The Nile in Cairo was once lined with grim high-rise hotels, concrete futuristic constructions from the 1960s, crumbling slowly like something out of a dusty version of Bladerunner.
Thank goodness things are changing. Ritz-Carlton has recently taken over and gutted one block-like hotel and, last Wednesday, the Kempinski group reopened an old government hotel that had stood empty for 15 years.
Now revamped, refurbished and renamed, the Kempinski Nile is squeezed into a narrow triangle along the eastern embankment. It is boutique in ambience but has 137 rooms and 54 suites leading off from an exquisite lobby filled with light-brown marble and eager staff. The marble – from Zimbabwe – is also a feature of the new exterior.
The hotel is a superb conversion job by Pierre Yves Rochon, who has countless Sofitels and Four Seasons to his name, as well as the over-the-top Hotel du Lac in Vevey, Switzerland, and the Magic Kingdom Hotel in Disneyland Paris.
For Kempinski, he has created calm public spaces, with just one large black marble bas relief in the lobby to allude to the city's Pharaonic tourist trade. Corridors are livelier, lined with colourful reproduction art. The large lifts are gilded and ascend next to an atrium that fills in the middle of the hotel's wedge-like floor-plan.
There is still some work to be done (currently the rooftop sign signals that this is the "Kempi") but rejoice that staying in Cairo need no longer be ruined by its soulless bed factories.
Rooms on the Nile side are painted light blue, those looking into the city light green. Bedding is Egyptian cotton, and furniture dark lacquer with tables in glass or marble. With the quiet hum of the conscientious air-conditioning and the noise of Cairo reduced to just a few car horns in the distance, each room is a refuge. A small balcony, just wide enough to wedge a chair on, gives great sunset views if you book a room on the Nile side. The TVs by LG are large, black and wired up to 150 films for free viewing (anything from noir classics to the latest rom-coms). Wifi is free in every room. The bathrooms are decked out in the same beige marble, with his and hers sinks and a shower room. Toiletries are made specifically for Kempinski Nile by Jeanne Habashi, a French woman who moved to Egypt in 2004 and realised that there was a market for five-star hotel toiletries that used traditional Egyptian ingredients.
The food and drink
There are currently three restaurants. Osmanly is the only contemporary Ottoman restaurant in North Africa. Floor10 offers French cuisine with superb views of the Nile and Cairo Tower at night. Blue doubles as breakfast room and an all-day dining experience based, rather bravely, on a "no menu menu" experiment. Diners can ask for whatever they want and the chef will try to respond. There is also a Chocolate Lounge immediately beyond reception, which is supplied daily by French chocolatier Frederic Le-Gaca. For Floor10 expect to pay $75 (£50) per person, excluding wine. For Osmanly, it will cost you around $60 (£40).
In August or September a rooftop swimming pool, gym and spa will be opening with gorgeous views over the Nile. The hotel already has an exemplary concierge service that will do its utmost to arrange anything you want during your time in Cairo. Each guest is assigned a butler who sees to it that he or she learns your personal preferences so that your wishes can be better anticipated next time you visit.
Children are welcome, and if up to six years old they can stay and eat for free. Pets weighing less than 12kg (26lb) are also welcome. There is good access throughout the hotel for people with disabilities, plus one specially equipped room.
During the introductory period (until September 2010) double rooms start from $311 (£205) per night, including breakfast.
Kempinski Nile Hotel, Cornish El-Nile, 12 Ahmed Ragheb Street, 11519 Cairo Egypt ( 00 20 2 279 57157; kempinski.com).Reuse content