrain of many of Egypt’s ancient ruins will require sturdier footwear. The best option is walking sandals, which will provide you with both the breathability and support to comfortably explore large sites like the famous city of Luxor.

Snap Pics with Your Digital Camera

When going on any holiday you’ll want to bring a camera to document your experience, but when visiting a storied place like Egypt it will seem like every landscape is a once in a lifetime photo opportunity. Be sure to bring an extra memory card so you can save all your great pics.

Don’t Forget Insect Repellent

Hot climates and bodies of water always attract insects like mosquitos, and though you will certainly be spending time in museums like the Nubian Museum in Aswan, the majority of your time will most likely be spent at outdoor attractions, making insect repellent a must. With the high temperatures and strong sun, you may also want to bring a cooling version of insect repellent with you.

Wrap Up with a Pashmina

Egypt is a predominantly Muslim country, so female travellers should be sure to keep their shoulder covered when visiting cities and towns. One of the best ways to keep cool and covered is to carry a pashmina with you that you can wrap over your shoulders when necessary.

If spectacular landscapes and historical wonders are your idea of the perfect holiday, then a cruise down the Nile is one adventure you’re certain to enjoy.

Images by used Rick Manwaring and zoloakoma under Creative Commons license

Pamper yourself in a brand new spa in South Africa

It’s so important for us baby boomers to look after our health. Whenever or wherever in the world I hear about a new, glorious spa, it gest mentioned here and shared with you, my readers. This is the latest I came across, in the middle of South Africa’s Cape Winelands.

vineyardspa

Leeu Estates – home to the first ilā spa in southern Africa

 

Franschhoek, July 2016: Leeu Estates, Leeu Collection’s flagship property that opened last month (15 June) in the Cape Winelands’ Franschhoek Valley, is home to the first ilā spa in southern Africa. Set among tranquil vineyards with panoramic views of the majestic valley, Leeu Spa offers a wellness sanctuary just moments away from the hustle and bustle of South Africa’s gourmet capital.

 spa2

 

Leeu Spa, with its contemporary floor-to-ceiling glass windows and timber frame designed by celebrated Spanish architect Tomeu Esteva of Esteva i Esteva Arquitectura, was conceived as the physical and emotional heart of Leeu Estates. Its location, shape and building materials are intended to create a direct link with the dramatic natural setting.

spa1

Once guests have been welcomed at the Spa reception, they can take one of two routes that both create a sensory experience imbuing visitors with an immediate feeling of wellbeing.

The first takes guests on an enchanting journey down a gently descending staircase between an extended bamboo courtyard and beautiful stone walls. At the bottom lies the 15-metre infinity swimming pool with its comfortable loungers, surrounded by vines, where guests can soak up the South African sunshine and views of vineyards, valley and mountains. Beyond the pool terraces, luxuriously appointed covered seating serves as the resort’s relaxation area. A striking fireplace is all that stands between the guests and the magnificent views of the valley.

spa3

The second takes guests to the hydrotherapy area, with separate changing and steam rooms for male and female guests, and a plunge pool overlooking a tranquil lily pond. It is here that all three treatment rooms, including one double suite, and a hair salon, plus nail bar, are also located.

In keeping with the ilā philosophy, Leeu Spa offers authentic massages and holistic treatments by expert therapists who have been recruited specifically for their “healing” hands. The therapists deliver restorative treatments inspired by centuries-old Asian traditions using wild-harvested organic ingredients from remote, untainted regions of the world such as the Amazon rain forest and the Himalayas that harness their own natural healing energy, as well as indigenous plants with beneficial qualities.

spabig

Leeu Spa’s two signature treatments are The Summer Tree of Life Journey and The Warming Winter Vine, Earth & Stone Journey, both incorporating local products natural to South Africa and some taken from the Leeu Estates grounds. Both treatments last 90 minutes and cost ZAR 1500 (approx £75).

The Summer Journey starts with the cleansing aroma of Pala Santo – the South American sacred wood. Warm marula and baobab oil, delicately fragranced with buchu and rose geranium essential oils, is then drizzled onto sacred points of the back to open meridians. This is followed by a rooibos salt scrub and a facial incorporating pomegranate, grapeseed and honey. The Winter Journey incorporates a crushed grapeseed with marula and baobab full body scrub (Vine), a black mud pack infused with rosemary and lemon thyme from the hotel’s gardens (Earth) and then a Leeu Estates river stone and hot poultice massage (Stone).

