For a city offering plenty of luxury 5-star chain hotels, this neighbourhood hotel offers local character
Hotel Insider: Hotel Longchamps, Cairo, Egypt
This boutique hotel is situated on the fifth floor of a 1940s apartment building in upscale Zamalek, surrounded by embassies, consulates, leafy gardens, and private schools.
Arriving deep into the witching hour, at about 3.30am, only the sleepy building security guard is there to nod us toward the antique elevator.
But just as we're worrying whether we'll need to sleep in the hallway, for lack of humans about, we exit the creaking lift and are met with a cheery welcome from Sharif and the hotel's own full-time security guard (an anomaly, we are told).
There's no sign of early hour fatigue here, with the energetic Sharif quick to show us the hotel's features and carry our bags off to our room.
The hotel is located in the affluent island district of Zamalek. The immediate area around the hotel is dotted with well-known chain restaurants, quaint bakeries, parks, and even a few Melburnian coffee houses. It's a pleasant location to take a stroll, far from the traffic-clogged avenues one would expect from Cairo.
Another bonus? There's only one Costa outlet in Zamalek - and it's five minutes' walk from the front door of the hotel.
When we visit, the hotel is largely empty - but this is as much a reflection of our hour of arrival and lateness to the breakfast buffet than it is about the number of guests. With just 21 rooms, you won't be jostling for space at any time of the day.
However, in the wake of Egypt's tourism drought, Hebba Bakri, the hotel owner, says her clientele list has changed drastically. When once it was the everyday tourist who frequented her halls, she now welcomes mainly diplomats, academics, archaeologists and journalists. This leaves it with a more stately, businesslike feel, rather than somewhere you'd bring the whole family.
Sure, it's nothing fancy - but Ms Bakri's touch in everything is what sets this hotel apart.
Our standard room centres around a large bed, small TV, a wooden desk and antique armchair as the main focal points - and a sense of no-nonsense throughout. The ensuite is modern and sleek, if not a little on the small side.
However, only when you look closer do you notice the attention to detail - the stylised bathroom, the tablecloths and napkins sourced from Germany - and the fact that the interior design hasn't been entrusted to anyone but the owner herself.
As far as standard hotel rooms go, this is basic, but it is basic executed well.
Staff speak exceptional English and are a welcome, smiling face at any time of the day. Ms Bakri reinvests much of her profit into her team, teaching them English or putting them through courses and classes, and it's evident in the calibre of service.
The hotel restaurant offers a sweeping breakfast buffet free with your stay. There's top-quality items aplenty - yoghurts, pastries, pancakes, eggs, cereals, fresh fruit and spreads (we even found vegan Agave syrup, if that's what you're into).
The vivacious Hebba Bakri and her inspirational ethos.
The honking of horns and revving of engines in the morning, as the plethora of vehicles outside jostle for much sought-after parking spots in the area, are an abrupt alarm.
For a city offering plenty of luxury and budget accommodation, this is a welcome addition to the middle tier.
While the price might be almost on par with several well-established 5-star options, Hotel Longchamps has positioned itself as indulgence with character, which is where it sets itself apart from the larger chains.
If authenticity is your top priority, look no further. Even better if you're keen to interact with the staff, and are willing to let them take a genuine interest in your movements in the country.
If you can, take some time to swap stories with Hebba over a coffee - it might turn out to be the best part of your stay.
The bottom line
Rooms at Hotel Longchamps cost from USD84 (Dh310) per night, including taxes.