The gardens originally grew fruits and vegetables for the hotel’s guests, but today there is a swimming pool, outdoor bars, and quiet nooks to sit and relax. Agatha Christie stayed at the hotel and enjoyed long walks in the garden. It was on a hotel balcony overlooking the Nile that she wrote her classic mystery, Death on the Nile. Noel Coward, Jane Fonda, Richard Gere, and John Malkovich, are among the many celebrities who have stayed here and walked in these gardens. When China’s President Xi Jinping visited Egypt on a recent trade mission in January 2016, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi hosted and met with him at the Winter Palace.
High tea in the Victorian Lounge is special. After the heat of the day, this opulent room is cool and dark with a crystal chandelier, pink oriental carpets, and historic paintings of scenes along the Nile. King Farouk loved the ritual of high tea and many times enjoyed macaroons, scones, crab and shrimp sandwiches and other treats in this room.
Another highlight is the Nile Terrace, the hotel’s huge block-long outdoor balcony overlooking the Nile. It was on this balcony that Carter and Lord Carnarvon first met and formed their partnership. Tea or cocktails can be enjoyed here at sunset, as feluccas, the traditional wood sailing boats, glide up and down the river, their distinctive triangular lateen sails catching the last light of the day. Luxor has dozens of horse-drawn carriages and the familiar clip-clop of horses going by only adds to the timeless quality of the hotel.
And of course, no stay would be complete without a cocktail or a Pimms in the Royal Bar. The library-inspired red room is covered with books and has amble table and chair settings for a quiet drink before dinner.
The Curse of the Pharaohs
Unfortunately, the discovery of King Tut’s tomb was the highpoint for Carter and Lord Carnarvon. Within six months, Carnarvon accidentally cut a mosquito bite while shaving. The cut became infected and his weakened body caught pneumonia. Though he was rushed to Cairo, he soon died. Reporters started a rumor that his death was the curse of the pharaohs – revenge by the ancient kings for having entered their tombs. It was said that all the electricity in Cairo went out at the moment Lord Carnarvon died. Others who worked on uncovering the tomb were also said to have died in unusual circumstances. Of course, there were no facts to the story, but Hollywood loved it, and to this day, they are still making films about a mummy’s curse.
Carter also did not fare well. He had frequent arguments with the Egyptian government, and was removed from the site, only coming back later to work his remaining years cataloging items from the tomb. His house nearby in the Valley of the Kings is now a museum detailing his accomplishments.
All 4,000 items from the tomb now reside at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and will soon all be on display together for the first time in history in the spring of 2018 at the new Grand Egyptian Museum. The new $1 billion museum marks a huge change for the treasures of Tutankhamun. But if you want to go back in time to where little has changed, book a stay at the Winter Palace.
IF YOU GO: The Winter Palace has 92 rooms and is a Sofitel with rates starting at $160 US. Nile views are the classic rooms, but the garden view rooms are also magnificent. Many rooms offer balconies. www.sofitel.com High tea is served from 4 to 6 p.m. The hotel also has a formal French-inspired restaurant, 1886 (jacket and tie required for men).
The Royal Bar is less formal, but jeans and sports shoes are discouraged. Under the current political situation, Egyptian tourism is way down and the hotel is lightly occupied. Ask Mr. Mohamed Ali, who has worked as chief concierge for 24 years, nicely, and he might give you a tour of the Royal Suite where Princess Diana stayed. The hotel is a short walk from Luxor Temple and an $8-10 horse-drawn carriage ride from the Temple of Karnak. Day trips to the nearby Valley of the Kings and King Tut’s tomb can be easily arranged.
Author Bio: After 35 years of doing public relations for Visit Denver, Rich Grant is back to his first job as a freelance travel writer and is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and the North American Travel Journalists Association. He and Irene Rawlings are co-authors of “100 Things to Do in Denver Before You Die,” Reedy Press, April 2016.