There are hotels, and then there is the Old Cataract… It was nearing the end of the 18th century and Thomas Cook & Son had a problem. Their problem, oddly enough, was that their Nile steam ship enterprise was doing just a little too well and their guests didn’t want to go home. More and more visitors wanted to stay longer in Aswan than their steamer schedules allowed. Even after the completion of the Hotel Assouan in 1892, Cook was still having to employ a moored boat as a floating hotel. Then the railway arrived in 1898, depositing even more visitors each day to the area.
So in 1899, Cook & Son constructed a two-story version of the Cataract hotel with 120 rooms to meet this surplus demand, opening its doors to its first guests on January 8, 1900. But by the very next season, the hotel was already overflowing and guests were having to be put up in tents on the grounds. So in 1902, a third story was added to expand the hotel to a total of 220 rooms.
“‘-it enchants me,’ he was saying. ‘The black rocks of Elephantine, and the sun, and the little boats on the river. Yes it is good to be alive.”
Death On The Nile
“Dinner was over. The terrace outside the Cataract Hotel was softly lit. Most of the guests staying at the hotel were there sitting at little tables.”
Death On The Nile
Agatha Christie & The Old Cataract
Although Agatha never made it out of Cairo on her first visit to Egypt in 1910, she did take two trips up the Nile later with her second husband, archeologist Max Mallowan, and her daughter Rosalind in 1931 and then again in 1933. The three took a steamer up the Nile stopping off at the Winter Palace and the Old Cataract. (We don’t know for sure if she actually spent any great amount of time at the Cataract, but from the descriptions in her books, it is obvious she must have at least visited the hotel.)
After those trips she wrote a short story entitled, Death On The Nile which was published in 1934 as part of a collection entitled Parker Pyne Investigates. Later, in 1937, she published a novel by the same name, but with a different plot, in which the Old Cataract is vividly brought to life as the exotic backdrop for the opening scenes of her drama.
Those are the things we know for sure about Agatha’s involvement with the Old Cataract. From here on out we’re dealing with some he said, she said, info and possibly a little stretching of the truth on the part of the hotel. Because according to a sign on display in the lobby of the Old Cataract:
“In 1937, Agatha Christie came to the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Hotel, and remained here most of that year. During that time, she wrote one of her most famous novels starring her belgian detective Hercule Poirot Death On The Nile, which was written at this simple mahogany desk from her suite on the 2nd floor. The wicker rocking chair beside it, was the one where she would sit and contemplate the next chapters of her book, whilst looking at the view before her.”Sofitel Legend
Old Cataract Hotel
What We Loved
The Character & History
Even with all the renovations over the years and the modern additions to grounds, the hotel doesn’t look too different today than it probably did to Christie when she visited in 1933. There aren’t a lot of places in the world that have held onto their sense history in quite the same way the Cataract has. The moment you walk in the doors, you WANT to go change into evening wear for dinner and take high tea on the veranda (which you should totally do btw, but be sure and make a reservation in advance!). The entire place makes you feel like you’ve been swept up and transported into another place and time.
The Location & View
I’m not usually the “go on vacation and just sit around at the hotel” type of girl, but you simply did. not. want. to. leave. this place, it’s simply magic.
Of all the places we stayed in Egypt, the Old Cataract was by far the most peaceful and the most beautiful. With its breathtaking views of the Nile, the little sail boats going past as you sip a cappuccino on the veranda and listen to the calls for prayer quietly echo over the water, there is really no where else in the world quite like it. I’m not usually the “go on vacation and just sit around at the hotel” type of girl, but you simply did. not. want. to. leave. this place, it’s simply magic.
Conversely, if you DID want to pry yourself away from the hotel, its conveniently located within walking distance of a lot of sites in Aswan, so while it feels like you’re in the middle of no where, really you’re and easy walk into town.
Again, like I’ve said before, food in Egypt is cheap and the Old Cataract was no exception. Even splurging on an evening dining at their fancy 5-star formal restaurant one evening, ordering wine, appetizers, two entrees, and dessert, our bill still only came out to about $100 for the two of us. Dining on the more informal veranda, both of us could eat lunch or dinner at the hotel for only around $30 or $40 total. And the FOOD WAS AMAZING. Literally everything we ordered was delicious. On top of that, our stay included a full breakfast each morning from the most decadent breakfast buffet you’ve ever seen in your life complete with crepe station, omelet station, traditional local fare and so many types of fruit, cheese, pastries and bread it would be impossible to try them all.
The Common Areas
This building is DESIGNED to hang out in, literally everywhere. The hotel is full of little nooks and crannies (outside and inside) where you can curl up with a good book and read, sip a cocktail with a friend, or simply take in the view.
“That sounds lovely, why not?”
Literally my favorite memory of being at this hotel was walking up to the bartender and asking if it would be possible to have a cappuccino brought out to the patio where I was reading and him responding “That sounds lovely, why not?” Which brings me to my next point.
The Staff Is Amazing
If you’ve ever wanted to feel like honest-to-God royalty, stay here. From the moment we walked into the hotel we were treated with more respect than I’ve ever been shown in my entire life.
Rather than check you in at the front desk you are ushered to the lounge where you are given fresh hibiscus juice to sip while the hotel staff member goes over your booking with you, meanwhile the porters are busy taking your bags to your room for you.
After we were checked-in for an hour or so, we heard a knock at our door and the porter was outside with more fresh juice for us, a collection of fresh fruit and a selection of beautiful desserts.
Every employee, every staff member, every single person on the grounds treated us as if we owned the place. If you want a lesson in hospitality, I suggest you take a visit to the Old Cataract.
What We Didn’t Love
The Price Tag
There were a handful of big ticket items that we really wanted on this trip and finally decided to splurge on. This was DEFINITELY one of them. Rooms here are not cheap or in any way budget friendly, and the rooms that are a bit less expensive can sell out over a year in advance. That said, we were not disappointed AT ALL and felt like we totally got what we paid for.
You May End Up In The New Building Instead
Unless you specifically state that you would like a room in the old wing of the hotel, more often than not, most guests are placed in the newer building on the campus. If you look at the first picture in this post, it’s the giant tower structure on the right side of the photo. And while I’m sure the rooms over there are lovely and probably have an amazing view of the Nile, they just aren’t the same. For us, a big part of why we chose to splurge and spend the money to stay here was for the history, so it was important to us that we get a room in the historic Cataract building. We simply added this as a comment when booking and had no issues with the hotel accommodating this request.
Come Prepared For Mosquitos
For some reason, coming from Alabama, land of mosquitos, you would think I would have come prepared to deal with bugs. But somehow in my mind we were going to be in the desert of Egypt, there aren’t any mosquitos in the desert… ummmm, duh Kadie, what about the GIANT RIVER full of water!? Long story short, the hotel does what it can, but if you are a target for mosquitos and all manor of biting flying creatures like I am, be sure and come prepared with some bug spray if you plan on sitting out on the veranda at night.
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