I recently reviewed a gem of a boutique hotel, Le Riad, in Gamilaya, the medieval Islamic Cairo. It sits on the main street of El Muizz, which stretches from the city gates of Bab el-Futah to Bab Zuewelia.
The area nearby is the mad bazaar of Khan al-Khalili and is a pedestrian zone (mostly, excluding taxis, wild boys on motorbikes, donkey carts and horse drays) that was, until very recently, potholed and filled with the soup of a handful of centuries.
So when a Frenchwoman and her Syrian partner found this 1960s apartment block, it was home to 81 people, the rooftop serving its usual Egyptian occupation – as a rubbish dump. Now the rooftop is a chic Arabesque-meets-Bel-Air garden terrace that looks over some of the city’s oldest mosques, including the mosque of Al-Aqmar, which dates from 1125. You can see minarets from the Fatamid, Mamluk and Ottoman periods, the citadel and the waterfront hotels that line the Nile.
Lovers of white, despair! Veronique has one of the most energetic and exciting visions of colour ever to be seen in a hotel – and it all works. She is amazing! Each room is a vivid colour, either mid-blues or hot pink, eggy yellow or rich reds. They’re named after periods such as the Ottoman or Pharonic suite, or after people and personalities – the singer Omm Kolthoum, a Bedouin room, the bellydancers’ room…
She can tell you where every chair came from, what period the reproductions are modelled on, from Pharonic furniture to chic 1950s. She sourced all the photos, paintings, the detailed touches like the antique typewriter in the Nagib Mafouz suite (winner of the Nobel prize for Literature).
She’s taken the bulky silver necklaces of the oases women and box framed them for dramatic effect, the light fittings are enormous and super-glam, and she serves the best pastries in Cairo, discovered after an extensive search. “I would be looking at pain au chocolate and would have to ask, ‘Is that a pastry or a roast chicken?'” she said over dinner. Her driver picks them up from a bakery near the Four Seasons First Residence, Giza, every morning, and it’s worth the effort.
There are just 17 suites, and it’s not cheap, ok? The standard suites are E240 up to E300 for the superior suites. But in a city characterised by big five-stars and slummy dives (with the notable exception of the lovely budget Pension Roma) and the Talisman Hotel, a former project by the same dynamic duo, it’s a welcome addition to the Cairo scene (and hello, Kartell opens a shop here in a few weeks, too!) Anyway, here are the pix – you be the judge.