The unspoiled Egyptian resort of Marsa Matruh attracts tourists
MARSA MATRUH - Egyptians’ favourite summer escape for decades, the resort town of Marsa Matruh, on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast is gaining popularity among foreign visitors for its unspoiled beaches and natural beauty.
Near the border with Libya, Marsa Matruh, Arabic for “Port of Matruh,” lies on the tip of the vast expanse of the Egyptian and Libyan deserts in the heart of Egypt’s Bedouin culture.
From above, the city is a long stretch of scattered buildings and tourist facilities along the Mediterranean coast on a backdrop of desert dunes. A closer look reveals long white, sandy beaches with crystal clear turquoise waters.
“This is a resort that shows desert and sea beauty in their most attractive forms,” said Amr Sedky, a member of the board of the Egyptian Travel Agencies Association. “It is a resort for all types of travellers — those with a limited budget and those who have more money to spend.”
Marsa Matruh has a lot to offer for sea, swimming and diving lovers. The town had for a long time been visited nearly exclusively by Egyptians, especially during the summer. It was an escape for residents of Alexandria seeking a quiet place when their city was crowded with vacationers from other parts of Egypt.
In recent years, however, Marsa Matruh has seen increased foreign presence coupled with the development of first-class tourist facilities and entertainment projects.
The resort’s proximity to oases in Egypt’s Western Desert, including Siwa Oasis, is another attraction amid the growing popularity of safari and desert adventures.
In addition to water sports, visitors can enjoy Marsa Matruh’s unique Bedouin culture and food.
Bedouin tribes organise events for tourists that include desert safaris and sightseeing, overnight stays in colourful Bedouin tents and lunch or dinner cooked in the traditional Bedouin way.
Some hotels plan special programmes, including Bedouin dances, drinks and cuisine. Most hotels have nightclubs, bars and cafes on rooftops overlooking the sea or in lush private gardens.
In summer, refreshing winds from the Mediterranean turn the hot desert climate of Marsa Matruh into a pleasant experience, while winter is mildly cool, making it an ideal spot year round.
Hotel rates in Marsa Matruh are within the reach of all budgets. A night at a three-star hotel costs around $25 and around $50 for five-star accommodation.
“This makes the resort a good destination for those with a limited budget,” said Mahdi al-Omda, a tribal leader from the city. “Visitors get a lot in return for the small amount of money they spend.”
Marsa Matruh is near El Alamein, the site of decisive battles in World War II between the British Army, which occupied Egypt at the time, and German forces.
Commemorating the event are a military museum in Alamein, the British war cemetery, the Italian war cemetery and the German war cemetery on the way to Marsa Matruh. A cave, dubbed the
“Rommel Cave” after the German commander of El Alamein battle, has been transformed into an interesting museum.
Under the Roman rule of Egypt, which started in 30BC, Marsa Matruh’s port was the main export facility of Egypt’s agricultural crops to Rome. The town hosted a military base during British occupation.
The city is famous for salted shell-roasted pumpkin seeds, an excellent source of protein and fibre, and desert herbs used in the treatment of illnesses.
While it is mostly known for its beaches, safaris and food, Marsa Matruh has many historical and inspirational sites. These include the Ramses II temple, which contains ruins of ancient monuments and inscriptions that date to the time of the Egyptian pharaoh, and Cleopatra’s Bath, a natural pool where, legend has it, the fabled queen used to bathe.
“It is a place that meets everybody’s best expectations,” said Hesham Abulnaga, a government employee and regular visitor of Marsa Matruh. “It has the finest beaches, the most affordable hotels and the most delicious cuisine. I will visit it again and again, of course.”