Lake Nasser, Upper Egypt, Egypt
On the 34th anniversary of his reign, the never-modest Pharaoh Ramses II ordered the colossal Sun Temple of Abu Simbel to be carved into the side of a cliff – with four 65-foot-high statues of himself, seated, to grace the exterior. The immense monument took 36 years to complete. More than 3,000 years later, an ingenious UNESCO operation saved it and 22 other monuments (including the Temple of Isis on Philae) from being submerged forever when the dam was built at Aswan. From 1964 to 1968, the $40 million rescue plan worked to move Abu Simbel to higher ground before the Aswan High Dam created the 300-mile –long Lake Nasser, or “Nubian Sea.” Tourists didn’t discover the lake till 1993, when its waters were first cruisedby the 52-cabi M.S. Engenie, a faux steamboat named after a French empress and decorated to evoke fin de siècle Egypt. Guests aboard it – and its slightly larger, Art Deco – style ship KasrIbrim – gaze at the temple-dotted shores and beyond to the empty dessert, with its wind-hewn natural pyramids and bluffs.
Journeys begin or end on Aswan, on the banks of the Nile, where palm-studded islands and elephantine granite boulders lend a wild beauty to Egypt’s southernmost town. Aswan’s position at the crossroads of caravan routes once meant a flourishing trade in gold, slaves, and ivory; the souk – almost as lively as Cairo’s – still brims with spices, perfumes, and produce. Thousands of items rescued before the creation of Lake Nasser are in the city’s Nubia Museum, but the best way to soak in the region’s history is abroad the small, traditional wooden sailboats known as feluccas. Check in at Aswan’s Old Cataract Hotel, set on a picturesque best in the river that inspired Agatha Christie to write Death on the Nile. Completely restored in 2011, the hotel preserves its marriage of Edwardian and Oriental elegance.
WHERE : Aswan is 133 miles/214 km south of Luxor; Abu Simbel is 176 miles/283 km south of Aswan.
BEST TIME : Nov- – Mar to avoid the heat of summer; Feb 22 and for semiannual Abu Simbel Festival, when the day’s first rays of sunlight illuminate the Sun Temple’s murals of Ramses II and Egyptian deities.