An oasis of peace within chaotic Giza, the Marriott Mena House hotel in the Egyptian capital of Cairo combines five-star luxury with equally five-star views.
From strolling through the lush garden grounds to lounging on private balconies, guests have a constant companion in one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – the Great Pyramids.
This extraordinary hotel started life as a royal hunting lodge until the 1880s, when the estate was bought by an English couple who transformed and expanded it into a luxury hotel to capitalise on Egypt’s rising tourism market.
Since then, Mena Hotel, now Marriott Mena House, has attracted an A to Z of the world’s most famous faces – and has played host to several important moments in history.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt met there in 1943 to plan D-Day, and the hotel still has a room named in his honour.
Other A-list guests over the years have included authors Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and Evelyn Waugh, royalty from Britain, Egypt, Sweden, Italy, and Ethiopia, movie stars Sir Roger Moore and Charlie Chaplin, and singer Frank Sinatra.
The hotel’s simple sand-coloured exterior belies its historic past and luxurious present, but the inside is somewhat grander.
It’s the hallways, not the furnishings, that draw the eye. Or, more precisely, the black-and-white photos hanging on the walls, telling a story of the rich and fascinating history of both Egypt and the hotel.
Forty acres of Jasmine-scented gardens swathe the building in lush greenery, cooling palm trees, and shimmering water features that are at odds with the desert landscape. And, of course, beyond the gardens is the awe-inspiring backdrop of the Pyramids.
Book a room with a pyramid view. Although you can see them while walking around the grounds, there is something particularly magical about waking up in the morning, stepping onto your private balcony in a Marriott-branded dressing gown and slippers, and staring out at one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World while sipping a coffee.
The Deluxe Partial Pyramid View rooms are the best value for money. While the room’s design is in keeping with the history and the location – white walls, dark wooden furniture, and sepia photos – it does somewhat lack the sparkle expected from five-star luxury.
An update and an upgrade are sorely needed. And, in the words of an estate agent, the size is definitely “cosy”. However, with those views, you won’t – and shouldn’t – spend much time in the room itself.
While the rooms might drop a star or two, the service certainly doesn’t. A warm welcome greets you when you arrive as you’re helped with your bags into a golf cart and whisked up the long drive to reception.
There is also an attentiveness that is not exclusively reserved for Marriott members, such as towels shaped into hearts, beds scattered with rose petals, and personal touches like cakes for special occasions.
The staff are incredibly kind and keen to help, from offering advice about booking taxis and tour guides to sharing stories about the hotel’s history and Egyptian culture.
As with the rooms, the views make up for the quality when it comes to Marriott Mena House’s dining options. With Italian, Indian, and International restaurants, there is plenty of choice, but none particularly stand out.
The culinary highlight is the seemingly endless and varied buffet breakfast that includes cooked-to-order pancakes, an egg and waffle station, pastries, fresh fruit and juice, yoghurts, and a chance to sample Egyptian dishes.
Arrive either early or late to sit at a table with a beautiful view of the gardens, the pond – which started life as Egypt’s first ever swimming pool – and, you guessed it, the Pyramids. It’s perfect with a cocktail in hand.
Views aside, the facilities – from athe pa to a 24-hour fitness centre (where you can work out with yet another glimpse of the Pyramids) aren’t anything to write home about.
The pool, however, is a real gem. Refreshing in summer and heated in winter, it is a deep blue millpond lined by palm trees, with an elegant waterfall feature and an on-site bar.
The best time to swim is at sunset, just before the pool closes, when the water blushes pink, the sky burns with fire, and the gardens chitter with cicadas.