Cairo travel: Escaping the bedlam on Gezira Island’s river oasis

This is true of Cairo, at least. Sprawling across 1,000 square miles of desert, the city redefines the word ‘vast’. At ground level it stretches infinitely in every direction, every bustling souk and traffic-clogged highway followed by another (and then another) on the horizon. It is almost impossible to comprehend.

Step forward, the Cairo Tower. Providing you can brave the claustrophobically-small elevator to the top, visitors are rewarded with a stunning vista of Africa’s biggest city. It is arguably Egypt’s second most-famous landmark – but at this height you get a 2-for-1 deal, with the pyramids visible 10 miles across the city.

From the 360-degree viewing platform – or the rotating restaurant, if you’re peckish – you can also enjoy a top-down view of Gezira Island – the leafy oasis in the heart of one of the world’s most chaotic cities. Located smack-bang in the middle of the Nile, it offers a much-needed respite from the noise and energy of the rest of the city.

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The greenery is what strikes you first, with tree-lined boulevards providing glorious shade from the Egyptian sun. From the Cairo Tower you are also afforded a glorious view of Al Zohriya Garden, Al Masalah Garden and Farag Garden, a string of verdant parks on the banks of the river and a welcome splash of colour.

Peeking through the trees you will also see Novotel El Borg, the perfect base from which to explore Gezira – as well as the rest of the city. Located just across the water from the Egyptian Museum and Tahrir Square, it affords the luxury of proximity to the biggest sites in Cairo without staying near the queues, noise and crowds that comes with that.

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The hotel boasts stunning views of the Nile – especially in the mornings when the sun rises over the water – as well as a 24-hour bar, a swimming pool and a rooftop restaurant specialising in local dishes. The hotel can also help you organise activities including tubing, archery and golf.

Novotel El Borg is located right in the cultural heart of Cairo, with the Egyptian Opera House and an array of museums calling Gezira home. The country – and, arguably, continent’s – two biggest football clubs Zamalek and Al Ahly also have close ties, with the former named after the island’s trendiest neighbourhood and the latter occasionally playing fixtures here.

The island also provides a lifeline for the easily-homesick, with a huge immigrant population – especially among European expats. With community groups and businesses to match, Gezira can make home feel a little less far away. Egg and chips at JJ’s Restaurant, anyone?

Whether you’re looking for a launchpad to explore Egypt’s biggest sites or an island oasis to escape them, Gezira is Cairo’s hidden gem – and if you need convincing, just hop in the elevator.

For more information about Novotel El Borg including room rates visit

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