Villa Belle Epoque

Maadi, Cairo, Egypt Book from

Reviewed by Tom Bell
A colonial-style country house in a peaceful neighbourhood with great staff, a cool pool and a gorgeous garden
Welcome to Villa Belle Epoque. This is the hotel where you come to escape Cairo’s clatter and as you potter about at the pyramids in the baking sun you will turn your thoughts to the comforts that await your return: the sublime peace of this smart neighbourhood, the lush gardens that cocoon you; the glistening pool in which you can shake off the heat of the city. Then you will spot the other tourists wilting on their feet and you will realise that for once in your life you have picked the winning ticket.

Built by the British in 1920 and discreetly hidden in the quiet streets of Maadi, a 20-minute metro ride from central Cairo, the hotel has the feel of a smart country house, albeit one shaded by palm trees. Sparkling interiors give a colonial feel and come with airy colours, beautiful art and parquet flooring. Several bedrooms have balconies, but you are more likely to gather in the very pretty garden, where tables and chairs stand on smart terraces and padded loungers flank the pool. Jasmine scents the air, parrots occasional come to eat the palm dates. There’s good food for humans, too, while kind staff go the extra mile. Tarek and Beryl recently bought the house next door, so expect your pleasure to double.

Highs

  • There is no better escape from Cairo’s crazy streets than this peaceful hotel
  • The lush garden is fantastic with its terraces and pool
  • There are good local restaurants and you can eat at the hotel, which means you won’t have to slog off to the centre of town at night
  • Great service from English-speaking staff: all things are possible here

Lows

  • Check the political situation in Cairo before travelling (see the FCO advice)
  • You’re not particularly central and even though you’re on the metro, you’ll have to resort to Cairo’s taxis some of the time
  • Breakfast was a little lacklustre in comparison to everything else
  • Bathrooms aren’t as fancy as you might expect and towels could be a little bigger
  • Maadi is a residential quarter, so not the glitziest in Cairo, but it’s one of the quietest

Best time to go

Avoid high Summer, June through August. Winter (high season), is the coolest time of year (December to February). However, the sun will still shine every day and the city will get hot. You’ll notice a fall in temperature at night, so bring a jacket.

You might want to avoid Ramadan, when some businesses will close for the whole month. And if you are travelling over holidays – Eid al-Adha, Ras an-Sana – expect the rest of Egypt to be competing for your seat. The dates for these holidays change every year, so check before planning your trip.

Our top tips

The metro is 5 mins walk, you're in the centre in 20. 2 different carriage types: one for women and children, the other for everyone. So if you're a man and you see only women when the door opens, rush to the next carriage before the doors close.

Great for...

Family
Foodie
Honeymoon
Wedding
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 13
  • Restaurant + bar
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Concierge Service
Room:

Rooms

A clipped country-house elegance runs throughout the hotel from the polished stair rods on the staircase, via the art on the walls (especially the early 20th-century black-and-white photographs on the upper floors) to the crisp white linen of your ultra-comfortable bed (there are twin, queen and kingsize options).

Each air-conditioned room is different, though common threads emerge and you will probably find some of the following wherever you end up: fancy wallpaper, begère beds, rugs on parquet flooring, a sofa if there’s room. Several rooms have original pitched pine ceilings, some of which are painted white. The feel is warm, airy and spacious and while some rooms are bigger than others, none are small.

On the ground floor, 2 rooms (Fayoum and Ismailia) open onto the garden, while two first-floor queen rooms (Alexandria and Minya) have a daybed which can be an extra bed for a child or adult.

The second floor has two sections with two rooms in each, which can be given to families or friends for their own private quarters, as no other guests come up here. All four have balconies with wicker chairs and garden views. You need to ask for twin bedded Damietta and kingsized Cairo (Damietta also has a daybed which allows a third person); or twin Suez and king Rosetta.

All come with flat-screen TVs, bowls of fruit, chocolates from the kitchen, an interesting selection of books and good art on the walls. You'll find bathrobes and a good range of toiletries - including shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, bath foam, loofa, shower cap and body lotion plus hand-made olive oil soaps - in compact bathrooms which have both shower and bath (apart from Ismailia which has a shower only). Best of all, head out to dinner and return to find your bed turned down, not an experience you will come across often in Egypt. There are minibars, too, should the thirst get to you in the night.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Bathrobes
  • Central heating
  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Hairdryer
  • Internet access
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Phone
  • Safe box
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries
  • Tv
  • WiFi

Eating

You can have breakfast, lunch and dinner here and there’s room service, too, so don’t expect to go hungry.

