Hotel Insider Despite the loss of some original features in a refurbishment, the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract retains enough authenticity in its stone-floored hallways, woodwork and grand furniture.
Sofitel Aswan a luxurious mix of old and new on the Nile
I've just finished a Nile cruise and am met on the Aswan Corniche by one of the Old Cataract's new Jaguar cars. I'm delivered to the hotel's back gates and transferred the short distance to the main building by golf buggy. Inside, the hotel's grand lobby, dating from 1899, is impressive, with high ceilings, Moorish arches and chandeliers.
The hotel is situated on a gorgeous stretch of the Nile, overlooking Elephantine Island, with its Romanesque remains, and on the opposite bank, the evocative tomb of the Aga Khan. To the rear of the property is a quiet residential area, and it's about 10 minutes on foot to the Aswan Corniche and five minutes from the Nubian Museum.
Agatha Christie wrote part of her 1934 novel Death on the Nile from her first-floor suite, and in some ways the scene hasn't changed. The view is much the same as she describes, as is the hotel, with its red-and-white Victorian-Edwardian exterior, black iron balconies and colonial-style terrace. The hotel has recently undergone a complete, US$100m (Dh367m) refurbishment, giving a slick and stylish edge to its restaurants, bars and lounges, and it is again attracting the town's wealthiest tourists, though numbers are severely down when I visit thanks to the Egyptian uprising.
My second-floor suite is something of a fantasy: high ceilings, a separate living room and bedroom, a huge marble bathroom and a balcony. My bedroom overlooks the Nile and I can't take my eyes off the view. It seems that more original features may have been lost in the refurbishment of the bedrooms than in the other areas of the hotel, but there's enough authenticity in the stone-floored hallways, woodwork and grand furniture to prevent the feeling that you're in any old Sofitel. The original windows have been maintained, so the noise insulation isn't as good as it might be (I can hear voices from outside at times), but I prefer the old style anyway.
Formal and attentive, but sometimes slow. Staff are mostly local, and extremely gracious (any request I make by telephone is finalised with the words "with pleasure", even when it's a complaint). Room service staff have some difficulty in understanding my order ("Can I order a steak sandwich please?" "Club sandwich." "No, steak sandwich."), and delivery is a little slow; in a rush at breakfast, I have to track down a waiter to order a coffee. Yet the hotel's female concierge, an expert on the local area, pulls out all the stops to secure me a last-minute flight to Abu Simbel, and arranges the entire trip through a local tour operator without charging for her services.
There are no buffets at this hotel. Breakfast consists of a colonial-style tiered tray of pastries, though you can also order off the menu. The hotel's fine dining French restaurant is called 1902 and is in a spectacular building dating from that year. There's a huge dome inside, wood floors and coloured arched doorways. I have a starter of pigeon and mushroom salad (LE210; Dh128) and a duck breast main course (LE285; Dh174). There's not much meat on the pigeon but it's nicely cooked on the bone; the duck is imported from France and is lean, moist and meaty. At the Terrace restaurant, I have a lunch of endive salad with goat's cheese, apples and honey. The hotel's Arabic restaurant is called Kebabji and has a terrace overlooking the Nile. I'm served a basket of crunchy Egyptian bread and homemade, spicy dips. My first course, a lentil soup (LE47; Dh52), is smooth and not too filling, the main course, Seyadeya, a local fish dish (LE222; Dh135), is delicious but enough for two people. Everything appears to be freshly prepared, and staff are sweetly attentive.
The views from my room and the spa, situated in the hotel's second building, which was added in the 1960s but which has also been luxuriously revamped. A one-hour signature massage by Thai therapist Bunvilai in the gorgeous So Spa (LE660; Dh402) left each set of aching muscles thoroughly relaxed.
I could not reduce the temperature in my room to make it sufficiently cool at night and had to call maintenance in the middle of the night. Some instruction on how to use the air conditioning's controls would have been useful.
A historic property beautifully renovated, and luxurious enough to merit a visit to Aswan by itself.
The bottom line
Rooms at the Sofitel cost from $472 (Dh1,733) per night, including taxes. Sofitel Legend Old Cataract, Abtal Al Tahrir Street, Aswan (www.sofitel.com; 0020 97 231 6000)