This is not our first, or even our second review of the Hotel Longchamps in Zamalek, a favorite of the Tour Egypt staff, a number of Egyptologists, travel writers, diplomats and business people, as well as independent travelers in the know. When we first visited the Hotel Longchamps some years ago, we were reviewing budget hotels throughout Egypt. There are some good ones spread about, but we found the Hotel Longchamps to be the best of them. Since then, it has been our hotel of choice when working in Cairo, and we have come to know the hotel and its staff very well. However, it has been a couple of years since we have done an update on this hotel.It is really difficult to call the Hotel Longchamps a budget hotel these days, even though it is still budget priced and still carries only three stars. The reason that it is only ranked with three stars is a technical issue related to how the government of Egypt ranks hotels. Specifically, the hotel would have to occupy the ground floor of the building it is in, which it doesn't and it would have to have facilities such as a swimming pool, which it does not. Of course, neither do most of the best Bed and Breakfast facilities in the US, or what are known as Boutique hotels in Europe, and this is exactly the image that the Hotel Longchamps is after. The Hotel Longchamps is a small hotel, which explains why tour operators cannot use the hotel for large groups, and so usually private arrangements must be made for accommodations.
Because of its small size and popularity, bookings should be made well in advance, if possible. What is amazing about this hotel is that it is constantly being updated and remodeled, not in a disturbingly big way that would disturb the guests, but nevertheless very consistently. In many ways, it bears little resemblance to the hotel where I originally stayed for the first time some years ago. Every time that I visit it, and I stay there just about every time I am in Egypt, sometimes for the entire time, there are new updates. In March, 2004 when I stayed for three weeks, there was a very nice new restaurant and bar newly created out of an area that had been used for storage for some years. The last time I was there in December 2004, carpets in parts of the common area had been pulled up, and the old wooden floors beneath had been restored.
On the previous visit, I had noted that some of the windows looking out on the back terrace were getting a little ragged, though they were clean and freshly painted. This time, they had been replaced with new ones, and the area just inside, where the restaurant was once located, had also gotten a makeover. The bright, comfortable and large rooms are also constantly being updated, and I was able to inspect (and stayed in) several of the rooms that had just gotten this treatment. All of them appear to be equipped with modern color cable television, modern direct dial phones, most if not all with internet connections, well appointed baths and comfortable, mini-fridges and modern furnishings, frequently including little extras. As one might expect in a Bed and Breakfast or a Boutique Hotel, no two rooms are alike and each has their own appeal and personality, as does the hotel as a whole.
Also, everywhere one looks, there are many little plants and decorations that add to the ambiance of the hotel, and there is also its location to consider. It is locate in the heart of Zamalek, one of the most upscale areas of Cairo in a neighborhood full of embassies and fine shops, all within walking distance. But the facilities of the Hotel Longchamps is only one of the reasons so many people fall in love with this hotel.
There is a feeling of a laid back atmosphere here, even as Hebba, its owner, zooms about making sure everything is just so. It is a small enough hotel that one naturally meets up with many of the guests, usually out on one of the terraces, and they can be an amazing lot. Sitting out on the back terrace, one is more than likely to meet a fairly well known Egyptologist on his or her way to or from an important dig, a European artist, a classical Belgium singer, a German diplomat, a travel writer from New York or simply an interesting tourist, usually better informed than those typically horded about Egypt in big tourist busses. And then, of course, there is the staff, including Hebba herself, the owner and manager who seems to always be at the hotel, speaking to tourists in a half dozen languages, including fine English, accentless German, French, Italian and of course Arabic. She apparently gives language courses to her staff, who do very well themselves, and there is no tolerance for poor guest relations. One must understand that Hebba not only has a long history in the hotel business, in fact, taking over this hotel from her mother after working in such notable hotels as the Mena House, but she was trained in customer relations by Lufthansa, the German airline. Yes, I must admit to being a bit prejudiced in my view of the Hotel Longchamps after all these years of staying there when I'm in Cairo. It is my home away from home, but I am not alone. Its not unusual for me to run into people I now call old friends, such as Stephen Harvey, the Oriental Institute Egyptologist who does important work at Abydos, who I first met there, or "Hoose" Stryjack, Egypt travel writer extraordinaire responsible for the well known Marco Polo guide in Europe, who first introduced me to the hotel.
This is where the Egyptomaniacs gather when I'm in Cairo, and I often enjoy running into Tour Egypt readers who are sometimes even surprised that my glowing reports of the Hotel Longchamps are really not exaggerated. The Hotel is an experience that only a visit can truly reveal.