By Kelley Granger
A street scene from the Four Seasons at San Stefano
You may not know the name Gaby Aghion, but we’re sure you’re familiar with Chloé, her fashion label that practically invented pret-a-porter fashion. Before Aghion moved to Paris and began Chloé in 1952 (gaining fans like Jackie O., Brigitte Bardot and Kate Moss), she lived in the stunning, historically charged Mediterranean city of Alexandria, Egypt. Rami Girgis, an Egyptologist and product specialist for Abercrombie & Kent tours, said that Alexandria is history – and we think it’s a sophisticated destination worthy of a visit by any Chloé devotee.
“Alexandria was revived in the early 20th century as a European-style city, with villas and palaces overlooking the sea, funded by profits from Egypt’s cotton trade,” says Girgis. “It was a city where Greeks, Italians, Syrians, Turks and other travelers tumbled in, speaking a babel of languages.”
The crossing of so many nationalities left a cultural footprint on the city, which offers visitors a sort of two for one deal – Girgis says the city is cosmopolitan and European in style, but is influenced by Middle Eastern culture and traditions. Residents of Alexandria dress in modern, conservative Western style unlike their neighbors in upper Egypt, who still wear traditional dress.
Here, in the city where Cleopatra met Julius Cesar and fell in love with Mark Anthony and Alexander the Great conquered in 332 BC, historical sites abound. Girgis recommends visiting the Alexandria National Museum, which opened just five years ago in an older, upscale neighborhood. “Its collection runs from pre-historic and Pharaonic to Greco-Roman, Coptic and Islamic objects in addition to a quite a few items from Egypt’s last royal family,” Girgis says.
Pompey’s Pillar, the tallest ancient monument in Alexandria
He also suggests a visit to the Catacombs of Kom El Shuqafa. “It is the largest Roman burial site discovered in Egypt to date,” Girgis says. “There is also the Roman Amphitheatre, next to Alexandria’s railway station. It is the only remaining ancient amphitheatre found in Egypt.” You’d probably be disappointed to miss Pompey’s Pillar, a huge pink Aswan granite column 25 meters high that is the tallest ancient monument in Alexandria. Visitors interested by the royal rule can visit Al Montaza Palace, which Girgis says served as the Egyptian royal family’s summer home until the 1952 revolution that ended their rule. And finally, take advantage of the opportunity to visit the site of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world (the one Girgis calls the most practical) – today’s Citadel of Qaitbey was built in the 1480s on the site of Alexandria’s ancient lighthouse, which lies on the island of Pharos.
A room at the Four Seasons Hotel at San Stefano
There’s so much to enjoy in Alexandria that Girgis highly recommends spending at least one night if you’re visiting from Cairo – he says Alexandria is completely different, less polluted and with better traffic. Stay at the Four Seasons Hotel at San Stefano. “It is a lovely 5-star luxurious property that melds cool, classic accommodations with a multitude of resort-like choices including a private residence, shopping mall, a spa and nine dining options include terraced restaurants facing the sea,” Girgis says. “There is also an entire shopping mall attached to the hotel. Occupying over 320,000 square feet, this world-class shopping mall carries international brand-name merchandise in its four levels of exclusive boutiques. As a destination for the whole family, there are also 10 cinemas, recreational areas for children, restaurants and a food court.”
Girgis says that Alexandria, often called “the pearl of the Mediterranean,” is his favorite city in Egypt. Expect lots of pleasant surprises around every corner.
“My favorite thing to do in Alexandria is walk along the Corniche during sunset,” Girgis says. “The stroll is very pleasant and refreshing. It makes it very easy to forget about the present for a moment and think back of how this beautiful city grew from an isolated piece of land on the coast of the Mediterranean into a great one that fed strangers and became the richest and most splendid place on earth.”
Abercrombie & Kent offers excursions to Alexandria by small escorted group or as part of a “tailor made” travel service. The city can be added as an extension to the “Highlights of Egypt” tour, which includes visits to the most famous Egyptian sites as well as a four-night cruise on the award winning, art deco inspired Sun Boat IV, which was listed on Conde Nast Traveler’s Gold List. For more information, visit www.abercrombiekent.com.