For centuries, El Quseir (which everybody just calls Quseir) was one of the most important ports in Egypt. Pharaohs sent trading fleets from this little town to the land of Punt to collect precious cargos of gold, ebony, and slaves. Later, after the Arab invasion, it became a vital stop on the hajj as well as a thriving commercial hub for the trade to India and the Gulf. The area slowly declined after the height of its importance in the 10th century, and though the Suez Canal brought back some life when it opened in 1869, today Quseir is a forgotten place. The only industry, a phosphorus mine set up by an Italian company in 1916, hasn't done much since the 1960s, when the deep-water port in Safaga to the north displaced Quseir's relatively small facilities. Nowadays, the old buildings slump a little lower each year as neglect takes its toll on mud-brick walls and the once-grand wooden facades along the waterfront. In a decade or two, the historic buildings will be gone, replaced as they have been almost everywhere else in the country by a mix of shoddy low-rise tenements and a sprawl of private homes.

Ten, or even 5, years ago, Quseir was still a word-of-mouth kind of place that the Cairo expat was just discovering, talking about the ruins of a fort, the gradually collapsing old buildings, and the lovely Hassan-Fathy-style Mövenpick on a bay north of the town. Now there are two more large hotels and a very nice basic hotel in a refurbished old house, and the fort has been extensively restored. There are even signs that perhaps tourism is beginning to perk up the town a little.