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A plaintive email winged its way into our inbox this week. “When does the Ritz-Carlton in Cairo open?” it asked wearily.
As well it might. You may have forgotten about the property, it’s been so long in the making. Originally a Hilton, it switched brands in 2009, with the intention of carrying out a two-year renovation while hosting guests.
That didn’t happen. In 2011, when this photo of the hotel's shell was taken, as Travel Weekly reported, it was still shuttered, due to Egypt’s political unrest. The company moved the opening date to 2013, hoping that its location near Tahrir Square would, again, be a plus point.
And so we’re at stalemate.
A tipster pointed us in the direction of this “breaking news” story on Hyatt’s website claiming “unresolved contractual disputes with the hotel’s owner” for ducking out.
For several weeks Hyatt has been attempting resolution through a series of urgent communications with the hotel owner, Saudi Egyptian Touristic Development Company. Regrettably, resolution of the disputes has not been possible.
Could it maybe be over the issue of booze?
However, Egyptophiles, don’t lose heart just yet. The story also notes:
It is unfortunate that the contractual disputes have not been resolved, forcing us to exit this property, but this does not diminish how important Egypt is and will remain to the Hyatt brand. We will continue to operate two Hyatt hotels in Egypt, and are interested in pursuing new development opportunities there.
Not a sight you want to see from your hotel room
So we’re guessing that Egypt isn’t top of your must do travel list for the near future, because although things are looking a lot better for the remaining tourists than the locals, the situation sounds nothing if not grim.
Although we haven’t seen any specific hotels named since the Sheraton was caught in the middle of the fray last week, in Cairo, there are tales of hotels locking their doors, shutting down elevators, telling tourists to take shelter on the roof and posting guards armed with water cannons in case flares are shot at the buildings, while the tourists gather to watch the protests and sip on free drinks laid on by the hotel.
It’s not just Cairo, either. According to CNN, “tension is beginning to build” in tourist hotspot Luxor, too. And last night, it appeared that security was being stepped up in holiday central Sharm El Sheikh, with a BBC correspondent reporting that by the time he came back from dinner, his hotel had been "barricaded".
Frightening riots and protests are taking place in Cairo today as Egyptians continue to demand for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.
The city's downtown Tahrir Square saw a particularly scary stand-off between protesters and government security forces today who used tear gas, water cannons and sound grenades.
The Sheraton Cairo on Giza Avenue was at one point caught in the middle of the fray as government troops blocked entry to the El Gala Bridge over a section of the Nile River. The Globe and Mail reports:
Wave after wave of people charged at the troops, throwing no rocks and using no violence, only shouting at the forces. They then were beaten back by a particularly strong tear gas.
The crowd was remarkably determined to advance despite the painful experience. By about the eighth charge, the police parted and let the crowd cross on the bridge.
The first is the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr in Abu Dhabi – that unusual name means "Gateway to the Sea" so you can guess that it's a beachfront hotel. There's a private beach and two swimming pools if relaxing is on your agenda, but it's also easy to visit the gold markets, a nearby mosque or trek out on a desert safari. Until the end of the year nightly rates start from $230 as an opening special.
Near Cairo, the Fairmont Towers Heliopolis has just had a major addition. Working around the original hotel while it was still operating, some magic builders have now created a fancy new conference center and 247 new hotel rooms right next door, and judging by this pic it is something special.
The architect got into the idea of the hotel being in Heliopolis, which means "city of the sun", by incorporating lines like sunrays into the design and even including sun motifs throughout. The new restaurant and café are impressive too: there's an artificial river running through the Aqua e Luce restaurant and Café Heliopolis is right in the center of the atrium entrance. Oh, and it even serves camel milk ice cream.
Advance purchase internet rates start at $136 a night, and they also have a few packages going: we like the bed and breakfast package (starting at $200 a night for a double) because it literally includes a full breakfast in bed, and the romance deal (with wine and cheese and a lovely late 4pm checkout) starts from $210 a night.
“Cairo” and “tranquil” – not two words we’d normally associate with each other. At least, we didn’t until news of Villa Belle Epoque plopped into our inbox this morning.
