June 26 2010
“Every year I charter a traditional Egyptian dahabia sailing boat from Abercrombie & Kent (pictured) for my family and friends and make the trip up the Nile from Luxor. I like this smaller type of boat – it has room for about 13 but is still intimate. It has been fully modernised and has a fantastic crew, who my children – Khaled, 13, Jude, 11, Jenna, nine, and Rashid, four – love to hang out with.
We’ll fly up from Cairo on Friday afternoon and once we’ve settled on the boat, we’ll go to Karnak Temple, at about 9pm. It’s one of my favourite historical sites: the first time I came here I couldn’t believe it. It’s so huge and intriguing – every time there’s something new to see. The children love to ramble and explore, and sometimes there’s a sound and light show. Then it’s back to the boat for a late snack of pastries and tea.
Early on Saturday morning, about 7am, we’ll travel by car to the Valley of the Kings. This is such a famous and special place; my kids love it as they are studying Egyptology at school and they’re mad about Indiana Jones films. One of my friends, Medhat, is a professional tour guide and so we might get a special permit to go into some newly discovered places. Again, there is so much to see: the tombs of Rameses V and VI, Tutankhamun, of course, and the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. Medhat is great at explaining the whole chain of events.
We’ll go back to Luxor for lunch at the Winter Palace hotel. Its 1886 Restaurant is fabulous; the cuisine is French but if you preorder, the staff will cook whatever type of food you like – Egyptian, Italian. I’m always tempted by the om ali – fresh cream pastries with nuts and honey – oh my, they are delicious! After lunch we’ll relax, maybe swim in the hotel pool, before taking a siesta on the boat.
Later we set out to the Temple of Luxor. It’s another amazing place. Last time I saw an incredible thing there – a surgeon’s room from the 18th dynasty, complete with all the equipment, such as knives, scissors, exactly the same as we use today, yet these are 3,500 years old.
In the evening I love to stroll through the bazaar, looking at all the stalls selling oils, perfumes (El Fayed is the best), kohl eyeliner, spices and ornaments, and the jewellery at Radwan’s. The Egyptians are very skilled with their hands – they make beautiful beads and hammered gold. Everywhere I go I take my bag with sketchbook, samples and stones, and I look for beads to buy. When it comes to bargaining, though, I’m hopeless. I have to get my daughter Jude to do it for me.
On board, I’ll go into the tiny library to do some thinking and drawing. I love all the bright colours the Nubians use in their make-up and jewellery – blues, greens, golds – and I’m inspired by the desert and the lush greenery of the Nile.
We sail by night, setting off at about 1am to arrive in Aswan by mid-morning. I’ll sit on deck watching the banks of the Nile drift by: it’s so peaceful.
A must in Aswan is lunch at the atmospheric Old Cataract Hotel, which looks over the river. It’s where King Farouk of Egypt used to spend the whole winter, and we always spot someone famous – the Clintons have stayed there, Angelina Jolie, Sarkozy, Quincy Jones, Dita von Teese. Of course, the food is excellent. One of my favourite dishes is kushari – a spicy mixture of rice, lentils, pasta and chickpeas. It keeps you going all day. But I also love the desserts, the homemade bread and the wine.
After a swim at the hotel, we take the kids to visit the Aswan High Dam, which is quite something to see. And for our last evening, we’ll have a special meal with Nubian entertainment – musicians, singers, dancers – and we all join in, even my mother, and have a party. Then on Monday morning, it’s an early plane back to Cairo, inspired once more.”