A Night in the Past: Egypt’s Timeless and Oldest Hotels

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Old hotels speak with words that time forgot, where cracks line the ceilings and furniture groans and creaks. There is a sweet smell of nostalgia that decorates the halls, where feet yearn to return to a place that feels like home.

In a country where culture lives in every corner, Egypt’s oldest hotels bear witness to the years of changing history – housing visitors from all around the world.

The Shepheard’s Hotel, located near Garden City, was one of oldest hotels established in Egypt. Founded in 1841 by Englishman Samuel Shepheard under the name Hotel des Anglais (English Hotel), it was destroyed during the infamous Cairo fire in 1952. It was later rebuilt in 1957, but the standing relic of Egypt’s past remains closed to the public for renovation purposes.

Although many of Egypt’s historically rich hotels have undergone renovations, the flare of the past remains intact within their walls – from their colorful carpets, to their lavish gardens and terraces, granite pillars, and long-hanging chandeliers, here are some of Egypt’s famous hotels that are still around to tell tales.

Marriott Mena House, Cairo

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Located near Giza Pyramids, the Marriott Mena House was originally built as a royal lodge by Khedive Ismail in 1869. This legendary hotel hosted some of the world’s most iconic figures, including Empress Eugenie of France and British wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, as well as well-known figures, such as the queen of crime, murder mystery author Agatha Christie, iconic actor, filmmaker, and activist Charlie Chaplin, and swing legend Frank Sinatra.

The lodge was enhanced and sold over the years to wealthy British couples: the Heads in 1883, who dubbed it as the “Mena House”’ after Egypt’s first Pharaoh, and the Locke-Kings in 1887. The hotel saw the first installment of a swimming pool in Egypt, and although it changed over the years, it remains among the world’s greatest places to stay.

Cairo Marriott and Omar Khayyam Casino

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Located on the Zamalek island, the Cairo Marriott Hotel and Omar Khayyam Casino was built by Khedive Ismail in 1869. It was originally designed to be a guest palace for foreign royalty and other guests during the Suez Canal inauguration.

Originally named Al-Gezira Palace Hotel, the building was seized by the government in 1879 and was nationalized in 1969 during president Gamal Abdel Nasser’s era. The casino was established, until it was taken over by Marriot in the 1970s.

With Moorish architecture and French Empire-style, the hotel stands as one of the most iconic buildings in Cairo.

Steigenberger Cecil Hotel, Alexandria

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Considered an Alexandrian icon, the Cecil Hotel was built in 1929 by the French-Egyptian Metzger family. Originally designed to have romantic hues, the elegant hotel has welcomed international guests from Winston Churchill and Al Capone, to Egyptian vocal powerhouse Umm Kalthum.

The hotel also appears in many novels, from Lawrence Durell’s Alexandria Quartet to Miramar by Naguib Mahfuouz. The Metzger family was expelled from the country in 1957 as part of the Jewish expulsion from Egypt after the Arab-Israeli conflict; however, they gained ownership over the hotel in 2007 until it was sold to the government. Cecil is now the Steingenberger hotel, and stands as a piece of Alexandrian heritage.

Helnan Palestine Hotel, Alexandria

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Set on the Mediterranean sea, and adjacent to the Montaza Palace, the Helnan Palestine Hotel offers an escape from the hustle and bustle of Alexandria. Built in the span of six months in 1964, president Gamal Abdel Nasser had a vision for the hotel to house Arab royalty, heads of state, and other important officials who were flying to attend the second Arab League Summit in Alexandria.

The hotel has welcomed presidents such as the late French head of state Jacques Chirac, celebrities such as [example], and royalty, such as the Queen Rania of Jordan and Sofia, the Queen Mother of Spain.

Windsor Hotel, Cairo

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Familiar and dear to Egyptians is the Windsor Palace that sits in the heart of Cairo. Originally built in 1893 as Turkish baths for Egypt’s royal family, the building later served as the British Army Officer’s club before it was converted into a hotel.

The hotel, owned and run by the William Doss family who purchased the property in 1962, houses the Barrel Lounge, a popular hangout for Cairo’s bar-hoppers.

The wooden walls and classic atmosphere has served as a backdrop for many movies and shows, including Around the World in 80 days starring Michael Palin in 1989 and Legend of the Lost Tomb in 1997.

Sofitel Legend Old Cataract, Aswan

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A sight for sore eyes is the Sofitel Old Cataract: the legendary hotel is situated in the Nubian land on the banks of the Nile, where the Aswan warmth occupies every corner. World famous, the hotel was built in 1889 by Thomas Cook and Sons.

With state–of–the–art amenities, Old Cataract rates as one of Egypt’s most outstanding destinations. It was acquired by Sofitel in later years, landing its current name. With marvelous architecture, featuring iconic mashrabiya windows and ruby red chandeliers, the hotel has hosted international artists and figures throughout the years. It was also where author Agatha Christie, took time to pen her novel Death on the Nile.

Sofitel Winter Palace, Luxor

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A prestigious hotel intertwining history and luxury, the Sofitel Winter Palace in Luxor was inaugurated in 1907. An oasis of tranquility – the Winter Palace immerses its visitors in history, culture, and romance.

The splendid architecture and unique location on the banks of the Nile aren’t the only elements that make this hotel outstanding, but the Winter Palace was where Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922, which put the hotel on the map for international and national visitors intrigued by the discovery.

Helnan Auberge, Fayyoum

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Similar to the peacefulness of its location, the Helnan Auberge hotel in Fayyoum offers a serene and elegant ambiance. The hotel was unveiled in 1937 as a hunting lodge and lakefront retreat for Egypt’s King Farouk, but was recently revamped and rebuilt by Danish-Egyptian Helnan Hotels in 1937.

The hotel’s beautiful setting welcomed many of Egypt’s early black and white movies, such as Shams la Tagheeb (A Sun That Never Sets) in 1959, Ser Emra’a (A Woman’s Secret) in 1960, and El Kol Ayez Hob (Everyone Wants Love) in 1975, amongst others. The hotel also saw the meeting in 1945 between then Winston Churchill and Saudi monarch Abdulaziz Ibn al-Saud.

 Villa Belle Époque, Cairo

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image via Villa Belle Epoque Official Facebook Page

Given a name that translates to ‘beautiful age’, Villa Belle Époque traces its roots to the 1920s, when it was built as a private residence in Maadi.

Situated in a prime location, the boutique hotel is small and cozy, offering exquisite dining experience with top-tier restaurants and a breath of fresh air outside urbanized Cairo.

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