Entering the lobby of the InterContinental CityStars feels slightly disorienting. What would constitute garish décor – sphinxes in the lobby’s fountain, golden snakes on the ceiling – is softened by beige tones, attractive natural lighting and the sound of falling water; as if ancient Egypt were an ordinary theme for a five-star hotel.
Primarily accommodating business travelers with its Nasr City proximity to the airport, perhaps the hotel’s designers guessed that their clients might not have the chance to visit real Egyptian sites.
Providing a Pharaonic aesthetic, food and a huge pyramid out back, the hotel offers an effortless version of the Egyptian experience. The casino evokes the famed Luxor Hotel in Vegas. Baudrillard would have a field day: a hotel in Egypt modeled on a hotel in the US modeled on an ancient Egyptian religious site.
At your service
However, should you have even half a day to spare during your stay, the newly renovated Concierge Lounge can book a trip with partner American Express Travel to the Pyramids of Giza, the famous Khan El-Khalili bazaar, or the Egyptian Museum. Anything you want, really, including limousine service all the way to Abu Simbel, if you’re ready to pay the price, (though concierge Mohamed Fawzy suggests flying).
The Concierge Lounge, first of its kind in the Middle East and Europe, transforms the often harried exchange at the concierge desk to a personalized service. Sit down below live feed flight information from the three terminals at Cairo International Airport, and one of the five concierges will assist you with international travel arrangements, airport pick-up, sojourns into Egypt, forgotten laptop chargers, etc. (Forgotten running shoes, unfortunately, they could not provide, though they suggested I take myself to CityStars Mall through the hotel’s private entrance.)
If you’ve had enough of Egypt for the day, escape to Italy or Japan for dinner at one of the hotel’s lavish dining venues – a word of warning, the wine list at Il Maestro is dominated by French grapes and the avoidable Egyptian options, with only three bottles from Mother Italy.
Cross the bridge into Shogun for a (slightly) more authentic escape. Chef Kamatso oversees a largely Egyptian staff of sushi and teppanyaki sous-chefs. At 10 pm on a Friday, this venue was the hotel’s most popular.
Feyrouz, the Lebanese restaurant, still awaited the arrival of its resident diva, Brazilian belly dancer Soraya, while Bellini Bar and The Lounge cater to late-night clientele.
Diners enjoyed the night’s perfect 21 C temperature with shisha and mixed fare at outdoor Al Bustan, while the Arcade was deserted.
On the lobby floor, the Esplanade Café and its veritable smorgasbord of buffet choices was also busy, although I found it more pleasant in sunshine the next morning, (at night it felt slightly cafeteria-like).
I’ve never seen so many choices at a breakfast buffet. The tasty croissants, omelets and sausages were on par with any five-star hotel, while the Egyptian offerings, from fuul (beans) to tameyah (falafel) to feteer (phylo dough pancakes) – all of which you would find offered on a Cairo street for pennies – provided another reminder that this was not Anywhere, Planet Earth.
Other than the interior design and distinctive breakfast delicacies, the hotel itself offers an enjoyable if not unexpected range of services. It is in the rooms that the InterContinental distinguishes itself. I should admit that I stayed in one of the Executive Suites, housed on the 11th, 12th and 14th floors.
Although I imagine all the rooms share many of the same small touches, if yours does not, I suggest upgrading to a Suite. It’s not only the complimentary happy hour from 7 to 9 pm, afternoon tea from 4 to 6, or breakfast from 6 am to 11 am offered in the Executive Lounge. It’s not the free use of the business center’s computers, printers and scanners. It’s that you can revel in that delicious sense of superiority for a slight additional cost.
The difference between a successful, pleasant trip and a fiasco lies in the smallest details: a retractable clothesline in the shower, a coupon for three clothes pressings, a complimentary toothbrush, razor and Egyptian loofah (shower sponge). As I luxuriated in the bathtub, the phone rang. Luckily the bathroom phone allowed me to answer immediately: the front desk wanted to know whether I liked the room.
Afterwards, wrapped in an inch-thick robe, munching on fresh dates and Egyptian sweets laid on the coffee table, I thought that the room only lacked music. I turned one of the hi-definition TV (the hotel recently upgraded all screens) to find that there was indeed a radio option.
I was more impressed with the sleek unit than with the range of options: the radio offered only Quranic readings and Arabian pop music, while the satellite TV/film channels were comparable to those found in most well-to-do Egyptian households (Fox and VH1 from the US, MBC from Saudi).
The 500 bandwidth wireless service, however, would sway my hotel choice. Requiring no password or login, music and videos downloaded instantly, and far away loved ones marveled at the clarity of the Skype connection.
To your health
The pyramid housing the health facilities evokes a temple dedicated to well-being. Particularly the basement floor, where a glass cube encases squash players in what would seem an ancient ritual.
If you don’t mind a lingering smell of chlorine, the ground floor lounge offers one of the hotel’s most peaceful hiding places. Techno music echoed from the workout facilities, where treadmill runners could entertain themselves with private TV monitors, or by watching swimmers in the pool surrounding the pyramid.
The spa, although equipped with hi-tech treatments such as the LPG Cellular M6 Key Module and Endermologie anti-cellulite, lacks the sense of sanctuary that would distinguish it from a dimly-lit clinic visit.
The refuge waits upstairs. Male and female Greek busts indicate the changing area and additional massage rooms. Passing through, (grab a cup of lemon water), you emerge in a sunlit chamber where three fountainheads gush into a huge co-ed jacuzzi and guests can doze in lounge chairs scattered through this semi-secret grotto.
The highlight of the hotel is the highly trained staff. From the Concierge Lounge to the busboys, everyone exhibited friendly willingness to help in any way.