After a stressful journey through Cairo's busy streets, arriving at the Fairmont Nile City is a rather calming experience. It could be the fact that the first thing you see and hear is a stunning William Pye fountain that reaches high up into the sky of the elegant, grandiose lobby. Or maybe that there are at least three smiling men on hand to take care of your bags and usher you to check-in coupled with the smell of fresh red roses that are almost as much of a feature as the fountain. Whatever it is, you are extremely happy to be there. And reluctant to go back to the real world.
The Fairmont Nile City is nestled between two towers where most of the major multinationals have offices. It is also close to Zamalek Island, one of the more pleasant districts to wander around, and a short drive from much of the culture on offer. At first sight, there is luxury and opulence, and Mercs with tinted windows all around. But you only have to glance to the right of the hotel or behind it, and you will see favela-style housing, a sort of crumbling concrete jungle that is home to thousands of low-income Egyptians.
The hotel, which opened in January, is set to become one of Cairo's hottest places to hang out. There are already two very pleasant spots: the Champagne bar where a South African duo play music from 9pm to 1am, and the Bar Kaya, a roof bar with swimming pool and stunning views across the city. Soon, the O Bar will open, a trendy, funky hangout serving sushi and fusion food.
All 566 rooms have a Nile view, so that's a great start. My room, although one of the more basic ones, is spacious and really comfortable. The bathroom has a window next to the bath that looks out to the bedroom. You can see the sun setting over the Nile as you soak. There is just enough furniture to turn it into a decent living space and not just a bedroom. The linen is Egyptian and sumptuous, the pillows among the most comfortable I have experienced, and I normally travel with my own pillow to avoid disappointment. For coffee addicts there is a Nespresso machine.
Frank Naboulsi, the vice president and general manager of the hotel, tells me they picked their 850 staff out of an initial pool of 12,638 applicants. It shows. The members of staff who I encounter are extremely professional and quick to anticipate every need. They are respectful without being obsequious, and charming.
In the interests of research I ate breakfast, lunch and dinner at the hotel every day, an experience I would recommend, assuming you can go on a diet afterwards. Breakfast in hotels the world over is pretty much the same, but my acid test is always to order poached eggs on toast. If they do these well you know you're dealing with professionals. My eggs were cooked to perfection, hard whites and runny warm yellows. Lunch at the Napa Grill was sublime: a salad that on the face of it sounds simple (iceberg lettuce, avocado and cherry tomatoes) but mixed with a dressing that made it extremely special. I followed this with a sea bass on bean purée with lime-grass sauce and chocolate fondue. Wonderful flavours and aromas. Dinner was at Saigon Bleu, the only hotel restaurant in Cairo with a female head chef. The poached salmon was perfectly cooked and the service impeccable. The restaurant itself was far too cold, though.
There is much to love here; the beautiful entrance hall, the great food, the free Wi-Fi, the little touches such as four choices of Egyptian oils that line the bath ready for you soak up, but my top tip is this: go for Fairmont Gold (or FG as it is known), when you stay. For an extra US$80 (Dh294) to $100 (Dh368) a night, depending on the room rate, you can upgrade to this business-class hotel within a hotel. You have a butler on hand 24 hours a day to do anything you need, from unpacking to bringing you deodorant (free, by the way) to locating AAA batteries. "Ask the butler before you go to bed and they will be there in the morning," I was told. And they were. Miraculous. Next time I'll ask for Rafael Nadal. FG also entitles you to access to the lounge where you can eat, drink and gaze at the Nile whenever you like.
The poor choice of television channels. Appalling sports choice and worse news choice. I had to rely on CNN for news, which is hopeless, because I don't care about baseball scores. Please install Sky or at least BBC World for my next visit. I also disliked the loud phone by the bar area on the otherwise sublime roof terrace; most distracting while I was researching the benefits of an afternoon kip by the pool. The spa and gym are yet to be completed, which was a shame, but a good excuse to come back.
I loved this hotel. The staff are universally excellent, the food gorgeous and the ambiance totally relaxing. There are also little touches such as the fresh flowers throughout the hotel and the stone scarab beetles placed by your bed as a good luck charm along with the first-class service that make you feel so welcome. I was not surprised to hear that their repeat bookings are already huge. I will certainly be going back as soon as I can.
The bottom line
Double rooms cost from $200 (Dh735) per night or $150 (Dh550) for a Fairmont Advance Savers Purchase with a non-refundable deposit. Fairmont Nile City hotel, Nile City Towers, Corniche El Nil, Ramlet Beaulac, Cairo (www.fairmont.com/nilecity; 00 20 22 461 9494).