x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

In pharaohs' steps

Four hours from Abu Dhabi Katherine Darcy wanders among the temples and tombs of Luxor.

The temple of Karnak in Luxor was built over a period of 1,300 years and spans a 100-hectare area.
The temple of Karnak in Luxor was built over a period of 1,300 years and spans a 100-hectare area.

Holidaymakers with a passion for the historical will be in their element in Luxor. The city, often nicknamed the "world's greatest open-air museum", is home to two thirds of the world's historical monuments. Located on the banks of the Nile in southern Egypt, this mesmerising city is often overlooked in favour of Egypt's capital, Cairo. Nevertheless, Luxor is the perfect place for those who wish to experience the magnificent culture of ancient Egypt.

As you'd expect from a city that has been influenced by some of history's most legendary characters, including Ramses, Tutankhamen and Alexander the Great, Luxor is abuzz with mystical charm and ancient culture. Boasting a remarkably rich legacy of temples, monuments and tombs, many of Luxor's most renowned archaeological sites are located on the West Bank. High-end hotels take the stress out of exploring by organising one-day trips there, but if you really want to savour the sites and take in their magnitude, tackle the West Bank over a few days.

The Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens are both must-sees. Likewise, no trip to Luxor would be complete without a visit to Queen Hatshepsut's temple. The female pharaoh is widely recognised as one of Egypt's most successful rulers. The temple of Karnak is also a box to tick. Undoubtedly one of the world's greatest architectural achievements, Karnak was built over a period of 1,300 years and is the biggest temple complex in the world, covering an area of 100 hectares.

Though Luxor is short of an effective public transport system, travelling around is remarkably stress free. For a fee, most hotels can organise a private car to transport you around the city, but street taxis are plentiful, and a fraction of the price. Try to avoid the horse and carriage services that have become increasingly popular with tourists in recent years. Despite some keen drivers' promises that they can take you to the moon and back for a good price, this mode of transport is uncomfortable and the horses are often badly kept and under fed.

Budget Lotus Hotel's old-world charm makes it an ideal spot for thrifty travellers. Basic but cosy, it is a two-minute walk from the city centre. An optional Nile View is available for an extra Dh30 a night. Doubles start at Dh140 per night, including breakfast and taxes (+201 0345 6253). Mid-range The Sheraton, which is beautifully set amid well-tended gardens, occupies a prime spot in Luxor, 1km from the city's shopping area. Pelicans and flamingos roam freely on-site. The hotel's amenities include a pool, pool bar and five in-house restaurants. Stylishly decorated rooms and bungalows are all equipped with satellite TV, internet access and either a balcony or terrace. Rooms start at Dh360 per night and include breakfast (+20 95 227 4544).

Luxury Ever since it opened in 1886, the Sofitel Old Winter Palace has held a magical appeal and attracted Egypt's high society. Surrounded by an idyllic tropical garden, this hotel has become known as one of Luxor's most prestigious spots and has opened its doors to celebrities and royalty alike. In 1922, it was the place where the archaeologist Howard Carter announced the discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb. Nestled neatly on the Nile banks near the temple of Karnak, this five-star haven houses 94 rooms and suites. Each room is grandly decorated, maintaining an original colonial style. Prices start at Dh1,800 per room, including breakfast (+20 95 238 0425).

Every Luxor tourist should experience a banquet night. This is an unexpected highlight, and can be easily organised through your hotel. After being decked out in a gallabaya (the cotton traditional dress that most locals don) you'll be whizzed by boat up and down the Nile. The evening includes Arabic fare and a belly dancing show. Prices start at around Dh250 per person. If you fancy something a little less contrived, Luxor is a hotbed of traditional cuisine. Frugal foodies should check out the local favourite Abou Ashraf Sharia al-Mahatta, which has become famous for its low prices, warm atmosphere and tasty shwarmas.

Air Arabia (www.airarabia.com) flies to Luxor from Sharjah. Return flights start at Dh1,400 excluding taxes.