Sleeping in history: Egypt’s vintage hotels

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Egypt has been attracting tourists for nearly as long as the pyramids have been around.

The ancient Greek author Herodotus, the spiritual father of travel writing, called it “the gift of the river” Nile.

Roman travelers carved graffiti into paranoiac tombs in the Valley of the Kings, leaving comments similar to what you might find on Yelp or TripAdvisor today.

“There had always been a trickle of intrepid travelers,” says Andrew Humphreys, author of “On the Nile: In the Golden Age of Travel” and “Grand Hotels of Egpyt: In the Golden Age of Travel.”

“But that became a steady flow in the wake of the publication of a profusely illustrated work on the country prepared by scientists and artists who accompanied Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798.”

“Particularly from the 1880s onwards, the number of visitors to Egypt boomed, when it became the fashionable destination for tourists who had done Europe and were looking for the next chic thing.”

One of the spin offs of Egypt becoming the next big thing in tourism was the emergence of elegant hotels up and down the Nile, virtual palaces that catered to the whims and fancies of Victorian-era travelers.

“Given that it was really only the wealthy that could afford to travel, the hotels were almost like private clubs in which people of similar class and breeding met and socialized, with the local setting adding color and spice,” Humphreys explains.

The hotels were typically run by fellow Europeans, maybe even a fellow national.

The French would stay at French-run hotels, the English at English-run, and so on – offering a degree of familiarity and security in a country that was very strange and foreign.

“From the safety of their balconies and terraces, guests could observe the native life with a brandy in hand while being serenaded by a string quartet in the corner,” says Humphreys.

They were also strategically located – beside the River Nile, on the Mediterranean seafront, near the pyramids or ancient temples – to take full advantage of the historical location of Egypt’s dreamy views.

Many of Egypt’s grand hotels fell on hard times after World War II when the Suez Crisis and the Arab-Israeli wars caused a downturn in Middle East tourism.

But this slump probably spared many of them the wrecking ball.

Rather than being knocked down and replaced by something more modern, a good number of the Victorian and Edwardian abodes survived into the 21st century and eventual resurrection into modern hotels that are now some of the most romantic, intriguing places to stay in all of Egypt.

Here are nine historic hotels that made the leap into modern times:

Mena House, Giza

Opened in 1886, Mena House went on to boast Egypt's first hotel swimming pool.