You eat in the conservatory overlooking the garden and pool and although you can decamp onto the terraces outside for breakfast, most people stay inside as that’s where the buffet is laid out. Expect plates of ham and cheese, small croissant and Danish pastries, fruit salad, hard-boiled eggs and toast that is made in batches (thus sometimes cold). You can help yourself to coffee and tea, while there’s orange juice, too, though not freshly squeezed.

Lunch and dinner are more sophisticated with menus mixing Egyptian and western food, so you can bounce from one to the other. At lunch you could try hot and sour chicken soup, stir-fried shrimps, pan-fried duck with jasmine rice or penne arrabbiata. At dinner, you might find a seafood chowder served with a basket of wonderful home-made breads, a rather good Nubian lamb stew, an excellent walnut tart. Wine and beer are both available.

If you fancy learning some traditional Egyptian dishes, cooking lessons can be arranged in the kitchen with Chef Sayed (main dishes) and Chef Mrs Souad Zaki (desserts and pastries).

If you want to eat out, Maadi offers some excellent restaurants, all a short stroll. Several are on Road 9 (where you pick up the metro). Try Abu El Sid for good Egyptian, Asian Corner for Thai and Chinese, or Cellar Door for the best food in the area (sea scallops with spring onions and ginger, Moroccan chicken with a raisin risotto, white chocolate mousse). If you want to eat overlooking the Nile, head to the Grand Café and find a mixed menu that will keep you happy.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Children meals
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Organic produce
  • Restaurant
  • Restaurants nearby
  • Room service
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Take the metro north four stops from Maadi to Mar Girgis and check out Coptic Cairo, the Christian centre of the capital. Lose yourself in streets to the south and find sheep and cattle on mud-impacted streets. The locals are very friendly.

  • Back on the metro, fly north another four stops to Sedat in the centre of town and it’s a short walk to the Egyptian Museum. Be warned: you can’t enter with cameras, which must be left in a booth at the main gate. Tickets do not include entry to the royal mummy room.

  • If you want to cruise the Nile on a felucca, head back down to Dok Dok in Garden City and be prepared to haggle (about E£40 an hour in 2009).

  • Don’t miss Islamic Cairo for a thousand years of history. It was the seat of the Fatimid dynasty, which dates to 969AD. You’ll find car-free lanes and alleyways, magnificent mosques, the odd palace and Khan al-Khalili, Cairo’s most famous souk. The coolest district in Cairo by far.

  • The Pyramids at Giza, on the southwest fringe of the city. Arrive early to avoid the crush of tourists and the heat of the sun (which is strong, even in winter). You can hire camels or horses, then approach across the desert, avoiding the crowds.

  • The Step Pyramid at Zosser (30km south of Cairo) is the oldest on the planet and attracts far fewer tourists than those at Giza. It’s a more satisfying experience, too, and can easily be coupled with a visit to Memphis, which, 5,000 years ago, was the first capital of Egypt.

  • For a taste of high culture Egyptian style, attend one of the oriental music & dance shows at several historical open air sites, such as the El Azhar mosque or Khan el Khalili, organised all year round, or a performance in the Cairo Opera House, which has a programme of oriental and classical music as well as ballet.

  • For family fun, there is an art centre in a villa across the street from Villa Belle Epoque offering classes such as painting, claywork, handicrafts for all age groups including children.

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Art classes
  • Boat trips
  • Cooking classes
  • Historical sites
  • Museums / galleries
  • Private guided tours
  • Shopping / markets
  • Theatrical performances

Kids

Children are welcome and will love the swimming pool, you’ll need to keep an eye on them if staying in a room with a balcony.

Best for:

Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

Three rooms have an added daybed which can be turned into an extra bed for a child. The second floor has two rooms only on it, and this is often given to families so that they have their own private quarters.

Babysitting:

Can be arranged on request.

Baby equipment:

High chair in the restaurant.

Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

Children's meals:

No special menu but children's meals can be prepared on request.

Kid Friendly:

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