Hotel Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah
Review, photos, design and history of the luxury hotel in Egypt's capital
Article added on June 1, 2012
A few historic facts
Situated in Zamalek, Downtown Cairo, at the
tip of the quiet El Gezirah island in the Nile, five minutes by taxi from
the Egyptian Museum, the luxurious Hotel Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah
offers 433 rooms in a contemporary design. The Pyramids are just 16km away.
The hotel shares Gezirah Island with the Museum of the 1952 Revolution
(Nasser), the private Cairo Club and a recreational area owned by the
Al-Gezira or Gezirah is the Arabic word for island. According to
Cairo's Gezirah was once attached to the Giza shore of the Nile and not a
proper island. Only during the August to October floods, three islands
regularly appeared. The construction of embankments south of Gezirah merged
the three islands into one. After the building of Gezirah Palace by Khedive
Ismail in 1866, the island was transformed into a public park in 1875, laid
out by the khedivial court landscaper Gustave Delchevalerie.
Among the first to view the Zamalek area
as a possible future business district was the Swiss hotelier Charles Baehler who,
during a certain period, owned most Egyptian luxury hotels, including Shepheard's on the Nile corniche in Cairo,
the Winter Palace in Luxor and the
Old Cataract in Aswan. In addition, the Swiss built
residential and commercial buildings, including the Baehler Mansions in
As for Hotel Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah,
it is a late 20th century addition to the Nile island. It started in 1977 as
a Sofitel project. The French rented the land from the Egyptian government.
According to the original contract, after a period of 50 years, the land and
building would have become again a property of the Egyptian government.
The hotel contractor was the French Tanee company. Before the hotel was
finished, it changed hands. In 1984, it became a Sheraton and opened as such
in October of that same year with a 20-year contract. When it expired in
2004, the French Accor group, the parent company of Sofitel, became the new
owner. Accor owns a 65%-share in the Gezirah Sofitel, the rest is
divided among investors from Saudi Arabia.
After a full renovation and a full refurbishment with a new concept, new
rooms and public areas, the property reopened in 2005 as El Gezirah Hotel and changed
its name to Hotel Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah in 2007 with a lavish party with
some 2000 guests.
The present-day Hotel Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah
A hotel is about location, location, location. If we leave aside the
Mena House, Winter Palace and
Old Cataract, Hotel
Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah has together with the
Mövenpick Resort Aswan the best location of all modern hotels in Egypt.
Hotel Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah was built as a cylindrical steel structure with a concrete core,
with ten concrete columns supporting the walls and with the floors in concrete.
It has been fully modernized and refurbished by the French designer
Pierre-Yves Rochon. The hotel offers complimentary Wifi throughout the
hotel, in all rooms and public areas.
Situated on a Nile island, surrounded and protected by water, Hotel Sofitel
Cairo El Gezirah is a peaceful retreat in the heart of the buzzing 20
million people capital. It offers spectacular Cairo views to all sides. The
hotel is ideal for discrete meetings because it is free standing and can
easily be protected. I had a look at the golden book. Since the hotel
prefers to keep high level, political meetings secret, let's just mention
that the Sofitel in Cairo is regularly used for formal and informal
gatherings. The range of celebrities is wide, spanning from the King of
Spain to French actress Juliette Binoche, Bollywood star Celina Jaitley and
American celebrity Paris Hilton.
One of my favorite hotel views is towards the Pyramids, which are just 16km
away. That's why I chose one of the 35 Prestige Suite with Pyramids view; room 2501 to be precise. The higher up you are, the more impressive the
view gets. I remember ceramic tiles in 2501, a shower tray in grey Egyptian
marble, Occitane amenities (as throughout the hotel), furniture in MDF wood,
Egyptian board walls in an olive color as well as large Philips flat screen
TVs in both the bedroom and the living room. Only the balconies throughout
the hotel are too small. You can just step outside and have a breathtaking
look around. They are big enough for one chair, but there is not enough
space far a table with two chairs to have breakfast outside. I suggested
that they should enlarge some of them, especially in the suites, which
feature more than one balcony, which could be combined.
If you have deep pockets, check out one of the 10 Oprah Suites with
Arabesque style chairs in Massive wood such as room 2516. My favorite rooms
are the 5 Imperial Suites (I had a look at 2507). They all feature
black granite floors, marble sinks, a Jacuzzi and a separate shower,
arabesque Massive black cupboards, a huge sitting area with natural leather
chairs, cotton sofas and printed fabrics on the walls.
The original Sheraton featured 520 rooms. Sofitel reduced the number to 433.
Three rooms each were merged to create a Prestige Suite, four rooms for an
Oprah Suite and five rooms for each of the Imperial Suites.
The “Paris - Le Caire” photographs displayed throughout the hotel were made
by the French photographer Patrick Longueville. His books are on display in
all rooms and suites. He donated the proceeds to the Foundation Soeur
Emanuelle, which takes care of people living in Cairo's slums
The best part of Sofitel El Gezirah are the hotel restaurants and bars,
partly with sitting areas directly on the Nile, something neither the nearby
Cairo Semiramis, Shepheard's Rocco Forte, Kempinski, Four Seasons nor
Fairmont can offer.