It’s opening on March 21st and calls itself “Cairo’s first boutique hotel” – boutique meaning a 1920s villa with just just 13 period-style rooms, chandeliers, lots of balconies, and date palms and mango trees in the gardens. Foodwise, you can choose from Egyptian, Oriental, Italian and French; and there’ll even be a high tea served on the bank of the Nile on offer, as well as felucca boat trips at sunset.
We're looking forward to the new year; January 1st is traditionally a day for renewed hope and fresh beginnings, and no one is taking more advantage of this than Cairo's Nile Hilton. When the clock strikes midnight (Egypt time, of course), the 431-room historic hotel on the shores of the epic River Nile will become the Ritz-Carlton Nile Hotel.
As the first Ritz-Carlton in Egypt's capital city, The Nile Hotel will have to dust off its top hat and tails to remain a leader in Cairo and keep pace with the 5-star standard of Ritz-Carlton. What does this mean, exactly? It means sweet, sweet renovation of course. Beginning in mid-2009, the hotel will begin an ambitious 2-year revamp, while continuing to host guests. Although there will no doubt be angry TripAdvisor reviews about the construction, you just can't flip a Hilton into a Ritz without a little elbow grease (and a lot of brocade).
In case you're wondering why Ritz-Carlton picked this old Hilton as their new property, we refer you to its breathtaking view of the Nile and the abundance of hookahs they keep poolside. Too bad they didn't add belly dancers to the room service menu; then they probably would have gotten five-star status without the help of Ritz-Carlton.
[Photo: Etihad Holidays]
Back in June we were stunned to hear that the owner of the Grand Hyatt Cairo committed the biggest party foul EVER by dumping out the remaining bottles of liquor from the hotel, worth nearly $1 million, into the Nile River.
Aside from getting unsuspecting fish drunk, Sheik Abdelaziz al-Brahim also said the hotel would no longer serve alcohol ever again, in accordance with the Islamic ban on alcohol.
Fortunately, someone has woken up and smelled the absinthe. The owner has struck an agreement with Hyatt to serve alcohol in the hotel's restaurant on the 40th floor. This restaurant will actually be a Hyatt enterprise so the sheik doesn't have to be involved in the sale of alcohol. Guests can also order alcohol through room service.
While it's not quite the "Shorty, let me buy you a drank" vibe we were hoping for, getting drunk in a secluded restaurant on the 40th floor or in our private rooms will suffice.
PARTY FOUL, MAN: the owner of the Grand Hyatt Cairo recently decided to ban liquor from his hotel. Citing religious reasons, the Saudi owner showed everyone he was totally serious by reportedly pouring over one million dollars-worth of beer, wine and whisky into the Nile River.
One million dollars. Into the river.
Dude, COME. ON. There are thirsty men and women in America; why'd you have to go and be that guy by dumping all that precious nectar into a @#$%!*# river?
According to the LA Times, the Egyptian Hotel Association is all like "oh hells no":
The move is a gesture to bring his business into conformity with Islamic standards. That may be so, but the Egyptian Hotel Assn. has its own rules. The organization has given [the owner] an ultimatum: Either put the liquor back by July 2 or have his hotel demoted from five to two stars
Ha! That'll show him: take away stars from his hotel to depress him so much that he'll want to drink away his sorrows. Well played, Egyptian Hotel Association.
Meanwhile, we're wondering if the Nile tastes delicious right now.
Alcohol may be on the brink of extinction at Egyptian hotels, if the worst fears of tourism officials there come true: After the Saudi owner of the Grand Hyatt Cairo banned the sale of alcohol at the hotel, destroying millions of dollars of the stuff in the process, officials now worry that other properties may soon follow, the BBC reports.
It's unknown why the owner had staff pour bottle upon bottle of wine and liquor down drains, though some suspect it may have something to do with Egypt's enormous Muslim population, which is barred from consuming alcohol, even in cooking, according to the Koran. Supporters say foreign visitors "should respect the local custom," while critics argue that "just as Muslims expect to be served Halal food on international flights, they should be prepared to respect the desires of their Western guests," the BBC writes.
Hyatt has, of course, asked for the decision to be overturned, fearing that Western tourists won't stay at the property and that it may lose its five-star rating, the BBC says.
If the ban does catch on, we expect staying at a hotel in Egypt will be like an overnight at any Disney property--and they're certainly not hurting for business. Plus, guest reviews of the hotel are nothing but raves. Though we do worry: first alcohol; what's next--porn?