Year-round sunshine, great beaches and short flights mean North Africa can offer an exotic break without the jet lag.
But in a region so steeped in history and culture, and with dramatic landscapes to match, there is no end of attractions away from the resorts – from the pyramids of Giza in Egypt to the ancient city of Carthage in Tunisia.
There is a lot to choose from, so to keep things simple, here is Travel Weekly’s North Africa top 10.
Where: Giza, Cairo, Egypt
Why: the Great Pyramid, the largest of the three pyramids of Giza, is the only Ancient Wonder to have survived into the modern world.
Although Cairo’s sprawl has encroached on the desert location, the pyramids remain an awe-inspiring sight – with the Sphinx at the foot of the plateau keeping guard over the pharaohs’ impressive tombs.
Sample product: the Mena House Oberoi has views over the pyramids. Discover Egypt brochures three nights from £595 per person, including flights, transfers and breakfast.
Where: Upper Egypt
Why: Luxor boasts the highest concentration of ancient sites in the country, from the Valley of the Kings and the Temple of Hatshepsut on the west bank of the Nile, to the mighty Luxor and Karnak temples on the east side. This was once Thebes, Egypt’s ancient capital, and the legacy of the pharaohs is overwhelming. With its riverside setting and lively street markets, Luxor is a picturesque place to chill out and feel part of history.
Sample product: Peltours features a seven-day, five-star Timeless Nile cruise which takes in the sights of Luxor. The itinerary starts from £1,180 per person, full-board, including flights.
Where: Sinai, Egypt
Why: not far from Sinai’s buzzing Red Sea resorts, Mount Sinai is a world apart. According to the Bible it was here that Moses received the Ten Commandments. St Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of the mountain dates from the 6th century. Visitors can check out the monastery, now run by Greek Orthodox monks, and climb the gently sloping tracks to the top of the mountain. It’s can be quite a hike, but the views over the desolate Sinai landscape are breathtaking.
Sample product: stay in Sharm el-Sheikh and visit Sinai on a day trip. Classic Collection Holidays offers seven nights at the Renaissance Golden View Beach Resort from £610, with breakfast.
Why: a World Heritage Site, Carthage was one of the ancient world’s greatest cities and is among Tunisia’s must-see sights. The arch-rival of Rome in the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC, Carthage began life as a Phoenician trading post. The city was destroyed by the Romans, but enough remains to make a visit worthwhile – simply wander around and soak up the history. The place comes alive with music and dance during the annual Carthage International Summer Festival.
Sample product: most visitors come to Carthage on a day trip. Panorama offers a prebookable excursion to Carthage, the Bardo Museum and Sidi Bou Said village for £29 per person, including lunch.
Why: El Djem could be part of the film set for Gladiator, parts of which were shot here. Its famous amphitheatre – the third-largest in the Roman world – dominates the town and countryside. Built in the 3rd century BC using stone from quarries 30km away, the amphitheatre would draw crowds of 35,000 to watch the gory spectacle of gladiatorial combat. Only the Colosseum in Rome and the ruined theatre of Capua were larger.
Sample product: there is little accommodation in El Djem, but coastal resorts such as Skanes are an easy drive away. Cadogan Holidays features seven nights’ bed and breakfast at the four-star Royal Miramar Thalasso at Skanes for £499 in April, including flights.
Where: Tunis, Tunisia
Why: originally a 13th century palace, the museum building itself is an architectural gem and a fitting home for one of the world’s largest collections of mosaics. The old city of Tunis, dating from the 12th century and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, should not be missed either.
Sample product: few people choose to stay in Tunis itself, but the luxurious Residence hotel is less than 30 minutes away. Aspects of Tunisia offers four nights at the hotel from £749 per person, including flights and breakfast.
Why: seemingly unchanged since the Middle Ages, the Rose City of Marrakesh is a bewitching mix of colourful bazaars, sultans’ palaces and merchants’ houses, with the labyrinth of the medina at its heart. The main marketplace, Djemaa el Fna, is captivating and alive with snake charmers, acrobats, storytellers and musicians. Its food stalls sell a tantalising array of Moroccan fare. Part Berber, part Arab, part African, its mysterious allure is hard to beat.
Sample product: Prestige Holidays offers three nights at Le Meridien N’Fis in Marrakesh in May, from £490 per person, including flights, transfers and breakfast.
Why: built for the 60th birthday of the former King of Morocco, Hassan II, the mosque that bears his name is the largest religious monument in the world outside Mecca. The 210-metre-high minaret is the tallest in the world, with space for 25,000 people inside and 80,000 outside. The design includes all kinds of mod cons – a heated floor, sliding roof and lasers which point towards Mecca at night.
Sample product: Kuoni offers three nights at Le Royal Mansour Meridien in Casablanca, from £525 per person, bed and breakfast, including British Airways flights and transfers.
Why: the Atlas Mountains extend 2,400km across Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, but the highest peak is Jebel Toubkal in Morocco, which soars to 4,165 metres. Less than an hour’s drive from Marrakesh, the mountains are wild and remote – great for spectacular hikes and getting away from it all.
Sample product: Richard Branson’s Moroccan hangout, Kasbah Tamadot is set on the side of the rolling hills of the High Atlas Mountains. CV Travel offers four nights from £830 per person, including BA flights and transfers.
Why: once known as the White Bride of the Mediterranean, Tripoli – the capital – dates from the 7th century BC. The Red Castle, Assai al-Hamra, dominates the skyline. It’s a maze of courtyards, houses and alleyways, which has been added to over the centuries.
There is a lively medina and historic mosques, and the Tripoli Museum has a fantastic collection of classical sculpture and mosaics.
Sample product: Cox and Kings’ Classical Libya escorted 12-day tour includes time in Tripoli. Prices start from £1,795 per person, including flights and most meals.
Moroccan National Tourist Office: www.visitmorocco.com
Egyptian Tourist Authority: www.egypttourism.org
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