The quasi-oasis of Wadi Natrun, off the Desert Road between Cairo and Alexandria, takes its name – and oasis stature – from deposits of natron salts, the main ingredient in ancient mummifications. Wadi Natrun’s most enduring legacy, however, is its monasteries, which date back to the dawn of Christian monasticism, and have provided spiritual leadership for Egypt’s Copts for the last 1500 years. Their fortified exteriors, necessary in centuries past to resist Bedouin raiders, cloak what are today very forward-looking, purposeful monastic establishments.

Besides the monasteries themselves, Wadi Natrun offers a taste of the beauties of the oases, within easy reach of Cairo. Staying at Birket al-Hamra you can enjoy birdwatching, trail-biking or camel-riding around surreally coloured saline lakes.

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