Cairo is known to be one of the most stressed-out cities, thanks in part to the constant traffic on notoriously congested roads.
But that's not quite the case in affluent Maadi, a suburb some 10-15 km south of central Cairo, where tranquil, tree-lined streets and a less-crowded feel offers a respite from the hectic capital and its often grimy streets.
The European-designed district on the east bank of the Nile has largely maintained its splendour and enduring appeal since its establishment in the 19th century by Khedive Ismail, being home to a large number of grand two-storey villas and foreign embassies.
While the compound-like neighbourhood is one of the most sought-after areas by foreign residents, it's mistakenly thought of among native Cairenes as being out of the way. But the truth is that it's only a 20-30 minute car ride from almost everywhere in Cairo.
Given that, it’s time to explore Maadi and track down some of its hidden gems.
Hit the famous Road 9
Running parallel to the metro line, the street, which continues the length of three metro stations, is one of Maadi’s most well-known landmarks.
Road 9 has seen a marked shift towards commercialisation over the years as the trappings of cosmopolitanism continue, yet still preserves an authentic and unique feel. With its line-up of smart cafes and trendy restaurants that have been multiplying in recent yeas, Road 9 has become a major spot to hang out and is usually bustling at the weekend.
Whether you opt for a nice dining place or choose to just have a coffee al fresco, Road 9 is surely a no-brainer.
Maadi's iconic Road 9 (Photo:Ayat Al-Tawy)
Eat Italian-style pizza at La Rosa
If you are after some of the best home-made pizza in Cairo then cosy retro restaurant La Rosa is just the place to go.
The small, old-fashioned interior with framed pictures of Rome and Venice on the wall and classical music playing sets the perfect mood for an Italian experience.
Tables with chequered pink and white covers and Chianti bottles holding candles further complement the atmosphere.
You can enjoy their tasty thin-crust pizza for considerably low prices, at an average of EGP 45.
The rich menu also includes a variety of pastas, main courses, appetisers and desserts.
The staff are so friendly and will greet you with a free bruschetta when you step inside.
Located in Road 231, Degla, the restaurant is just a 5-minute drive from the Autostrad highway.
Italian food restaurant, La Rosa (Photo: Ayat Al-Tawy)
Wander around 'the square'
Who wouldn't like to stroll leisurely through wide, traffic-free streets where one will be struck by the surrounding greenness and tranquillity?
That's how a stroll through Maadi Sarayat (Maadi Palaces in Engish), the neighbourhood's classiest area, feels. That's also where a new gem lies: a recently renovated square full of palm trees and flowers.
With its flagstone paths, wooden park benches, and night-time lighting, Mostafa Kamel square has been a real hit for groups of young people morning, noon and night.
The area is a short stroll away from Road 9 and the Maadi/Sakanat Al-Maadi metro station.
Mostafa Kamel Square in Maadi Sarayat (Photo: Ayat Al-Tawy)
Read, study or work at Al-Kotob Khan
Unlike any typical bookshop, Al-Kotob Khan is not a place where you merely buy a book and leave.
The two-storey bookstore has a nice, relaxing coffee corner, where visitors can pay EGP 10 and enjoy the soothing music while reading a book, studying or working on a laptop using the free Wi-Fi.
They offer other options of food and beverages including juices, paninis and fruit salad. Some tables lie right next to the wide, floor-length window, giving a view of the leafy street.
The bookstore doesn’t only offer a wide array of books in different languages and genres but also hosts a variety of activities including book forums and signings, history and music lectures, graphics workshops, movie screenings and storytelling for kids. They also have an art section that offers jewellery, oriental wall frames and other home accessories.
The bookshop is located in Road 254, Degla. It's also a short ride from the Autostrad and a short stroll around La Rosa.
Al-Kotob Khan bookshop in Degla, Maadi (Photo: Ayat Al-Tawy)
Walk your dog in the 'dog park'
Maadi is generally a very walk-friendly district, to your dog's delight. Just take him/her for a pleasant stroll around Degla or Al-Maadi Sarayat and they'll love you for it.
A real plus in Maadi is a place located a few steps from Al-Kotob Khan where your pet can make new friends, known as Shell Shop Maadi Dog Park. Well, technically, it's not a park but rather a median strip right in front of Shell Shop, where dog owners gather with their pets every night from 8 to 10pm.
On Fridays, a larger number of locals get together after noon prayers. The group has a Facebook page where members can post questions, pictures of their dogs or offer pets for sale.
(Photo: Shell Shop Dog Park's Facebook page)
Indulge in home-made Italian ice cream
There can be no better ice cream on the planet than Stavolta's creamy gelato, made with real fresh fruit.
The tiny shop is tucked away in a side street in Degla, yet often has queues of customers outside waiting for a refreshing treat on a summer day.
The ultra-friendly staff is always happy to let you try as many flavours as you want before making a selection from 26 flavours everyday.
Stavolta's creamy fruit flavours include guava, melon, banana and almost every seasonal fruit, and are just full of exquisite natural flavour, and there are some options for the chocoholics as well.
Other varieties include hibiscus, coffee, cheesecake, peanut butter, pistachio, physalis and many more.
One scoop is EGP 14, but the size is generous. You can add an extra 4 pounds for their homemade waffle cone.
Stavolta is located on Road 231, on the other side of La Rosa, a small walk down the street across the intersection.
You can eat your ice cream on a small bench indoors or sit/stand outside while watching the Italian-trained staff working their usual magic through the glass-walled kitchen.
Stavolta Gelato (Photo: Ayat Al-Tawy)
Take a felucca ride on the Nile
Whenever you need a break from the cacophony of the city, make your favourite playlist, bring snacks and cruise the Nile waters under blinking disco lights.
The trip would be equally soothing around sunset or at night. Even in the height of summer, you can still enjoy the gentle, fresh breeze on the water.
One of the best spots to take the ride is off Maadi's corniche, at the so-called second Maadi entrance.
Price for an hour-long ride is about EGP 80, sometimes negotiable. A single boat can take a large group of more than 20 people. The more the merrier!
Traditional Egyptian sailing boats or feluccas stand idle on the Nile River (AP)