For those who prefer physical activities to pampering sessions, there is a spacious gym, furnished with the latest equipment, offering framed views of the majestic mountains. A second fitness space, made of stone, encourages dialogue with nature as it is a flexible building with no boundaries – an extension of the resort out into the vines. It is here that personal training and yoga instruction can take place. Outside the Leeu Spa walls, walkers, joggers and cyclists can take to the extensive network of trails that crisscross the rolling estate, hilly mountain slopes and banks of the river if they prefer to exercise in the open air.

Leeu Spa is open seven days per week from 10am to 7pm, with the gym open slightly longer from 7am to 7pm.

Leeu Estates rates start from ZAR 7300 (approx £335) in the low season (15 June to 31 August) and from ZAR 9000 (approx £415) in the high season (1 September to 30 April), for two people sharing a Classic Room. Rates include:

• Breakfast (07h00–11h00) • Nespresso machine and mini bar in room • Unlimited Internet access • All national phone calls • Complimentary tasting of Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines at Leeu Estates per guest per stay • Complimentary scheduled transfers to sister property • 14% VAT

Leeu Estates does not accept children under the age of six years.

For reservations, email reservations@leeucollection.com or call +27 21 492 2222. Visit www.leeucollection.com for more information.

Ceuta – a part of Spain in Northern Africa

I’m all thrilled with the vast possibilities of day trips from my current location in the South of Spain. If you read my previous post, you will know that Cordoba and Tarifa are on the agenda, but my romantic soul longs for a day trip to Ceuta. I just need to wait until a big enough group has come together and then I can go at the extremely reasonable price of EUROS 56 practically from my doorstep.

It has been many, many years since I visited Ceuta and I’ll tell you why I want to go again as soon as possible. The autonomous  city of Ceuta is a Spanish exclave in Northern Africa, bordered in the west by Morocco  and in the south by the Strait of Gibraltar, the Mediterranean on one side and the Atlantic Ocean in the other. The location of the city alone is so unique that a visit is an absolute must.

Ceuta’s history begins with the Carthaginians. Due to its extremely strategic location, Ceuta has always been on the ‘to have’ list of many civilizations, among them the Romans, the Arabic Berbers, the Portuguese and, finally the Spaniards. Wars were fought, battles raged, fortifications were built and conquered and through it all, Ceuta thrived as a port and a center of trade. The many occupants which made Ceuta their own, account for a variety of colorful cultures which exist side by side to this day. Imagine colonial Portuguese buildings and the great for fortification of the Royal Moat next to an Arab bazaar. The big ethnic group of Muslim Berbers rubbing shoulders with Sephardic  Jews, Hindus and, of course, European. I love the mixture of colors and cultures, an impression of North Africa in a European city.

Royal Moat, photograph by Jim Gordon from Wikipedia Commons

Royal Moat, photograph by Jim Gordon from Wikipedia Commons

I visited Ceuta before I went to Morocco and got a great taste of what to expect. More of the same you can experience in the other exclave, Melilla.

You can reach Ceuta by ferry from Algeciras (which I will do, the tour including the bus ride from Benalmadena to Algeciras) or, if you are so inclined and have money to burn by helicopter.

Essaouira – the Moroccan Woodstock

“Essa…what?” my travel companion Mary asked. “Where do you want to go?” “Essa—ouuu…rja,” I repeated, savoring every sound. I admit, I had secretly practiced. Everybody can say’ Casablanca’ or ‘Marrakesh’, but to get your tongue around the name of this particular pearl in the necklace of Moroccan beauties needs some doing. Never mind, once you tell  your hotel receptionist in Marrakesh  that you would like them to arrange a taxi for a day trip to Essa—ouuu-rja, they will break into a broad smile, nod their head vigorously and say: “you’ll love the decadent charm of the place” or “enjoy the city of sunlight and wind”. Or other words to the effect, but always with a poetic nuance to it.

We set out early one sunny morning in May from our base in Marrakesh. Our young guide and taxi driver was a Berber as he proudly pointed out after introducing himself as –  you guessed it – Muhammed.

