It's becoming a legend now, and I must admit that I can no longer report about the Hotel Longchamps without any bias. For a number of reasons, I prefer it over the five star hotels and have actually checked out of those accommodations to head to my second home in Zamalek.
Technically, it is still a budget hotel, though the travel writers that visit it sometimes refer to it as the only Bed and Breakfast in Cairo. The facilities are certainly not as fine as those of the top five star hotels, but they are nice, with cable TV, good air conditioning, many rooms with king size beds, minifridges, some rooms with terraces as well as internet connections, direct dial phones and modern fixtures. There is an upscale restaurant and reasonably priced drinks are served in the restaurant, as well as the two main terraces. Furthermore, the facilities are kept spotlessly clean. Yet, it is not the reasonable price that lures me here.
First, it is the people. Internally, the management is caring and the personnel efficient and hospitable. They take care of their guests, making sure they are not cheated by taxi drivers or day tour operators, and will even point them to reputable stores without seeking a commission (almost unheard of in Egypt). Anyone who spends any length of time here becomes family, a term I do not use lightly. It is the feeling that comes to me as I pad through the halls in my bare feet late at night, feeling not so much like I am staying in a hotel but rather a friendly Egyptian home that I know well.
But this is only where my infatuation with this hotel begins. As I arrive, stepping from the elevator and walk down the hall to the front desk, I receive a bear hug from Hebba, the hotel's owner, and an immediate introduction to Germany's most famous poet. Said is also the president of the German Writers Association (actually P.E.N.), even though he is not originally German. This is no real surprise, however. Artists and others from the Goethe Institute, which is a well known German cultural institution, often frequent the hotel.
After meeting an architect from Australian and two ladies from New Zealand, I stroll to the summer terrace where I find Stephen Harvey and his crew from the University of Memphis who, unknown to them at that moment, will be departing for Abydos and their excavations of Ahmose I's monuments later in the week. For now, they are nervously awaiting the security clearances needed for the trip, but nevertheless enjoying their stay at the Longchamps and chatting about everything from technical Egyptology matters to their favorite foods. As the week passes, I enjoy many nice, peaceful evenings on the terrace with one or more of their group. I am sad to see them leave near the end of the week, though happy for their success in finally overcoming all the red tape associated with their dig.
The new king size beds hit the spot after a long day of meetings
As the week passes, I find the Dutch ambassador on the terrace, along with an English banker; I, not being that shy, introduce myself to a couple of interesting Argentine travelers, discover an American Doctor and her husband, both working for the World Health Organization (WHO), and many other interesting people. One night I even walk out to one of the terraces to find a social gathering of of many people from the German Embassy, including the very funny press attach, who will soon be my neighbor not so very far away in Houston, Texas.
So its the people that I love at the Longchamps. This is not a huge hotel, and the people are inclined to be friendly in this intimate setting. My prior conquests at the hotel include ambassadors and other diplomats (it should be noted that the hotel sits firmly in the center of the embassy district), famous artists, many Egyptologists and a host of interesting tourists from just about every corner of the world. It is an environment that enlivens me, and nourishes both my spirit and my mind.
Evening in the small Longchamps' restaurant
On the street, the people are friendly. This area is full of well educated Egyptians, as well as many of Egypt's better schools, though walking down the street one may be greeted in a dozen different languages.
Beyond the people, Zamalek, and this corner of Zamalek in particular, is my favorite neighborhood in Cairo. It is a quite and upscale area, with everything I need nearby and reasonably priced. Often, when touring, I find it difficult to afford five star hotels even when my room is complimentary. Everything else, from the bar to the laundry, ends up being very expensive. Here, in Zamalek, and close by the hotel, are local laundries, grocers, banks, restaurants, many bookstores, Internet Cafes, clothing shops, photo shops and even a small mall, all reasonably priced and within a very short walk, if not on the same block as the hotel. If the urge for fast food overcomes me, I can walk to the Hardies at the end of the block, or just a little further to the Pizza Hut and McDonalds. Also within easy walking distance, though just for enough away to avoid its noise, is 26th of July Street, a busier area but populated with all manner of stores and even a very nice Coffee Roasters.
Hebba and I on one of the private room terraces
It is true that my original review of this hotel made several years ago was not subject to partiality, but now this is my home in Egypt. Perhaps it is not surprising that many of the tourists who come to the hotel have Tour Egypt in common, and so there is instant familiarity, and sometimes even the love of meeting someone that I feel I know, but only from email. When in Egypt my work routine often lasts from early morning until late at night, but someday, maybe I can visit the Longchamps and simply sit for a week on the lovely terraces, and meet the travelers I love so much.
The Hotel Longchamps
21, Ismail Mohamed St., Zamalek, Cairo
Phone: 202-735-2311 or 202-735-2312