The Moroccan Restaurant at Hotel Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah
With seven restaurants under the direction of the French head chef Jean Luc Bagueneau,
Hotel Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah offers something for every taste.
Incidentally, among the restaurants regulars is Egypt's 1999 Noble Prize
winner in Chemistry, Ahmed Zewail.
On my first day, I tested the Moroccan Restaurant La Palmeraie. I had
a short conversation with its female chef, the Moroccan Dia Bouchemama
(*1968). When asked how she decided to become a chef, she told me that her
aunt used to be a famous chef at the legendary Hotel La Mamounia in
Marrakech, where Dia herself went for an internship. She has been working
for Sofitel since 2009 and turned La Palmeraie in one of the best
Moroccan restaurants. No more questions asked!
As for the dinner, I fondly remember sweet tomato with almonds and
eggplants, artichokes with garlic, zucchini, mixed (cooked) salads, sweet
peppers and Brixette cheese with a tomato sauce to dip. I also tried a
traditional, vegetarian couscous with carrots, eggplants, cabbage and other
vegetables as well as an excellent, hot Tifaya with caramelized onions,
raisins, almonds and cinnamon. Try out La Palmeraie!
El Kebabgy restaurant
On my second day, I paid a visit to El Kebabgy restaurant. As a vegetarian, I
obviously did not go for a traditional barbecue, but for vegetarian dishes
in the renown restaurant with violet chairs and curtains. I remember a Taboulé with parsley, onion, mint, crushed wheat, lemon and olive oil;
Hommos, a paste of chick peas, with Tehina; Fattouch, an oriental salad with
fried break cubes and summak; Babaganoug, grilled eggplants with lemon,
olive oil and oriental, mixed spices; Bosara, crushed beans with
garlic, chopped parsley, potatoes and fried onions; Tehina, a sesame paste
enhanced with lemon juice and cumin; Falafel; Tagen vine leaves stuffed with
mixed rice, coriander, parsley, dill and tomatoes.
In short, whether you like an Egyptian kebab or traditional vegetarian
dishes, you won't leave El Kebabgy hungry. As for all the Sofitel's
restaurants, tables on the banks of the Nile with a great atmosphere are
The world is small
I did not have the chance to meet the French General Manager Laurent Bétourné,
who was traveling abroad. My main contact was the Egyptian public relations
manager Zenab El Borai, who offered me a first class VIP treatment. The world is small.
To my surprise, I
had the chance to exchange some words with her in my native Swiss
dialect, Züritütsch, to be precise, because she spent an important
part of her education in Zurich. Hotel Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah has staff
fluent in many languages, including Swiss German dialects!
Books about Cairo and Egypt from
sheet music and sheet music inspired by Egypt.
Hotel Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah, 3 El Thawra Council St Zamalek, Downtown
Cairo, Po Box 732 El Orman Giza, 11518 Cairo, Egypt.
The famous Deck.
Photo © Hotel Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah.
The lobby of the luxury hotel. Photo © Hotel Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah.
View of the Egpytian restaurant. Photo © Hotel Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah.
View of the Kebabgy restaurant. Photo © Hotel Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah.
Nile and pool view. Photo © Hotel Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah.
View of a massage room. I fondly remember a fine oriental massage by Esmat,
the Egyptian masseuse. Photo © Hotel Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah.
The hotel pool. Photo © Hotel Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah.
Aerial view of the El Gezirah island.
Photo © Hotel Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah.
The Buddah Bar. It offers my favorite design throughout the hotel. The
restaurant features Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese specialties. The bar offers a
large selection of wines, champagnes, whiskies, cocktails and non-alcoholic
drinks. In May 2012, at the ”Champions
of Service Quality Awards”
ceremony, Buddah Bar was recognized
as best fine Dinning Restaurant and received a
Golden Mena Award.
That's a place to go back to! Photo © Hotel Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah.
The upper floor of the Buddah Bar. Photo © Hotel Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah.
The bedroom of an Opera Suite. Photo © Hotel Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah.
The living and dining room of an Opera Suite. Photo ©
Hotel Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah.
View of a Superior Room, the most affordable room category available at the
luxury hotel. I remember grey ceramic tiles and Egyptian Galala marble in the
bathroom. The doors, bed and other furniture are in MDF wood. All rooms offer a
kettle for complimentary teas and Nescafés. Photo © Hotel Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah.
View of one of 35 Prestige Suites. I stayed in one with Pyramids view; the world
heritage is some 16km away. Photo ©
Hotel Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah.
The Window of the Nile outdoor area. Photo © Hotel Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah.
- Books about Cairo and Egypt from
The Imperial Suite living room. Photo © Hotel Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah.
The Imperial Suite bathroom. Photo © Hotel Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah.
- Books about Cairo and Egypt from
Restaurant view. Photo © Hotel Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah.
The view from the pool towards the Nile. Photo © Hotel Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah.