Sheraton Soma Bay Resort is one of many accommodation options in Soma Bay on the Red Sea. // © 2014 Stephen Smith
While Egypt’s grinding traffic choked the capital, my luxury riverboat chugged upstream on the ancient Nile River, oblivious to the chaos. The mission: to escape the crowds in Cairo and explore gems in the region known as Upper Egypt. Our weeklong journey started in Aswan with a four-day cruise to Luxor on Sonesta Cruise Collection’s Moon Goddess and ended with some rest and relaxation along the Red Sea coastline in Soma Bay.
Each historic site I toured seemed to contain mystery and wonder. At Kom Ombo, we disembarked and walked a short distance to Temple of Kom Ombo, a double temple dedicated to two gods: Sobek, a crocodile, and Horus, a falcon. A new air-conditioned museum showcases a huge collection of crocodile mummies inscribed with English plaques.
Not to miss near Aswan is the Temple of Philae, a UNESCO World Heritage Site dedicated to Isis, the goddess of love. The temple rests on an island in Lake Nasser, so guests arrive by boat and then enter the grand entrance, which is flanked by a courtyard of stone columns. Look for historic graffiti, vestiges of the 19th century British infantry.
At Edfu, I took a buggy into town and then wandered throughout Egypt’s best-preserved and most complete temple, the Temple of Edfu. I entered the dark inner sanctum and saw exquisite hieroglyphs, all devoted to Horus.
Luxor is best enjoyed over several days, as the city showcases a vast collection of Egyptian antiquities in such places as the Luxor Museum, the Valley of the Kings, Karnak Temple and Luxor Temple.
The city has introduced a fabulous LED light system illuminating the Avenue of the Sphinxes and is excavating the entire avenue, which will reconnect the Karnak and Luxor temples. Historic sites are continually being renovated on the east and west banks. And visitors will be pleased to find that the world’s most famous boy king, King Tut, has recently returned to Tomb KV62 at the Valley of the Kings.
A two-hour drive from Luxor, Soma Bay is a resort community touting Kempinski, La Residence, Robinson Club and Sheraton properties, as well as The Breakers Diving and Surfing Lodge. Insiders call this side of the Red Sea “Egypt’s best-kept secret,” and now visitors departing from Luxor can bask in this man-made paradise thanks to the newly opened desert highway for buses.
Guests staying at any of the five properties have access to the peninsula’s diversions. Among them is The Cascades, an 18-hole Gary Player-designed championship golf course, and The Cascades Spa and Thalasso, a member of the Leading Spas of the World. Adventurers can get their kicks kite surfing at the 7BFT Kite House, where the 2013 and 2014 African Kite Racing Championships were held. Nevertheless, the only diversions I required during my Soma Bay stay were the beach and a chance to watch the sun set over the Red Sea Mountains.
Getting There: EgyptAir, a Star Alliance member, offers daily nonstop service except on Mondays and Wednesdays from JFK to Cairo, Egypt. Guests can change planes for a one-hour connecting flight to Luxor.
Where to Stay: A nod to Ancient Egypt, the 326-room Sheraton Soma Bay Resort resembles Karnak Temple and is loaded with statues of sphinxes. Ample activities and dining options include restaurants, snack bars and bars. A standard room begins at approximately $180 per night.
Where to Eat: Guests staying at Sheraton Soma Bay Resort can sample off-site dining options with Soma Bay’s dine-around program. Hop on a free shuttle and head to La Residence des Cascades, a Leading Hotel of the World member, and choose from intimate a la carte dinners, or visit the gourmet buffet at L’Albatros.