on July 25, 2004
The Mena House Hotel was originally built in the mid-19th century, as a lodge for the Khedive Ismail, who used it during hunting expeditions or visits to the Pyramids at Giza. It entered private ownership in the 1880s and was converted into a hotel a few years later. Over the years it has played host to a number of distinguished visitors - during World War II, President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill met there to discuss strategy.
We'd heard that this was a fabulous hotel and we weren't disappointed! Firstly, the location is amazing - a leisurely stroll to the Great Pyramid will take all of 5 minutes. Indeed, the proximity to the pyramids can dominate your stay here. Whether at breakfast, lounging in the swimming pool or enjoying a pre-dinner drink in the bar, you may find yourself glancing over at the top of the Great Pyramid in a kind of "just making sure it’s still there" way! Even at night, when obscured by the darkness, you are aware of the pyramids’ almost sentient presence nearby.
The decoration in the public rooms is quite opulent and the hotel has retained much of its original Oriental/Arabic style décor, including beautiful woodwork screens, brass fittings, tile and mirror work. The room we stayed, while retaining that oriental feel, was less highly decorated but comfortable, spacious, high-ceilinged and with a lovely, cool bathroom. Depending on the price, you can get rooms, or even suites (amazing, the size of a small flat!) overlooking the pyramids, and there is also a newer garden annex, without pyramid views.
The hotel has a number of restaurants, including the Moghul Room (superb Indian cuisine), the Khan el Khalili Restaurant (a kind of a western-style brasserie), and the Oasis BBQ Grill, by the pool, which at night serves Lebanese and Egyptian starters then a mixture of freshly grilled meat and fish dishes. However, though the food was excellent, the menus didn't really include a lot of Egyptian cuisine, though you could have fuul beans, falafal and tahini for breakfast.
On the negative side, the hotel is quite far from the centre of Cairo, so you are rather reliant on taxis to get around. You can book these through the hotel reception, though this does increase the cost, or flag one down on the road outside. It cost us between 30 and 45LE (about £2.70 to £4.00) to travel between the hotel and central Cairo, and the journey took between 20 to 30 minutes depending on traffic.
It is an expensive place to stay, both in terms of room cost and food/drink prices, particularly by Cairo standards - a three-course meal in any of the restaurants will cost about £20.00 to £25.00 each. However, overall, I would say that the service and ambience makes it worthwhile. The hotel is luxurious with a relaxing atmosphere, excellent amenities and extremely friendly, helpful staff. If you want to treat yourself, I would definitely recommend it.
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