A land of magnificent World Heritage Sites and a thousand tourist cliches, Egypt was enticing visitors millennia before Thomas Cook sailed his steamers up the Nile. It was here that the Holy Family sheltered, Alexander conquered and Mark Antony flirted. Napoleon stopped long enough to pilfer a few obelisks, the Ottomans paused to prop up the great and barbarous pasha Mohammed Ali, and the British stayed around to get the train system running and furnish every spare nook of the British Museum. And all this was long after Menes united the two states of Upper and Lower Egypt, and set the stage for the greatest civilisation the world has ever known.
Lingering over coffee in one of Alexandria's cosmopolitan cafes or sipping a calming glass of shai (tea) after a frenzied shopping episode in Cairo's Khan al-Khalili are activities as popular today as they were back when 19th-century tourists started to arrive en masse. Magnificent monuments are everywhere — the pointed perfection of the pyramids, soaring minarets of Cairo's skyline, and majestic tombs and temples of Luxor are just a few of the wonders that generations of visitors have admired during their city sojourns, jaunts up and down the Nile and expeditions through spectacularly stark desert landscapes.