Just two hours’ drive from Cairo, Fayoum has several lodging options with easy access to the oasis’ natural and historic sites. At the entrance to this serene lakeside retreat lies the ancient Roman settlement of Karanis, also known as Kom Aushim, where you can glimpse remnants of granite temples and mud-brick living quarters. If you’re lucky, the Kom Aushim Museum, which has a small collection of the Fayoum mummy portraits, will be open.
Fayoum is all about pottery, and the artist colony of Tunis is the place to buy it. Start with the Fayoum Pottery School, founded by Swiss artisans, and then stroll around to other studios nearby. Tunis Village has grown to become something of an artist’s colony, attracting Egyptian and foreigners alike. Well-known Egyptian artist Mohamed Abla opened the Fayoum Art Center in 2006 to become, as the website put it, “an oasis of creativity and a meeting point of dialogue for artists from all over the world.” The school offers courses in painting, printing, and cartooning, features Abla’s Caricature Museum onsite.
An annual art festival is held here in late fall, featuring local handcrafts made in Tunis Village. Artists from around Egypt and from around the world attend this festival. It is not always on a set date, so it’s best to contact the Fayoum Art Center or the local pottery schools for updates.
Shoppers love local sturdy and spacious straw baskets and containers, used for everything from laundry to storage. Many handicraft and fair trade stores carry these baskets, and vendors also set up carts laden with the goods in some Cairo neighborhoods. And with all its lakeside greenery, Fayoum is known for duck dishes, particularly duck with orange sauce.
Grilled fish from Lake Qaroun is also a local favorite. The area’s many farms mean that mahshi is a must-try, as are the fitir and bread served hot from a baladi oven. The adobe-sealed stone oven gives the bread a smoky, slightly earthy taste—especially it’s hot and fresh.
There are many outings to be enjoyed in Fayoum, including desert safaris, horseback riding and boat trips along Lake Qaroun. A haven for migrating birds, Fayoum is classified as an Important Bird Area, or an area that holds priority in conservation), and more. The lakes of Wadi Rayan and indeed Qarun in Fayoum itself host tens of thousands of waterbirds in winter, waders, ducks, gulls and terns.
A 35 km ride from Wadi Rayan will take you to Wadi El Hitan, where the Whale Museum is dedicated to climate change and to the fossils, whales and very much more, that abound in the area. It is airy and interactive. It is extensively labeled in English and Arabic and follows a clear chronology from Big Bang to the modern day. And the centerpiece, two massive 20 meter skeletons of the wadi’s showpiece, the extinct whale Basilosaurus isis, complete with hind limbs missing from modern whales, the hind limbs that highlight its pivotal place in whale evolution. Wadi El Hitan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site such is the importance of these fossils.
There are some gorgeous places to stay in Fayoum—be sure to book at Tunis Village’s Lazib Inn Resort & Spa, an exclusive boutique hotel with just eight suites. Overlooking the lake is another exclusive resort, the cozy Byoum, brought to you by the founders of Gouna.