Cairo’s history has always been synonymous with gardens and greenery. Strategically located at the junction of the Nile Valley and the beginning of the Delta, the desert city was historically blessed with ample green spaces, fertile soil and plentiful water and sunshine. Samuel Coleridge could easily have had Cairo in mind when he wrote his famous poem Kubla Khan, which starts out like this:
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree.
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
Even young Egyptians during their own lifetimes can still remember the days when farmland and “sunny spots of greenery”—fed by the “sinuous rills” of the Nile, giving way to copious “incense-bearing trees”—could still be easily found all around the “pleasure-dome” of Cairo, and in many instances even right in the city center.
Oh, what a change a generation can bring. In place of farmland, we now have slums of brick and concrete. In place of villas with gardens, we have heavy block apartments, with hardly a strand of green in sight. Farms and villages, once set apart from the main metropolis, have now been swallowed up by Cairo’s relentless concrete-fired march.
Places to get away from it all and spend a day peacefully surrounded by quiet greenery are becoming few and far between. One of the best, Andrea’s in Maryoutia, has already been profiled in this column. We recently had the chance to sample another similar concept, Alezba Village in Sakkara, and were pleased with the results.
Alezba, located along the Maryoutia canal, south of Giza out in the countryside near the Sakkara Pyramids, has been operated by the same family for over fifteen years. It’s set in a pleasant garden, with plenty to keep the kids occupied while adults enjoy a decent meal, and even a Stella or two. It seems to have been well-discovered by the tourist set, and massive buses are regularly lined up outside, but is perhaps less well-known among Cairo’s residents. We’ve been driving past for years and this was our first adventure inside.
It’s not fancy, and easily gives way to kitsch. Cheap Chinese toys are flogged by the staff, and a bizarre conglomeration of sentimental Egyptian knick-knacks are on display, including dilapidated cars from yesteryear and old black and white photos of the monarchy. A lion cub is rather bizarrely brought out to entertain the kids, and a photographer, whose equipment hasn’t been updated in a generation, stands eagerly by to capture the moment.
But it’s all in a lovely garden, with towering palm trees overhead, a traditional brick bread oven churning out wonderful fresh loaves, Bedouin style tents and seating all around, a trampoline for the kids, and an open grassy expanse through which wander camel and donkey rides. The food also is very respectable; all the normal mezzas to start, substantial grills to continue, and sugar-saturated tea to finish. Lunch for two should come to less than LE200.
Owner Hisham Abdullah’s been getting a bit ambitious of late, and now a swimming pool and sparsely inhabited hotel has arrived out back.
Alezba makes for a wonderful weekend retreat. Within easy reach of the hustle of Cairo, it brings the mind back to a quieter, gentler age within the city’s relentless march toward its concrete future. Alezba is open daily from 10 AM to 7 PM.
Alezba Village, Maryoutia Canal Road, Sakkara, 8km south of Pyramids Street