The beckoning beaches of Egypt's Mediterranean coast

Aida Nassar
7 Min Read

Guidebook author encourages travelers to explore the historical and natural heritage of the coast

Egypt’s Mediterranean coast is associated with leisurely summer holidays where the vacationers lounge on the white sandy beaches and swim in the cool, choppy waters of the Mediterranean.

For the most part, holidaymakers stay within the confines of the resort compounds that have pervaded the coastal beaches. From the Western village of Sallum bordering Libya, to the beaches of Rafah on the East, Egypt’s sprawling Mediterranean coast has a lot more to offer than a relaxing spot to pitch an umbrella on the beach. Jenny Jobbins, along with Mary Megalli, trekked along the coast to provide an essential traveler’s guide for the more adventurous holidaymakers who want to discover the area’s rich history and natural heritage.

“We would like people who like to travel and go to out of way places to use [the travel guide], Jobbins tells The Daily Star Egypt. “To travel along the coast and explore may be a little daunting, [travelers] don’t know what they’re passing by or the history.

The soft-spoken Jobbins does not match the stereotypical image of an adventurer. A loose-fitting summer dress replaces the trite khaki safari gear. Her fair hair neatly pulled back into a ponytail. Once she begins to talk about her travels, however, the enthusiastic spark in her eyes is hard to miss.

A new and revised edition (originally published in 1993) of “Alexandria and the Egyptian Mediterranean has recently published. As a veteran writer and journalist, Jobbins provides a thorough, informative guide. She dubs it an “arm chair guidebook, seemingly because it gives a blow-by-blow account of the coastal region’s history and nature which you can access from the comfort of your home.

Both authors’ interest complement each other. On their first trip as travel companions, each was writing her own book, so it was a logical next step to merge their experiences and collaborate on this guidebook.

“Mary does all the driving, so without her there would be no book, says Jobbins, “and she also contributed most of the information about wildlife and birds. As the author of “On the Road in Egypt, Megalli provides the reader with clear directions and maps.

The impetus in revising the guide was Alexandria’s transformation in recent years.

“When I first went to Alexandria it wasn’t Egyptian, Jobbins says. “It was Levantine city, Greek and Italian. Now, if you see a Greek person, it’s with a Zimmer frame, she jokes.

“But like many of us, you might begin to enjoy Alexandria only when you stop looking for ghosts: these may or may not appear, but while you search them out you’ll miss the city, she advises in her guidebook. Though she does reminisce about bathing in the Cecil Hotel’s marble bathrooms which have been replaced by modern fittings, “quite out of keeping with the hotel’s original style, she point out.

Egyptians herd to Alexandria in the thousands each summer, and it’s often hard to get a glimpse of the sand from all the bodies crowded together on the beach. Beyond the vying for a spot on the beach, walking on the promenade eating termes, or feasting on fresh seafood, very few bother to take in the city’s vast history.

On your next visit, Jobbins recommends visiting the National Museum of Alexandria, “It’s beautiful. Housed in an Italian-style mansion built by a wealthy merchant in 1928, it boasts a collection of treasures that were found submerged along with artifacts found in ancient cemeteries and glass and ceramic objects from the Coptic, Islamic, Mamluk and Ottoman periods – testament to Alexandria’s rich history.

Alexandria is the only attraction on the coast, Jobbins’ book reminds us. When pressed to name her favorite spot, she responded: “I’ve fallen in love with so many places. If I would build a house anywhere it would be Al-Arish.

The book describes the seaside town as a “once magnificent beach overrun by date palms, where not so long ago tourists rented palm huts from Bedouin landowners along the coast .

To appreciate the North Sinai coast, Jobbins recommends the Coral Beach hotel, ” a luxurious but competitively priced resort with flower gardens edging the pool area and running down the beach. And the piece de resistance? The chef will cook a complimentary dish of any fish guests catch in the hotel’s lagoon.

Exploring the Mediterranean coast will not be complete without a visit to the Western border village. “[You] just have to see Sallum. It’s amazing, Jobbins exclaimed. And her description of the town is just as endorsing with its “limestone cliffs colored brick red with dust.

In person, Jobbins’ enthusiasm for exploring the North coast of Egypt is contagious, which does not come across in a the confines of a guidebook. If you’ve been bit by the travel bug, though, pack up this book. It’s the quintessential guide that pulls together history, nature, and trivia with the practicalities of how to get there, where to stay, and what to add to your itinerary.

As the weather cools down, and the Cairo-Alexandria desert highway is free from the congestion of summer traffic, this is the ideal time to explore the North coast. But even though Jobbins has made it quite clear that there’s more to do, it may still be difficult to avoid the beckoning beach blanket. Of course, you can always explore the pages of the book as you lounge in the shade of a palm tree.

Alexandria and the Egyptian Mediterranean: A Traveler’s GuideBy Jenny Jobbins and Mary MegalliAmerican University in Cairo Press, 2006 (new and revised edition)Paperback

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