Aswan and the Old Cataract Hotel – Upper Egypt, Egypt

Where Egypt Ends: The Exotic Promise of Africa and An Edwardian Hollywood Set

Toward the south of Egypt, near the Sudanese border, the Nile becomes increasingly dramatic; the desert closes in and palm-studded islands and elephantine granite boulders lend a natural beauty and sense of occasion to Egypt’s (and once the Roman Empires) southernmost town.

Since time immemorial, Aswan’s position at the crossroads of important caravan routes gave its markets a flourishing trade in gold, slaves, and ivory. The souk still brims with spices, perfumes, and produce; it’s Egypt’s most evocative and colorful market­place after Cairo’s.

Aswan has long been a favored winter des­tination for foreigners, a restful yet exciting town, where idleness and sightseeing mingle effortlessly. Sail into antiquity aboard a tradi­tional felucca in the late afternoon, or arrange a five-day float downstream to Luxor.

Or book into Aswan’s Old Cataract Hotel, on a pictur­esque bend in the Nile. Agatha Christie was so captivated by this timeless scenario that she staged and wrote much of Death on the Nile here. When the movie adaptation was filmed, the Old Cataract Hotel was given a plum part. Everything about it suggests a marriage of Edwardian and Oriental elegance, a magical ambience that lured Aga Khan III to honey­moon here and return regularly. He even chose to be buried in Aswan, and his simple mau­soleum, one of the town’s most-visited sites, can be seen from some of the guest rooms.

While any of the refurbished rooms in the orig­inal wing will do, the individualistic suites have added drama and history. Agatha Christie’s favorite suite has a small balcony from which she could watch the sunset in pri­vacy and retreat to a small writing room at will to pen her Nile romances. And speaking of Nile romances, the Suite of a Thousand and One Nights (now known as the Winston Churchill Suite) will make you want to stay at least that long, or maybe longer.

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