On our arrival at the InterContinental Cairo Semiramis our immediate attention was diverted from the towering accommodation on the banks of the Nile to trying to sort sudden EgyptAir flight cancellations for the next part of our trip. This meant a quick deposit of our luggage, a prompt, smiling check-in process, and a promise of the issue of keys upon our return (once again, we were early arrivers).
Three bemusing hours were spent coping with phone outages, power outages and limited ATM withdrawals to access cash when the flight centre’s EFTPOS was down, all of which are a way of life here. It was a real blessing having our driver, Ayman, with us throughout, to communicate our needs to the EgyptAir team trying to sort our flight problem.
So, flight cancellation calamity sorted, two weary but relieved travellers lined up at the hotel check-in to collect our keys. While waiting for a spot at the reception desk to open, we had a chance to glance around and take in the atmosphere of the lobby and we were impressed with the whole appearance and vibe – combined luxury and vibrant Christmas bling befitting the season. Soaring limestone clad columns reminiscent of gigantic tree trunks took the eye to the double height ceiling, echoed by the equally tall bauble and tinsel adorned faux pine tree centre stage, reaching to the mezzanine level above.
The appearance of the hotel was only topped by the service. Waiting in the IHG member queue, we were spotted by the manager who immediately emerged from behind the concierge counter and asked if we needed assistance. We told her the room number we had been given, and within seconds we were on our way, with her taking our luggage tag to pass on to the bellhop.
We had been upgraded to a Nile view superior room, with the upgrade component being the view and the Executive Club floor where we were situated (with its inclusive access to the Executive Club Lounge, of course). The 18th floor provided stunning views of the iconic river and our room’s location was just down the corridor from the lounge. The room itself was technically the ‘bottom of the range’ of the InterContinental Cairo Semiramis accommodation, but if this was their entry level room, I can certainly see why this place is a favourite on TripAdvisor.
The furnishings of the Semiramis superior room were effortlessly classic: cream walls with gold and white trimmed architraves, featuring a muted gold textured wall papered expanse that framed the polished wooden carved bedhead. The nods to Egyptian tradition were apparent in the cushions and throws of burgundy brocade of lotus flowers reminiscent of the papyrus paintings, while the carved mirror frames and traditional octagonal side table made you want to go shopping in Khan el-Khalili souk for souvenirs.
We chose to have lunch at the hotel’s Asian fusion restaurant, The Birdcage. The service was particularly attentive, with both our waiter and the manager ensuring that we were happy with every aspect of the meal and assistance throughout. The food was as it should be in such an establishment – tasty, intriguingly created and beautifully presented. And the atmosphere was fantastic – we had an open window table next to the water feature decorated with curving bamboo in colourful pots. This restaurant is located on the mezzanine floor above the foyer, so the open areas are still indoors, but the illusion was appreciated. Our three shared plates of stir-fried sea scallops with onion, asparagus, pepper and shitaki mushrooms; stir-fried mixed vegetables with soy sauce; and grilled salmon with avocado, red onion and coriander ginger spicy sesame dressing were all delicious. It was a thoughtful touch to be offered complimentary shortbread at the end of the meal. Customer service is everything here.
And this high level of customer service appeared in so many aspects of our stay. To return to our room after our first afternoon of Cairo sightseeing to a gigantic fruit platter and a plate of shortbread biscuits as a welcome gift from InterContinental was another attentive and appreciated gesture. So we snacked on our gifts and sipped our tipple of choice while sitting on the balcony, admiring the expansive views and sighing in awe as the sun set over the Nile River.
The party boats started to arrive in the twilight, ready to make the most of their ‘allowed’ time on the river (they are permitted to only party until 1am, with the threat of boat confiscation if out after curfew). It was as though their presence was for our own personal viewing pleasure, providing a vibrant light show on the water, along with the well-lit Kasr Al Nile Bridge linking the east bank to Gezira Island.
We were drawn from our balcony boat viewing by the lure of the Executive Club Lounge, calling us from just down the hall. There was an aura of ‘club lounge old school’ in this haven with a smiling receptionist, attentive wait staff and plush armchairs in sedate colours to sink into. Luckily the dining and lounge sections of the club were separate, as there was a cloying presence of smoke lingering in the lounge area (and this was with no smokers present). From 6-8pm canapés were served in the dining space, and for those of us who overindulged at lunch, the light but extensive array of snacks, provided the perfect sustenance, along with a cocktail or a refreshing glass of sparkling wine.
On our second night we were more prepared for indulgence in one of the other restaurants on offer, and chose the Sabaya Lebanese Restaurant for our meal. While we were very excited by the vegetarian options, there were plenty of guests whose eyes lit up at the meat and seafood dishes on offer. Our waiter assured us that the salads and appetizers were small, and at a bargain price of E£40, we believed him (that’s $3 AUD). But they were not petite. We ordered a hummus Sabaya (hummus with mohamara – a paste of red peppers, onion, walnuts, tomato, lemon juice and olive oil), Raheb (chopped grilled eggplant, diced tomato, somak pomegranate and olive oil), tabouleh, Rochola bel Halloumi (arugala marinated with lemon, olive oil and onion topped with haloumi cheese) and Grilled Fish Kozbareia (grilled sea bass fillet, marinated with black pepper, cumin and fresh coriander).
Brought to our table before our meal was a large plate carrying two cucumbers, half a lemon, some carrot sticks, a whole yellow capsicum, a tomato and some green leaves. Bread was delivered as well, but we were unsure how to tackle this ‘starter’ (an Egyptian or Lebanese tradition?) and so just nibbled on some carrot sticks. We took a chance and ordered a bottle of a local wine, the Ayam Syrrah Cabernet Sauvignon, and were happy with our choice. The Egyptian wines were much cheaper than the imports, by several hundred pounds. Our bottle was E£260, which was about $18 AUD. Our valiant effort to consume the aforementioned feast was in vain, and so we had it bundled up for snacks later – it was too good to not take it away with us!
We found the location of the Semiramis to be ideal; close enough to all the Cairo sites, and well situated for strolls along the river. Some attractions were even within walking distance, which provided a panacea for the overindulgences in the wonderful restaurants. And so, it was with some reluctance that we left the InterContinental Cairo Semiramis to continue our adventures in Egypt – we could’ve so easily spent more nights indulging in the luxury of another excellent representative of this worldwide brand.
Our adventures continue in Cairo…
Accommodation: InterContinental Cairo Semiramis