Fayoum or Al Fayoum as it is officially known is one of the most popular weekend getaways from Cairo. Although locally called Fayoum Oasis, it is a large fertile basin in the desert. Home to one of the oldest cities in Egypt, Fayoum is just two hours away from busy, bustling Cairo. Just when you start feeling overwhelmed by Cairo´s frenetic energy, Fayoum welcomes you to tranquil farmlands, glassy saltwater lakes, golden dunes, pharaonic and Greco-Roman remains, and interesting prehistoric archaeological sites.
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The relaxing rustic vibe of Fayoum
You can feel your tensed muscles relaxing as soon as you approach Fayoum. Time slows, traffic becomes less, and vast acres of sunflowers or marigolds sway in the sun. Palm trees are not raggedly here and local men and children in galabeyas trot along the highways on donkeys. Feathery rushes create an interesting beige tapestry here and even if you don´t go for some adrenaline dune bashing in the desert, Fayoum will not let you get bored. Although very rural, Fayoum has some excellent accommodations that offer the right balance of action and relaxation. Think of sunset boat rides, swimming pools, horseback riding, evening barbeques, and pottery classes. Oh! Did I mention that apart from the natural charms, Fayoum is the base of one of Egypt´s oldest and most famous handicrafts – pottery? Technically, although Tunis village is the base of Fayoum´s most famous handmade pottery, there are three centers namely Kom Oshim, Al-Nazla, and Tunis.
The center of pottery
Pottery has always been one of the most important handicrafts of Egypt. Although many important centers are scattered across Upper Egypt and the Delta region, it is only in Fayoum that one can find a style that has disappeared elsewhere. In Al-Nazla, pottery artisans still practice a skill that has been passed down through generations within a family. This is of handcrafting buklas — spherical water jars using an ancient hammer-and-anvil technique that dates back to the earliest. The Kom Oshim potters produce huge terracotta planters popular in the gardens and terraces of hotels and resorts across the country. They make the largest clay vessels in Egypt, up to an extraordinary two and a half meters tall. Tunis on the other hand is known for bright, colorful, glazed ware for use or display in the home. They vary in style too. The giant unglazed garden pots of Kom Oshim are fluted or ribbed. They are adorned with floral swags and other flourishes. Tunis potters prefer colourful patterns or lively scenes of rural life — palm trees, flowers, donkeys, village folk, etc.
Fayoum Pottery School and revival of the art
Interestingly, Fayoum pottery nearly died out a few years ago until the establishment of Fayoum Pottery School in Tunis in the 1970s. Founded by the Swiss artists, Evelyne Porret and Michel Pastore, this school is set in a beautiful mud-brick compound and trains children and adults in the local potting traditions. Evelyne and Michel are credited for reviving Fayoum pottery and it is one of the best things to do in this lush rural place. Although this lush rural basin might seem like a tiny weekend destination, it offers a lot to see and do. Here are some fun things to do in Fayoum and Tunis village.
Things to do in Fayoum
Fayoum is packed with interesting things to do that suit both the adventure-loving and the relaxed traveler.
Take a pottery class
Pottery can be found in every nook and cranny of Fayoum, especially in Tunis. There are either studios, galleries, or schools. The food here is served on the loveliest of locally made plates and you can try your hand at the potter´s wheel here. Opt for either a short course or a complete workshop.
Shop for authentic Fayoum pottery
When in Fayoum, especially Tunis, it is impossible to walk past a potter´s studio without buying something. Fayoum pottery is incredibly unique, handmade, and reasonably priced. Opt for dining plates or decorative wall plates in vibrant colours or with date palm and donkey motifs and buy the artists by buying directly from them.
Relax by Lake Qarun
A vast, saline lake, Lake Qarun is best enjoyed at sunset. Although not the best place to take a dip. you can enjoy sunset boat rides there or walk along the feathery pampas grass forest that grows in abundance on its banks. It is quite photogenic, especially on clear days when the sky is reflected on the lake´s surface.
Go graffiti hunting in Tunis
One of the quirkiest sites of Fayoum is Tunis village graffiti. This sleepy hamlet is beautifully decorated with wall art and lovely murals adorn its every nook and cranny. The themes range from floral, and pharaonic to modern cubist designs. It is fun to see old men in galabeyas trundling on donkeys past walls that flaunt bold, modern motifs.
Enjoy a desert safari
Owing to its proximity to the desert, going for a desert safari is a great way to explore the nature around Fayoum. There are lots to see with ancient petrified forests, hidden desert temples, and the ancient ruins of a Greek city to name just a few. Some of the most famous archaeological sites are Madinet Madi, Dimeh Al Sibaa’ (dating back to the 3rd century BC), Qasr El Sagha, and Karanis (a Graeco-Roman town).
Climb up the Gabal El Modawara
Go for a short hike to this interesting rock formation for splendid views of the Magic Lake.
Enjoy the spectacular Magic Lake
One of the loveliest sights of Fayoum, Magic Lake is a large brackish lake that is known for its stunning colours. The hues change according to the time of the day and you can enjoy sandboarding, swimming, and camping there.
Marvel at the whale fossils at Wadi El Hitan
This is perhaps the highlight of Fayoum. Wadi al-Hitan, or the Valley of the Whales as it is popularly known is an open-air museum that showcases ancient fossilized whale bones embedded in the sand. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the remains of this fossil prove that this desert was once a prehistoric ocean. Visit the nearby museum or follow the hiking trail to see the fossil remains.
Wadi Al Rayan
Boasting Egypt´s largest waterfall(Al Rayan Falls), this large nature reserve encompasses Wadi Al Hitan, the Al Rayan upper and lower lakes, springs, and Modawara mountain. It is very popular for eco-camping and is home to many endangered and rare species like the Egyptian deer, sand fox, and migrating birds.
Follow the rest of the Egypt series here
- A CLASSICAL EGYPT ITINERARY
- SLOW TRAVELING IN ASWAN
- BLUE GOLD COLOURS OF THE PHILAE TEMPLE IN ASWAN
- ASWAN GUIDE
- ASWAN SOUQ PHOTO TOUR
- KOM OMBO TEMPLE: THE CROCODILE TEMPLE OF EGYPT
- NILE CRUISE GUIDE AND EXPERIENCE
- AN EDFU MORNING
- THE LUXURY OF LUXOR
- KARNAK AND LUXOR, THE BEST OF THE LUXOR TEMPLES
- LUXOR WEST BANK ATTRACTIONS IN A NUTSHELL
- TOMB OF NEFERTARI
- THE BEAUTIFUL TEMPLE OF KHNUM AT ESNA
- ASWAN TO LUXOR ROAD TRIP
- HURGHADA FUN
- ALEXANDRIA MEMORIES
- VISITING THE PYRAMIDS OF GIZA IN EGYPT
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE