New life for Murder on the Nile hotel

The world’s best-selling crime writer Agatha Christie wrote one Murder on the Nile while living here. The Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan, Egypt was the scene of the novel published in 1937, which was eventually made into a movie and later became part of the BBC’s series on Christie’s novels featuring the dapper, portly Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.

Christie has sold two billion books.  Most of them were written in the early part of the 20th Century and she’s been superceded by generations of slick crime writers since. Amazing she still sells so well.

The Murder on the Nile hotel had seen better days and it closed three years ago for an extensive refit and it’s just re-opened. The result is a new look and new name to become the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan, joining Sofitel’s Legend collection of historically significant hotels around the world which includes the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi Vietnam, and the Sofitel Legend The Grand in Amsterdam.

Located in the Nubian Desert on the banks of the Nile River across from Elephantine Island, the revived Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan continues a long story that began back in 1899 in the heart of Aswan. Its name was taken from the marriage of the river and the granite wall that forms the first cataract of the Nile.

Sofitel entrusted French interior designer Sybille de Margerie with the task of bringing the luxury of the myth to life once again while conserving the original beauty of the Victorian building. The soul and splendor of the place are preserved, and the architecture updated for a decidedly contemporary face – de Margerie has risen to the challenge by combining Victorian, Middle Eastern and French styles.

From Agatha Christie to Sir Winston Churchill and including Agha Khan, many famous faces have stayed here, including movie stars, heads of state and royalty. Once a legend always a legend, and here that has held true through the extravagant transformation that managed to preserve the site’s heritage in such touches as the Byzantine-style striped arches.

The two most spacious suites, named the Agatha Christie Suite and the Winston Churchill Suite offer their own private terraces and amazing views.

The contemporary and elegant new The Nile wing features 62 rooms, 37 of which are suites. All offer a balcony and a view of the famous Nile river. Each room also boasts intricate artwork (friezes) and chandeliers, reproducing and reflecting the historic aspects of the original historical wing to inextricably link the two buildings. Particular attention was paid to the bathrooms; some rooms even offer guests the luxury of taking a bath while gazing out over the Nile. The biggest suite in this wing is the Agha Khan Suite.

Tea served in the setting sun, a ritual as Agatha Christie experienced it, is a must while visiting.

The spa has a hammam and indoor pool. Impressive views, and elegant, original décor along with French cosmetic expertise from Cinq Mondes makes this space one of the finest new additions to the hotel. Visitors have a choice of four restaurants, including the legendary 1902, made famous by its Qualaun crypt. A majestic 20-metre high dome with décor worthy of Thousand and One Nights.

Conde Nast Traveler has this to say about the refurbished hotel:

The look: If you’ve ever been tempted to pack a vintage tuxedo or evening gown, this place provides the perfect backdrop. The restored 1902 restaurant, modeled after Cairo’s Ibn Tulun mosque, looks like a film set for Death on the Nile. Art Deco meets Mamluk glamour in the chandeliered palace, its halls adorned with photographs of royals, artists, and other luminaries who’ve stayed here. The tower’s contemporary decor echoes ancient Egyptian motifs.

The experience: A two-story spa and outdoor pool have relieved the pressure on the Victorian terrace, where sipping a gin and tonic at sunset remains an Egyptian-travel apogee. Guests are mainly older European couples, some with grandkids in tow. The staff include discreet veteran waiters and a new generation of dynamic young female concierges. The kitchen, no longer resting on faded glory, turns out a creative, light cuisine such as Nile fish perfectly steamed with lemongrass. There is also a French menu dégustation, and the spa café offers dishes of fewer than 350 calories.

If only… the alcohol weren’t so overpriced—a glass of Mercier champagne is $48, a bottle of Egyptian wine between $28 and $65.

More info: www.sofitel.com

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