“Follow in the footsteps of kings and movie stars and cruise the Nile on this graceful old boat, one of the first tourist ships to work the river”
On board La Belle Epoque lives on and the ship’s stately credentials are easy to see: panelled bedrooms, a sweeping oak staircase, a teak sundeck from which to watch the world pass by. There’s a piano in the bar, great views from the restaurant, sun loungers at the top of the boat for those who want to bask in Egypt’s ever-present sun. Rooms aren’t huge, but nor are they cramped and most have fine brass beds, country-house rugs, old-style telephones hanging on the wall, beautiful eiderdowns in bubblegum colours. All have robes in compact bathrooms, while panoramic suites at the stern of the ship have walls of glass. The boat stops regularly at all the interesting sights. A classic journey and a real treat.
Why we chose this partner
- We liked the way the company has updated the SS Sudan, but kept its distinguished original features - including the old steamship mechanisms displayed on the lower deck.
- They have an excellent crew, who sparkle in smart uniforms and all speak English or French
- You cover all the major sites of the Nile valley - Valley of the Kings, Edfu, Kom Ombo, Philae - on morning excursions organised and accompanied by their own English- or French-speaking guides
- They also operate La Flaneuse du Nil, a traditional 7-cabin dahabiyya which we did not manage to see but which looks lovely. Its itineraries dovetail with SS Sudan's, one sailing up the Nile as the other sails down
- This gives you a choice of itineraries (2-6 nights, starting in either Luxor or Aswan) and of departure days. The only thing to bear in mind is that the guide on La Flaneuse is usually French- (not English-) speaking.
Please be aware
- The ship does not sail in June, when it stops for its yearly maintenance
Best time to go
You might want to avoid Ramadan, when some businesses will close for the whole month. And if you are travelling over holidays – Eid al-Adha, Ras an-Sana – expect the rest of Egypt to be competing for your seat. The dates for these holidays change every year, so check before planning your trip.”
Our top tips
SLEEPING - S.S. SUDAN
There are 5 suites and 18 cabins on board the SS Sudan, and all sweep you back to a very graceful past. Much of what you find is original to the boat and the same elegant décor runs throughout the cabins. Expect a lot of wood. You get varnished oak floors and mahogany panelled walls, then a stately brass bed (most doubles, some twins). You won’t find any clutter – simplicity is the virtue here – but that doesn’t mean you are deprived of beautiful things. Some rooms have delightfully upholstered armchairs, all come with colourful rugs, a dressing table, a little Eastern promise. Colour comes from fabrics, which tend to be bright – shimming gold, electric pink – and beautiful throws lie atop your crisp white linen. Old telephones hang on the wall and while excellent bathrooms may be compact, they are also quite lovely with showers above tub baths and robes to pad about in.
The suites are bigger, as you’d expect. They are also more private as the public decks don’t pass outside. They have a slightly different décor, too; 4 have white wood walls that flood the rooms with light. They also have gilded wooden beds, but other than that the same style runs throughout. The 2 panoramic suites at the stern of the ship have walls made of glass, giving magnificent views of the river.
EATING - S.S. SUDAN
All meals are served in the panelled dining room at the front of the ship, which is pretty much the same today as it was the day it was built. You eat at separate tables. Breakfast is a help-yourself buffet, with a mix of Western and Egyptian dishes. There are trays of patisserie, cheeses and fruits, eggs and tomatoes, toast and jam, falafels and salad.
Lunch is also a buffet with a choice of 6 hot meals, though most will feature chicken and fish with excellent salads, tasty couscous, a plate of fresh vegetables. You might find calamari, grilled chicken, macaroni, shish kebabs, then a plate of cheese or some fruit.
Dinner is more formal and guests often dress up, though this is not obligatory for a moment. Food is served to your table. You might start with vegetable soup or some cold meats, then move on to a plate of salmon served with fresh vegetables and new potatoes, then finish off with a sweet Egyptian pudding. There’ll be fruit, too, and a pot of tea or coffee.
In case that’s not enough, tea and cakes are served in the afternoon, and the captain hosts a cocktail evening on your second night aboard.
LA FLANEUSE DU NIL
The dahabiyya is much smaller and more intimate (max 14 passengers), and more modern in its decor. Some of its 7 cabins are painted in clean white and pastel hues; others more richly furnished with panelled wood, heavy fabrics and oriental rugs. There's one suite, at the stern, with a kingsize bed and a sofabed (which can be made up as a child's bed), and a small private deck. Of the rest, 2 (Fayoum and Dakhela) are double-bedded, the rest are twin. All are air conditioned and have ensuite shower bathrooms.
Typically Egyptian meals are eaten outdoors in the warm months, and in the beautiful dining room at other times of year. Drinks are included but there is no alcohol served on board (you are free to bring your own if you want).
- Lazing on deck, watching daily life on the Nile
- Visiting the Temples of Karnak; one of the most important sights in Luxor and the largest religious building on the planet. The Great Hypostyle Hall, where 134 vast columns soar implausibly into the sky, is one of the most staggering things you will see in Egypt. Building here started about 3,200 years ago
- The Valley of the Kings. Absolutely unmissable. Your ticket in only lets you see 3 tombs, so read up and decide in advance which you want to see (some may not be open the day you visit)
- The Temple of Horus at Edfu and the eponymous temple of Kom Ombo
- Aswan and the temple at Philae, which Unesco saved from flooding when the first Aswan Dam was built. Amazingly, they moved it from one island to another, brick for brick
- Historical sites
- Private guided tours
There are 2 vessels and 2 cruises (one upstream, one downstream) which gives a choice of 4 itineraries between Luxor and Aswan. All have pre-arranged schedules, which include a night on board in each city at the start / end, and set departure days.
Bear in mind that the guide on La Flaneuse is French- (not English-) speaking.