The coastal town of Essaouira lies at a distance of approx. 120 miles west of Marrakesh on the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a straight run, the first part of it a smooth and modern motorway. But, as the suburbs of Marrakesh fade into the distance you find yourself in the desert. Dunes line the road, more rubble and pebble than sand, the lush green vegetation of Marrakesh gives way to thorny bushes, gnawed at by herds of goats and sheep. The wind starts already blowing much stronger and at about halfway point, ‘smooth’ is a word of the past. “This,” Muhammed explained with a grin, “is what we call a Moroccan massage.” Here and there huge Argan trees overshadowed the bleak ground and we were grateful for a break at a wonderful and very interesting  small factory where we could see how the Argan nuts were treated and  made into fantastic soaps, creams and oils. A pleasure for all senses and we stocked up on some beauty treats.

Thankfully,  a few miles out of Essaouira the ‘Moroccan massage’ came to an end and the first glimpse of our destination hove into view. A white, wide and long beach, pounded by crashing waves and dotted with countless colorful sails of windsurfers and kitesurfers. A windy city, indeed, and a paradise for water sport enthusiasts.

“Let’s eat first,” Muhammed suggested, “and then you can stroll through the medina”. He didn’t even ask if we liked fish, you don’t eat anything else if you visit Essaouira. The place is famous for the freshest fish and it’s consumed right at the fish market. Stall after stall offer the latest catch, you point at what you want, sit down at rickety communal tables, order your drink and salad and whilst you wait that your choice is grilled, you engage in lively conversation with your fellow guests. And you get your first impression of the massive fortress , walls and ramparts which surround the medina as well asf the sea wall and the dramatic  coastline behind with the island of Modagor visible in the distance.

They got into the spirit of the place

Essaouira has a long and colorful  history and traces of first  settlements  date back to pre-historic times. The fortress and medina however go back no further than the 18th century when King Mohammed III decided to make Essaouira Morocco’s primary port and the center of trade. French engineer as well as specialists  from other European nations designed and constructed the fortifications as they are today and Essaouira became the trading point for wares brought by caravans  from the sub-Sahara to Timbuktu and from there across the desert and the Atlas mountains to here.

Wiping our mouths and fingers and with our stomach happily full of fish, we went through one of the massive main gates into the mediana of Essaouria. Tour guides and taxi drivers  are not allowed to accompany you, so we strolled on our own.

Immediately we understood, what the decadent charm was all about. A bit of peeling paint here, a missing shutter there, wooden doors askew and the whole setting populated by people, locals and visitors alike, for whom the words ‘hurry’ and ‘no time’ did not seem to exists. Not for nothing was Essaouira a favorite hangout for the likes of Jimy Hendrix and Orson Welles. There is even a bust in his honor.  Winston Churchill liked it too.Once upon a time a hippie favorite, quite a  few are left over, sporting dreadlocks and a slightly forlorn look on their faces.

The winding alleys are lined with art galleries and crafts shops, wood carving  being preeminent. Some of the paintings are outstanding and so are fabulous bags and slippers as well as hand crafted silver jewelry. The entire atmosphere is a far cry from the hustle and bustle of its counterpart in Marrakesh. You get the impression that the shop keepers are just happy to sit in or in front of their shops, drink tea and engage in conversation and actually couldn’t care less if a potential customer showed up or not.

Essaouira is a still breathing reminder of times gone by and the laid back atmosphere is contagious. So much so, that we nearly forgot we had to go back the same day and needed to make an effort to go and find our waiting taxi driver…fast asleep in the backseat.

If you want to spend the night or a few days, there is a variety of hotels available. Modern ones near the beach and much more romantic, but simple ones in the medina. Also check out the annual Gnaoua Festival of World Music in the last week of June an event which inspired the title of this post and added yet another moniker to Essaouria: The Moroccan Woodstock.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting a thrill in Morocco

My friend Mandy and I share a birthday. Born under the same astrological sign, it doesn’t come as a surprise that we have a lot in common, among other things an unconditional love for travel and adventure.  Each year, we celebrate our  birthday by  going  off to another dream destination.

