Exploring Egypt: Marsa Matrouh's postcard-perfect beaches

Lamia Hassan , Tuesday 6 Sep 2016

Marsa Matrouh
The pristine post-card perfect Agiba (miracle) beach. (Lamia Hassan)

It's midday. Families are flocking to the beach, and kites of different colours are frolicking in the breeze above the waves. As you walk from the parking lot towards the beach, you will find an array of different kinds of items to buy from the peddlars on either side.

Handmade Bedouin baskets, glass bottles full of coloured sand, inflatables -- the beach vendors have everything you could need to mark your day at the seaside. 

A few steps closer to the beach you will find an old lady with a giant snake around her neck, calling beach-goers to come snap a photo with her pet for EGP 20.

Cleopatra bath
Waves crashing against the rocks at Cleopatra's Beach (Lamia Hassan)

As the promenade ends, you will find yourself standing ankle-deep in the white sands of Cleopatra's Beach, facing the the shimmering crystal water of the Mediterranean.

This is when you know you are standing on one of the most pristine beaches on Egypt's North Coast.

While there are a number of beautiful beaches in the resort-heavy coastline just outside Alexandria, if you move 240km (150 miles) west along the coast to Marsa Matrouh, you'll find clearer water, cleaner sand, and fewer people. 

Marsa Matrouh's distance from Cairo – around five hours by car – means that the resorts around the city are always less busy than the compounds just outside Alexandria.

By the same token it's also a less commercial area than the Alexandria-adjacent resorts, with no sign of fancy nightlife spots or trendy restaurants. For beach-lovers, however, it's a perfect destination, with clean white sand and crystal-clear water.

Corwded
From relaxing by the beach, to enjoying water sports or a dip in the Mediterranean, the choice is yours. (Lamia Hassan)

Exploring Marsa Matrouh's beaches

Starting off in the coastal city itself, you can find Rommel's Beach adjacent to the Corniche, named after the German army chief who commanded forces during the area during World War Two and transformed a cave located on the rocky beach into his headquarters.

The cave used to be open to the public but has been closed since 2011. The beach itself, however, is a nice spot for gazing at the ocean waves breaking on the rocks, and the quiet, rocky shore is also a good spot for confident swimmers.

Around 5km outside of the city, you'll find Cleopatra's Beach, known for its beautiful natural rock formations. According to local legend, this is the spot where Cleopatra and Mark Anthony used to swim. 

Leaving Cleopatra behind, if you head east you can make a quick stop at Gharam Beach, or Love Beach, which takes its name from the film of the same name from almost 60 years ago. The film starred actress and singer Laila Mourad, who performed a song while standing on the rock in the middle of the beach.

Fishing
Fisherman at work at the beach of Agiba (Miracle). (Lamia Hassan)

A little further outside the city is El-Obayed Beach, known for its bright white sand and calm waters. The sandy expanse comes at a price however as the beach is more likely to be packed with sunseekers than the surrounding rocky beaches.

The final beach on the list is perhaps the most impressive of the lot; Agiba, meaning miracle in Arabic, is a u-shaped bay located between high cliffs.

It's known for its dazzling turquoise water, and the view of the bay from the top of the cliffs is spectacular. The entrance to Agiba from the main road is gated, but the guards let you in without a fee.

If you are planning to spend the entire day at one of the beaches, the range for the umbrellas and chairs is pretty fixed wherever you go; for EGP 50, you can get an umbrella and five chairs.

Don't forget to head there early to make sure all the best spots aren't already taken.

Gharam beach
A busy summer day at Gharam Beach (Lamia Hassan)

Planning your trip

Marsa Matrouh, like the rest of the North Coast, has fairly cold winters, and sunseekers will want to stick to the warmer months. The local holiday season is June to September and the city does get very crowded during this time, so those wishing to avoid the crowds should aim for either the very beginning of very end of the season.

While driving to Marsa Matrouh is probably the best option for Cairenes, especially if you are looking to visit all the places that are scattered around the city, you can still get there by bus from Cairo or Alexandria and take cabs locally to reach your destination.

Your best options are Go Bus and West Delta; both offer reliable and good quality service. Tickets are approximately EGP 93-95 one way and can be booked online at go-bus.com or bus.com.eg.

As for hotels, where you choose to stay depends on if you want something close to the action or are after a more serene vacation away from the hubbub of Marsa Matrouh's noisey Corniche.

If you are looking to stay inside the city, Beau Site is your go-to destination. It's a family-run hotel that has been in business for over fifty years. If you are one of the lucky people who used to summer in Marsa Matrough when you were younger, some of the staff's faces will probably be familiar.

The hotel is on the shore, with beach access, and also has three restaurants – great for those who don't want to spend a lot of time driving to different venues.

If you're looking for something outside the hustle and bustle of the city, Carols Beau Rivage is a great option. It's located on the road to Agiba, by El-Obayed Beach, giving you a more peaceful experience.

Prices vary, but rooms can be booked online or by phone:

Beau Site:
+2 (046) 4932066
www.beausitehotel.com

Carols Beau Rivage:
+2 (046) 4851000
www.carolsbeaurivage.com

Shopping

There's always one thing that comes up every time an Egyptian mentions Marsa Matrouh: el-leb el-abyad, or white salted seeds, a local version of the popular Egyptian snack.

One of the best sources is El-Nasr store on Alam El-Rom Street. No matter what time of the year you will go, you will always find people queueing outside the shop, waiting to get their order of white seeds.

You can also find a variety of goods and produce from the western town of Siwa in the shop next to El-Nasr, or you can head to the Libyan market, off Alexandria Street, where the goods are also sold. Look out for the local specialities: olives, olive oil, dates, and spices.

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