For a local getaway, you may want to consider Luxor. It’s getting hotter, and spring may just be the perfect time to sit back and enjoy the pool at one of Luxor’s fabulous hotels — the modern Hilton or historically acclaimed Sofitel Winter Palace.
Although the Winter Place is now the Sofitel, back in 1905 it was founded by Cairo hoteliers Charles Baehler and George Nungovich in collaboration with Thomas Cook & Son. Baehler was known for his Cairo hotels and is commonly referred to as the founder of Zamalek. The Luxor Winter Palace was his final project.
Throughout history, many famous people have stayed at the Winter Palace. Howard Carter spent time roaming the gardens when excavating at the nearby Valley of the Kings between 1914-1922 and Agatha Christie wrote Death on the Nile during her stay there in the mid 1930’s.
Today you can stay at the original Winter Palace or in an annex dubbed “The Pavilion,” which was built in 1996. Although rates are cheaper at the Pavilion and the breakfast is less expensive and therefore less elaborate, the rooms have a beautiful view of the garden and the pool. The Pavilion has its own reception, which means you can check in and out at your convenience. The breakfast room is also readily accessible and there is a dinner buffet with a pasta corner, meat, vegetables and rice, as well as numerous desserts and attentive staff.
In the original building, the rooms have high ceilings and the furniture is old but beautifully restored. In the Pavilion, the furniture is more run of the mill; rooms are large and clean, but amenities are not modern. Free wifi can be accessed from certain parts of the buildings, but is not prevalent throughout.
From the Pavilion you can easily reach the pool, which joins a shallow splash pool and a circular leisure pool with a bar in the middle. The water temperature is regulated and heated so you’ll find your swimming experience very enjoyable. Spots by the pool can be hard to come by, so you may have to wake up and reserve your space on the way to breakfast. Although the pool has shallow areas for children who can’t swim, there is no barrier to keep them from stepping into the deep end.
Breakfast at the Palace will cost you an additional LE95 per person, but has a wider selection of food and a beautiful palatial setting with large sunlit windows. You can have your eggs cooked any way you please and sip freshly made juices, such as cucumber and orange.
I was recently at the Winter Palace to attend a wedding so the hotel was full for the occasion, but occupancy has been low this past year. Tourism rates have plummeted across the country due to security issues and during our stay there were only 15 people who were not involved in the festivities. The staff at the hotel were appreciative of the business brought by the wedding, but local restaurants were unprepared for dinner parties of large numbers.
However, despite the lack of tourists, hotel life is peaceful and not desperate. Staff are attentive but not over bearing.
The reception happily arranges tours, and if you cross the street in front of the entrance, you’ll be on the Nile with your pick of feluccas. However, because business is slow, expect some fairly aggressive banter from local touts and book at the reception desk if you wish to avoid the hassle.
If you’d simply like to walk around in more local areas of the city, the Winter Palace has a back door near the pool that leads to the city streets, with supermarkets and pharmacies all close by. Security on re-entry to the hotel is tight, so it’s important to carry ID.
By car, the west bank and it’s temples are 30-40 minutes away, but several tombs, the Valley of the Kings and the Hatchepsut temple are a mere 15 minutes away by boat. It takes a little coordination to get a boat to and from the Winter Palace and land transportation to the sites, but the experience is much more exciting this way.
Karnak and the Luxor temples are even closer. You can take a guided tour to better understand the stories behind the various sites, or alternatively just head to Hatchepsut and roam around. You’re likely to be impressed by the hieroglyphics on the walls. Much of the natural paint remarkably still remains from 3,000 years ago.