My stay at Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan, Egypt
Standing majestically on the banks of the Nile, this sublime hotel is an oasis of calm in one of Egypt’s most beautiful locations. Lined with rolling sand dunes peppered with solitary palm trees, the river is at its most scenic here. Laid-back Aswan is a great place to sightsee but also to put your feet up and relax at the end of your holiday. For many reasons, this will long remain one of my favourite properties in North Africa.
Oozing Victorian charm and elegance, the Old Cataract dates back to 1899, and is believed to be where Agatha Christie penned much of her most famous novel, Death on the Nile. Taking inspiration from these riverside surroundings, the Agatha Christie Suite is one of the finest there – an opulent retreat, with a spacious balcony overlooking that all-important view.
The hotel is divided between the old Palace wing, steeped in history and heritage, and the newer Nile wing. Naturally, the former holds more classic, colonial style; however, the latter is decorated in a lighter and brighter colour scheme, creating a fresher, more contemporary feel. We prefer the bigger Nile rooms, but either way, each of the 138 rooms and suites are wonderfully comfortable.
With the Old Cataract’s four stylish bars and four distinctive restaurants, guests are spoilt for choice. If it’s fine dining you are after, celebrate 12 decades of gastronomy with the exquisite French cuisine at 1902 restaurant. With a 75ft domed roof, this spectacular, Arabian-themed space, has all the appeal and glamour you might expect. However, The Terrace is the best spot for long lazy breakfasts and high tea. There is very much an emphasis on al fresco dining and sundowners, and the Promenade, The Terrace and Yasmine bars are all fabulous places to soak up the stunning Nile views. However, my favourite – and Sir Winston Churchill’s incidentally – has to be The Bar. With deep-mahogany walls and splendid furniture, this piano bar is the ultimate place to indulge in a cosy nightcap at the end of a long day.
Last but not least, take time to retreat to the So Spa, with its mosaic-bordered indoor swimming pool, Jacuzzi, sauna, hammam and fitness centre. The heated outdoor pool, set in manicured gardens and encircled by shady palms, appears to cascade into the Nile, and is delightful in the cooler winter months.
The Old Cataract makes a great base from which to visit the timeless Philae Temple, dedicated to the Goddess of Isis (Love). The edifice was part of a mammoth rescue mission by UNESCO, who dissembled and reconstructed it 20m higher on nearby Agilkia Island. Also in the vicinity are two unfinished obelisks, one of which is the largest single piece of stone ever handled. With a few days to spare, we would recommend exploring the local market one morning and heading to the ruins of the 7th-century Monastery of St Simeon, where it is still possible to see engravings in the walls by Muslim pilgrims before it was destroyed. We can also arrange for you to meet a family in a Nubian village on the West Bank.
This hotel is the epitome of effortless class, with an unsurpassed setting, high-quality service and an unrivalled history. Where possible, I would urge everyone to stay here on their adventure in this magical country.