The hotel’s celebrity list reads like a who’s who of all worlds – Roger Moore stayed here when filming The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), John Travolta opened Egypt’s first disco here back in 1972. Omar Sharif has been a regular as was Egypt’s (and the Middle East’s) most famous singer, Umm Kalthoum, who dossed here each month and now has a suite named in her honour.
Royalty and diplomats include the Aga Khan, Prince Philip, Spanish kings, Saudi princes, Thai princesses, and King Gustav of Sweden, a noted archaeologist, whose name also hangs on one of the hotel’s suites. Winston Churchill stayed here while orchestrating the North Africa campaign in WWII, while Jimmy Carter helped broker peace between Egpyt and Israel from the hotel in 1979.
Charles Heston used to ride a horse into the gardens every afternoon after filming the Ten Commandments, and on a slightly less noble note, an Australian soldier was arrested for running through its halls naked chasing a woman when the hotel became the HQ for the Australian army during the First World War (word has it the army turned up with a baby kangeroo in tow). The soldier defended his nudity saying the army rulebook says not to wear uniform when engaged in activities deemed unfit for its honour.
Every hotelier has their fingers crossed that Barak Obama will stay when he visits Cairo in June – most likely he will stay at the embassy or one of the city’s many palaces – but he could pop in for tea and to see the treasures of the original hunting lodge which is now the hotel’s Palace wing, its furniture inlaid with ebony and mother-of-pearl, the massive chandliers and corridors of pale grey marble.
The course is just across the road from the hotel, which is also a two-minute walk to the ticket office of the Great Pyramids, where touts try not too hard to lure you onto a camel, horse or into a carriage.
Which brings me to price: of course you want to know how much it costs to stay at the Mena House. Sure it’s not cheap. It’s a five-star hotel, and the rate card on the hotel counter reads E230 for a double room in the Palace wing with one of those jaw-dropping views of the Pyramid., which has stood here for 46 centuries.