Last year’s trip started in Marrakesh  where we booked ourselves into the most romantic and picturesque hotel imaginable,  a converted riahd nestled deep in the winding alleys of the medina. An unremarkable thick wooden door, set into  a high wall opened up into a scene right out of a  fairy tale: a green and blue tiled courtyard illuminated by copper lanterns and a crystal chandelier handing from an iron chain. A fountain surrounded by potted palms and rose bushes in full bloom whispered in the middle, birds in silver cages twittered in the niches, benches covered with plush silk  cushions invited to rest and enjoy  steaming mint tea. The rooms are arranged on galleries around the court yard and offer four poster beds, carved furniture and a bathroom with copper basins and an array of lotions, potions and rose water in silver containers. Candles and vases with fresh roses completed the picture.

Our dream hotel

After a night of  happy dreams, followed by an enormous breakfast spread served on the roof terrace with views all over Marrakesh’s medina, we started to plan the adventure we had really come for. A trip over the Atlas mountains to the desert city of Ouarzazate, also known as the ‘Gateway to the Desert’ and  home to one of  the most beautiful and important Kasbahs in Morocco: Taouririt with its massive rose colored walls and towers and sin fin of workshops, stalls and restaurants within.

 

Assessing our chic clothes and age, the friendly receptionist said: ‘Madame, we can arrange for a nice car and driver to take you to Ouarzazate. Air conditioned and very comfortable.’ ‘Thank you,’ I said, ‘but we want to go by bus.’ Shock spread over her face, but she recovered quickly. ‘Hmm,’ she said, ‘yes, there are I think some organized coach tours, I can make enquiries, if you wish..’

‘No,no,’ Mandy jumped in. ‘What we mean is local buses, you know those used by people from here who want to visit relatives etc.’  Now the poor girl was really shocked. ‘ Yeeees, there are two per day from the bus station. But, they are crowded, noisy, no air con and quite slow.’

‘Splendid,’ I beamed, ‘just what we want. Point us in the right direction, tell us departure times and we are off.’ Still shaking her head, the girl did as asked,  and the next day we made our way to the bus station located a 10 minute walk from Djemaa-El-Ina near Bab Doukkala.

Pushing through the milling crowd of women in pastel colored dhellabahs their faces covered with black veils, men with silver daggers in their belt, boisterous kids, live chicken in wire cages and other men humping sheep carcasses on their backs, we located our bus. Luckily, nearly everybody in Morocco speaks some sort of French, which helped. Ensconced in the back seats and surrounded by chattering locals who threw a few curious glances at us, we were on our way.

The first few miles out of Marrakesh led through elegant suburbs, palm groves and lemon tree plantations, until the road got steeper and  the landscape became more barren as  the ascent into the mountains started.   The views which awaited us were spectacular. The higher up we got, the more we could see of the valley du Draa, a river slowly meandering along, with oasis after oasis at its banks, cutting its way through sheer rock forming a massive canyon. Soon it became clear why this road is known as one of the most scenic and hair-raising in all of Morocco. Hair bent turn after hair bent turn, with rocks on one side and sheer, bottomless drops at the other. Definitely not a ride for the faint hearted, especially when the bus from the opposite direction thundered down the road, passing us with an inch to spare. But, what a thrill!!

Men and women are seated separately on the bus and soon the ladies around us overcame their original shyness. Food baskets were brought out and we were invited to share home made meat filled pastries and delicious sweets. They told us about their relatives who lived in France or Belgium and their Berber villages high up in the mountains. We got to hold babies and to admire the henna tattoos on the hands of a recent bride. When we reached the snow line, we all got off for a break and they made sure the mint tea vendors came over with their silver pots and we got our share of hot drinks.

Finally, the city of Ouarazate, rising out of the endless sands and dunes of the desert came into view, with the red walls of the kasbah  glowing in the last rays of the sinking sun. We parted company with our new friends, having gained invaluable insight into their lives and  their respect for having chosen to travel like locals.

A few camels along the way

Our home for the night was the splendid Hotel Berbere Palace which not only features lush gardens but also many original props from movies like ‘Gladiator’, ‘Planet of the Apes’ and ‘Lawrence  of Arabia’, all of which were, at least in part, shot here.

One of the movie props in the hotel