On the Nile in the Golden Age of Travel
In the late 19th century, a winter cruise on the Nile was one of the most glamorous social events of the season. Andrew Humphreys recreates the early heyday of the Nile cruise through diaries, period guidebooks and illustrations, vintage photos and travel posters. Prior to the arrival of steam, sailboats—in particular the dahabiya, a vessel with at least two sails and a number of cabins—conveyed travelers from Cairo to Aswan on a voyage lasting months. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 helped usher in the steam age and Thomas Cook & Son became the sole agency for Nile passenger-steamship service. Over time, the boats grew larger and more sumptuous, but the itinerary hardly varied. The golden age faded in the 20th century and boats were scrapped or converted to floating hotels and houseboats. The opening of the Nile Hilton in Cairo in 1959, along with two new cruise ships, heralded a resurgence of the trip, if not the style. Humphreys’s nostalgic journey ends on a high note: Those seeking adventure can sail on the last surviving Cook & Son steamship, the Sudan, restored to its former glory, or on luxurious new dahabiyas.