Nile River Cruise in Style: Onboard Nour El Nil’s Dahabiya
There is something magical about waking up with the rising sun, the colors of the sunrise reflecting on the majestic Nile river, the fishermen with their first catch on the misty river, the mesmerizing sound of the Muslim call of prayer in the background.
A Nile river cruise is definitely a trip of a lifetime with its relaxing sense of no rush, being pampered by the crew, and seeing the incredible wealth of temples and tombs on the way. With Nour El Nil it is also a seriously stylish trip of a lifetime.
There are dozens and dozens of cruise ships on the Nile river between Luxor and Aswan, but the traditional sail boats with two lateen sails, the dahabiyas, stand out with their old world glamor and authenticity.
Originally used to carry Egyptian royalty, the dahabiyas were a natural choice when Nile cruises became popular with the celebrities and sophisticated travelers who wanted to cruise the Nile in style in the 19th century. However, in the beginning of the 20th century, steamboats were offering a more comfortable way to travel and the dahabiyas lost their popularity.
In 2008, three international entrepreneurs with a vision, reintroduced the dahabiya cruises on the Nile. Enrique Cansino along with his partner, Eléonore Kamir, joined forces with an Egyptian boat-maker Memdouh Sayed Khalifa, and now there is a fleet of four Nour El Nil dahabiyas cruising the Nile river.
The Nour El Nil dahabiyas stand out with their majestic red-and-white sails, refined décor, attention to detail, personal service, and fabulous, fresh food. Eléonore is a Parisian interior designer and the boats are immaculately decorated with antiquities and local art, plush cushions...and, of course, Parisian chandeliers.
The dahabiyas sail in tandem, each carrying an intimate group of no more than 20 passengers. There were only 12 of us on El Nil, rather than the 150 plus passing by in the traditional cruise boats.
The advantage of the dahabiya, in addition to being able to moor in quiet locations where the bigger ships cannot, is that there is no noise and no fumes from the engine. There is no engine and in case of absence of wind, a small tugboat that accompanies each dahabiya, pulls the boat, at least 15m in front, enough to limit the noise. Electricity is cut off for part of the night and the boat becomes completely silent once the generator has stopped. A good night's rest is guaranteed.
The expansive mahogany, canvas-topped sun deck is decorated with comfortable salon couches, rugs, and traditional Egyptian décor. It is a tranquil place to unwind, the gorgeous landscape gliding by, the lush green on one shore and the desert hills on the other; the fishermen in their feluccas, the children on donkeys who will happily wave to you from the shore.
THE ROOMS AND SUITES
The rooms are decorated in pristine and soothing white, the deluxe mattresses are made of Egyptian cotton and topped with white duvets imported from France. Each room has its bathroom with white tiles and a rain shower. Hair dryers are included and there are plenty of outlets for charging your electronics.
Each dahabiya has two Panoramic Suites located at the back of the boat and beautifully decorated with a combination of Parisian and Egyptian styles and offering expansive Nile views through the floor-to-ceiling windows. There is plenty of storage space for the suitcases and clothes in the closet and shelves. There is even a choice of books and some Egyptian knick knacks decorating the shelves.
The Luxury Rooms are comfortable and available in either a King Size or Twin Bed setup.
The "El Nil" and "Assouan" are slightly smaller than the "Meroe" and "Malouka", but the size of the room does not matter that much since most passengers do not spend much time in the room during the day. Our Panoramic Suite on the El Nil was very comfortable and you can be equally happy in a regular room.
The indoor Victorian-style salon on one end of the hallway downstairs is a beautiful space the hang out if the air gets too chilly at night.
We had only twelve travelers on our boat and there was at least one crew member - all strikingly handsome in their long grey galabiahs - per passenger.
These men came from the local villages and were always smiling and happy, it was obvious that they loved their jobs.
Whether looking after us during our walks or serving us freshly squeezed juices after our activities, the attentive service of Tawila and his crew was the highlight of the cruise.
The authentic Egyptian dishes were made from fresh ingredients purchased each day from farmers and fishermen along the river. Chef Hassan created pure magic in his little kitchen, cooking up dishes from duck to fava bean felafel, served with the most delicious tahini I have ever had. The food was consistently fresh and full of flavor.
For each lunch and dinner, tables were pulled out, covered wth colorful tablecloths and beautiful porcelain and silver. Meals were served family style - a light fare of salads and fruit for lunch and more substantive meals for dinner. After our daily activities, the crew served us goblets of guava juice with hibiscus, freshly made lemonade, and Egyptian black tea with date cakes in the afternoon - all served on silver trays.
Breakfasts with eggs cooked any style, delicious Egyptian soft white cheese, crêpes and fresh breads served with honey and home made guava jam, and freshly squeezed mango juice, gave us enough 'fuel' to start each day.
Each day on the cruise unveiled a new treasure from gorgeous sunrises to visits to temples and walks through Nubian villages to dancing with the locals wearing their traditional dresses, to taking a dip in the Nile. We had brought our books, but with the days full of activities and the most beautiful views - there was not much time to read!
Our tour guides were knowledgeable Egyptologists and our guide Ashraf, who has been in the business for over twenty years, stayed with our cruise throughout the week.
Our twelve passengers on El Nil split into two groups during guided tours - six French-speakers and six English speakers - which made touring the sites in such a small group an absolute delight. Egypt is still not that busy and there were no other groups at the sites during our visits.
There were twelve of us on El Nil that boarded the dahabiya on a Monday afternoon. Six couples, who had never met before, departed on Saturday morning with sadness in their hearts because they had become friends during our fabulous cruise. We celebrated Thanksgiving, a birthday, played a prank on fellow passengers, danced with the crew, swam in the Nile, and enjoyed delightful meals and tours together. A trip of a lifetime indeed!