Egypt’s shining hidden gems on the banks of the Nile
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ASWAN/LUXOR – In 1922, an enthusiastic Egyptologist named Howard Carter made one of archaeology’s most historic discoveries: Luxor and Aswan. Famous for having a lion’s share of the country’s, if not the region’s, antiquities, the two cities have also for decades drawn attention to luxury and adventure hunters. Two attractions known for their hospitality, unique style and comfort are Aswan’s Sofitel Legend Old Cataract and Luxor’s Sofitel Winter Palace Hotel.
Having been the refuge of intellectuals, artists, and treasure hunters, as well as tourists during the British occupation of Egypt, the two cities provided a classy and bohemian lifestyle, starting from the 1910s until the 1950s. The trend continued with the overflow of tourists, engineers, and architecture experts as the cities witnessed extensive reform and changes during the 1960s with the building of the High Dam and the relocation of the Abu Simbel Temples and restoration of the Philae temple.
Aswan’s Sofitel Legend Old Cataract was reopened in Sept. 2011. Interior Designer Sybille de Margerie was on the task to breathe new life in the legendary work of art while keeping in mind the palatial feeling. The hotel wanted to have the same feeling “especially for guests who have been staying with us for many years, making sure they always find their memories when they stay with us,” said Rafic Khairallah, Regional Group Account Director For Hotels & Resorts.
de Margerie, having had a strong portfolio that included the design of the Mandarin Oriental in Paris, was challenged with the task of preserving the structure which mixed British, French with Eastern architecture styles, while giving them a contemporary texture. The hotel was reopened with additional suites and a Sofitel So Spa that includes several treatment rooms in addition to the exquisite oriental hammam to meet the exotic taste of visitors.
Sofitel’s management succeeded to produce a culture that stands out between Paris and the local culture. “Sofitel through this link, the brand essentials, the rituals that we have, makes sure such heritages are exposed, talked about, developed in terms of international awareness. This is backed up as well through our corporate office that expends the palaces guests’ experience throughout our network,” Khairallah explained.
That is why, in both Old Cataract and Winter Palace, guests are offered a storytelling experience with dedicated and knowledgeable ambassadors and ushers walking visitors into the history of the places they are staying at. Tawab for instance, a captain at Winter Palace, can take you years back and tell you lot of stories about royalties visiting the palace and Luxor, while Mansour, also a captain but at Old Cataract, will recall how he used to serve royalties and presidents, and what their preferred dishes were.
Visitors are invited to enjoy the genuity of Luxor and Aswan, their breathtaking landscapes, architecture which is a mix between modernity and tradition, and are given a chance to meet and mingle with the local community. The authenticity of Old Cartact’s restaurants is not too different from the hotel, which has three restaurants. For more casual meals, Palms is an eatery by the pool for drinks and fresh beverages, as well as ice-cream, snacks and sandwiches. For an oriental touch, Kebabgy offers a Mediterranean cuisine with barbecue while overlooking the magnificent Nile. Al Saraya has also an oriental menu but with a brasserie setting, also overlooking the Nile. The real masterpiece is the 1902 gourmet dining restaurant, with architecture influenced by Cairo’s mosques.
The Winter Palace hotel in Luxor was built in 1907. An art fan would sense the touch of art deco in its decoration and style, which was composed also to meet the context of the Pharaonic context which upper Egypt became famous for, while at the same time have a strong Edwardian framework. The result is architectural harmony. The hotel was built by Charles Baehler and George Nungovich under the supervision of the mastermind of tourism Thomas Cook.
Providing beautiful views, spacious rooms, with the classic high ceiling, guests can enjoy the palatial experience with delicious cuisines and felucca rides. By boat you can reach the magical Hatshepsut temple. Visitors can enjoy drinks and coffee in the Victoria Lounge. At night, guests can enjoy a fancy dinner at the 1866 Restaurant which offers French classics.
Top wedding and luxury magazines recommend both hotels as a romantic destination for an unforgettable wedding and honeymoon. Prospective brides and grooms are given the keys to the Palace, as it is theirs for the days of the wedding. Also, the hotel offers custom menus designed with the Executive Chef who sits with the couple, gets to know their likes and dislikes, and sets menus accordingly.
Aswan’s historic hotel Old Cataract was eternalized last year in the award-winning TV series “Grand Hotel,” leading Egyptians and as well as tourists to visit the city. However, the hotel has a history that goes back decades before “Grand Hotel.” Lying on the eastern bank of the Nile, the Sofitel Old Cataract in Aswan goes all the way back to 1899. Memorable guests who the hotel and its staff are proud to have hosted are British statesman and veteran politician Winston Churchill, and legendary writer Agatha Christie who wrote the novella “Death on the Nile.” A film was made with the same title in 1977, and was shot in Old Cataract. Christie wrote the novel in 1930 during her stay in Luxor’s Winter Palace.
Up to the North, visitors are invited to the precious local getaway Luxor where on the two banks of the Nile, man’s first attempt to create civilizations were attempted. With Green plantations on the both sides, several temples offer a truly immersing experience. In the city center, local markets present authentic food, and fabulous souvenirs and jewelry that reflect the cultural richness of the city.
On the east bank of the Nile, visitors can see few of the world’s most complete and intact monuments, the Karnak and Luxor Temples. And not to mention the Luxor and Mummifications museums, which historicize one of the ancient Egypt’s most sacred rituals which is death and the road to the afterlife.