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Located on the edge of the Giza Plateau, in one of the most remarkable settings in the world, the Mena House was built originally as a hunting lodge for Khedive Ismail of Egypt in 1869, the year the Suez Canal opened. Literally resting in the shadow of the Great Pyramid, the lodge served as a rest house for the Khedive and his guests while hunting in the desert and for visits to Giza, made easier by the road that was built that very same year specifically for the Empress Eugenie for travel between Cairo and the Pyramids.


The lodge was eventually sold.  When it passed through a subsequent purchase into the ownership of a British couple, the Locke-Kings, construction was begun to turn the estate into a hotel of distinction, opened officially to the public in 1886, complete with what was Egypt’s very first swimming pool.  The hotel was named after Menes, the first king of the first Egyptian dynasty as referenced in the Tablet of Abydos.   In 1971, the hotel was purchased by Rai Bahadur Mohan Singh Oberoi and has remained under Oberoi ownership until very recently.  


Besides serving as a luxury hotel over the decades, the Mena House history includes occupation by Australian troops during both World Wars and use as a hospital for wounded Australian soldiers towards the end of WWII. The Big Three Conference between Churchill, Roosevelt and Chiang Kai-Shek took place here.  In December 1977, the Mena House was host to Egyptian/Israeli Peace settlement meetings that eventually led to the Camp David Agreement.


The rich and varied history of its past can be felt everywhere, even as it continues to be a place of history in the making.  As a guest, I feel privileged to walk throughout the old palace where architecture, original art and antique furnishings tell their stories – arabesque arches, fine furniture inlaid with mother of pearl, exquisite mashrabeyya, gleaming brass work and delicate Oriental lanterns with hand-blown glass.  


I confess – I am a romantic.  So I am enthralled by the view of the pyramids from my bedroom window, then again from the dining room, as seen through a chain curtain of wooden spindles and brass cut-work medallions, an open-work design that allows airy movement, displaying a contemporary take on the age-old mashrabeyya screens that grace much of the interior.  When I walk across the grounds and discover the newly-created reflection pools in the garden, I am doubly gifted with a view of the pyramids. The Mena Garden wing is the newer addition to the hotel and home to a luxury spa.   

 

I am treated to endless visual and sensual pleasures at the Mena House – to a deep blue swimming pool where a cloudless sky and tall palm trees are reflected in its crystal waters, to the music of trickling water and bird song among the flowering trees, to the sacred quiet of 40 acres of green space, where the noise of Cairo’s traffic becomes a mere hum, and only the Call to Prayer penetrates the enclosure with its soothing melody.


The pleasures of the table are many and assorted – from Oriental and Continental specialties offered in the Khan el Khalili Restaurant, to the exotic flavors of India to be savored in the Moghul Room, the first Indian restaurant in the Middle East. Chef Rais Ahmed’s cuisine includes mild and hot curries tandoories,  tikkas, and wonderfully flavored naan, upholding its tradition of excellence and inspiring the spread of his particular specialties throughout other Oberoi hotels. Thanks to decades of Oberoi ownership, this most historical hotel has been cared for, updated, improved and carried into this new century by a management that respects and honors the hotel’s glorious past while looking to its future with creative and timely innovations, assuring that the Mena House will continue to be one of Cairo’s most cherished hotels.


October 2012

Mena House Hotel

 Pyramids Road, Giza, Cairo, Egypt

Mena House Hotel ~ Original watercolor painting by Ginda Simpson

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All images and reviews copyright 2015 by Ginda Simpson