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The Sofitel Cataract: Aswan, Egypt

The Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan is spectacularly breathtaking! As an Egyptian who has traveled extensively around the country, I can safely say that the hotel easily ranks in the Top 5 Best Hotels in Egypt along with the Four Seasons Sharm El Sheikh and the Oberoi Sahl Hasheesh. In fact, this property easily ranks as a Top 10 Hotel globally for me and after visiting 76 countries to date, that says quite a bit! The Sofitel Cataract is located on the banks of the River Nile, the world’s longest river, and sits on a pink granite cliff overlooking the Nubian Desert and opposite to the neighboring Elephantine Island.

 

I stayed at the hotel several times over the course of the last several years but more recently in April 2017 when my brother got married and hosted his wedding. What a magical experience it was! We had international guests invited and everyone was unequivocally blown away by the hotel, its incredible architecture, its grounds, its history, its service, its staff’s hospitality, its spa, the neighboring backdrop of beautiful Aswan and the wedding itself (of course!).

 

The Sofitel Legend hotels are a collection of landmark hotels and palaces found in iconic cities around the world. Infused with French luxury for ultimate indulgence, each hotel is differentiated by an array of alluring amenities including major-domo style service, a signature restaurant, an haute couture spa, discreet and intuitive technology, a living room with private library services and more. I’ve had the privilege of staying at the Legend hotels in Hanoi and Amsterdam, each a landmark historic property but I must admit, given Aswan’s exotic locale and iconic building, the Old Cataract gives these other properties a huge run for their money!

 

Built in 1899 by Thomas Cook, the Old Cataract housed European travelers over the past century and its guests have included Tsar Nicolas II, Winston Churchill, Howard Carter, Margaret Thatcher, Jimmy Carter, Princess Diana, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Queen Noor. In addition, Agatha Christie spent a considerable amount of time at hotel and based portions of her novel Death on the Nile there. Since its opening, the hotel was a set for many movies including the adaptation of Agatha’s novel in 1978. The hotel was refurbished in 2011 and after its completion the Old Cataract wing, which had 131 rooms and eight suites, was renamed the Palace Wing, with 76 rooms and 45 suites. The New Cataract Wing, which had 144 rooms, was turned into the Nile Wing, with 62 rooms including 37 suites, all with a balcony with a river view.

 

The hotel’s intricate architecture is the first thing that will catch a guest’s attention. Influenced by British colonial rule, the hotel is a quintessentially 19th Century Victorian edifice but is adorned with Egyptian, Arabic and Andalusian art on the inside. The hotel also boasts unique Arabesque designs in its architecture but also furniture and general feel as well as Moorish arches, ruby red chandeliers and plush Persian carpets. In April, I stayed in a suite at the New Cataract Wing which I highly recommend! The suite boasts a 50 m2 (538 sq. ft) balcony with picturesque views of the River Nile and the entire property and blends an Old World feel with contemporary luxuries found in any 5-star hotel. The room is equipped with an extra-large king-size bed, a separate living and dining area and cover a massive area of 138 m2 (1500 sq. ft.)

 

During the wedding, the food and restaurant service at the hotel were impeccable. The traditional Egyptian breakfast (the foul meddames, falafel, fatayer and medley of small dishes to dip in to with loaves of bread) cannot be missed at the 1902 restaurant! Guests dine beneath the grand Arabian dome by a Qualaun crypt. The restaurant boasts dramatic beamed ceilings and walls and classic Arabesque style. For dinner, the 1902 also offers selections of French cuisine and a fine selection of champagne, wine and spirits. For lunch and high tea, be sure to check out the Terrace where Agatha Christie once settled for hours writing chapters of her celebrated book. Finally, for dinner, head to Kebabgy, an oriental restaurant which offers Levantine cuisine and delicacies from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey. The mixed grill and appetizers are not to be missed, make sure to come hungry! I also tried the room service menu on several occasions and the quality and selection of food and dishes was on par with the rest of the food service at the hotel.

 

Three other highlights spring to mind at the hotel: the spa and hammam, the pool area and the hospitality of the staff and general manager. The sweltering heat of Aswan throughout the year means a proper pool is needed to cool off, the pool at the hotel is spacious, clean and a perfect spot for relaxation. Guests can order from a full menu at the pool, my favorite dish was the burger. The pool also offers unobstructed views of the River Nile and the iconic Egyptian feluccas floating on the water. Once you cool off on the pool, be sure to book a deep tissue massage at the spa with one of the fantastic therapists available. I also used the traditional Turkish hammam and indoor pool as well which just added to the experience!

 

Last but certainly not least, I would like to give a huge thanks to the general manager and staff who worked tirelessly around the clock to make the wedding an incredible experience. The general manager was incredibly accommodating and worked with us and the wedding planner closely to make sure that everything was delivered impeccably. The 1902 restaurant was turned in to the wedding hall where the bride and groom walked down the aisle and where vows were exchanged. A traditional Persian ceremony was hosted there on a Sofreh that was adorned with oriental items. Close friends of the bride and groom were hosted at the magnificent presidential suite where Winston Churchill once stayed. Concurrently, a reception took place on the grounds of the hotel awaiting the bride and groom. To keep up with Egyptian traditions, the bride and groom made a large entrance in a traditional Egyptian zaffa with a Nubian band. The night was magical, the seated dinner and speeches were unforgettable and everyone danced the night away.

 

As an Egyptian, I’m proud to say that the Cataract Hotel is truly one of the most magnificent hotels I’ve ever stayed that around the world. It will give you an experience of Egypt that is incredibly special, historic and iconic. If you are visiting Egypt, you cannot miss coming to Aswan and the hotel!

 

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