The Hotel Longchamps, an Update for 2006
by Jimmy Dunn
Every few years, I feel prone to write an update about my home away from home in Cairo, the Hotel Longchamps. I can no longer refer to these as reviews, as I must admit to being somewhat prejudice and yet, I think I am prejudice for a reason. Every time I make my way into Zamalek and up the old elevators to the Hotel Longchamps, the place has changed, and always for the better. Year after year it has improved. And, of course, I am not the only one who thinks of the Hotel Longchamps as home. A growing number of Egyptologists, artists, diplomats and business people feel the same way. In fact, reservations should be made well in advance these days, as rooms are usually not available on a moment's notice.
There have been a number of attempts in Cairo to copy this three star hotel, with its excellent service, fine decor and many amenities usually only found in better five star hotels. Alas, in my view, these efforts by others have come up short, if for no other reason than poor location. The Hotel Longchamps is a Boutique Hotel in a boutique section of Cairo, upscale Zamalek, noted for its wealthy neighborhoods, embassies, private schools and best of all, fine shops and restaurants.
One needs not walk far from the Hotel Longchamps to find several of Cairo's best bookshops, antique shops, unique jewelry, fine clothing or even a reasonable steak. In this garden area of Cairo, teenage kids dressed in the latest fashions hang out at the local Hardees, and down the street one can even purchase a Harley Davidson from Cairo's only dealer. I have to also mention the Askar Digital Photo Centre, just three doors down from the Longchamps, where the manager took several hours out of his busy schedule one day to help me with a tricky photographic problem, and then charged me almost nothing for his efforts. This is my favorite section of Cairo and few hotels, irregardless of rating, can boast of a better location.
Of course, the location of the Hotel Longchamps would be of no avail were it not for the quality of the hotel itself. Many years ago, Hebba Bakri, its owner, inherited the property from her mother. Frankly, at that time the hotel was rather run down, and one might even say that its reputation was somewhat lacking. Indeed, guides such as the Lonely Planet said as much, even years after that was no longer true. In taking over the hotel, Hebba brought with her a number of personal assets.
As a well educated Egyptian, whose father had been a pillar of the Egyptian tourism industry, Hebba had worked at several of the finest hotels in Egypt, such as the Mena House, and later served Lufthansa, the German airline, as public relations director for the Middle East. Well traveled and well versed in the tourism industry, Hebba speaks a number of languages, including English, German and French, fluently. She also insists that her staff be multilingual. She certainly leans a bit towards a European attitude about most things, and her strong German ties reveal themselves in the cleanliness of the Hotel Longchamps. Today, her skills as a hotel manager and operator have also been rewarded with positions on various Egyptian Hotel Association committees.
These days, the Hotel Longchamps certainly reveals Hebba's talent, and her constant efforts for improvement. I was surprised to find on my latest trip to Egypt several months ago, free high speed wireless internet at the hotel, a service not offered by many of the finest hotels in Egypt. There is also a modern public computer with a flat screen monitor, also connected to the internet, for those who might have left their laptops at home. Yet, that was only the first of many obvious improvements.
Though I consider the Longchamps my home in Cairo, every time I return my home has changed. Over the years, these changes have resulted in a new, nice hotel restaurant, improvements to the common areas, including the two excellent terraces, and many small details throughout the facility. There are always the details, such as little corners with new plants, new art on the walls, a vase here, or a new table there. This time there was new wood flooring in the reception and hall area, but as usual, some of the most dramatic improvements were in the rooms themselves.
For example, new bathroom amenities are in all the rooms, and some rooms now have completely remodeled bathrooms that rival the very best of the five star hotels. Many of the executive rooms have new furnishings and accessories. Of course, the reason we refer to the Longchamps as a boutique hotel, what might be referred to as a Bed and Breakfast in the US, is because all of the rooms are different, each with its own sort of special atmosphere, some better suited to business people, diplomats or Egyptologists needing desk space, while others are perhaps more geared to the casual tourist. Hebba, the hotel and the neighborhood where the Longchamps is located have produced an interesting and eclectic sort of clientele, and really, this is one of the reasons I love this place.
On any quiet, Cairo evening I might wander out onto the terrace to find an old friend I have not seen in some time, often an Egyptologist on their way to a season of excavation at some remote site, but I am also always meeting someone new. This time I met Beat Coradi, a Swiss medical doctor whose large family comes to Egypt to volunteer their services to orphan and other children in Middle Egypt (Praxisgemeinschaft Affoltern). However, people are always friendly out on the Longchamp terraces.
On another night, I was also invited to sit and have a few drinks with some young Egyptian professionals. On this trip I also had the pleasure to meet one of the leading hotel consultants working in Egypt, and the new incoming director of the Goethe Institute of Cairo, and really, because of the nature of this visit to Egypt, I was only able to spend a limited time at the hotel, as we were mostly off in other parts of Egypt for our Survey of Egypt.
OK, admittedly its my home in Cairo. In fact, sometimes when I walk in after too long an absence, and I am hugged by staff members who themselves have become family; I see all the familiar faces and without asking served up a vodka with freshly squeezed orange juice on ice to wash the long journey away, it feels more like home than my real home in Texas. Its really good for my soul, lifting up my spirits and when I finally leave, perhaps feeling like a little more important person than before I arrived. Its how one gets pampered at the Hotel Longchamps.
See Also Past Updates and Reviews of the Hotel Longchamps:
- First Review of the Hotel Longchamps
- The Hotel Longchamps Revisited
- Home to the Hotel Lonchamps
- The Hotel Longchamps Revisited Again (2005)