Seated in a plump old-fashioned arm chair in this sumptuous parlor known as the Victoria Lounge, I contemplate the long history of the Winter Palace, built in genuine Victorian style 1886, its grand façade facing the western bank of the Nile. I sit here, 126 years later, imagining the stories this old queen could tell me. Celebrities, royalty, artists, writers, adventurers and history-makers have all stayed here and left their marks: most notably Howard Carter who announced to the world the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922 from this very hotel. Built under the supervision of Thomas Cook International, the Winter Palace was a well-established hotel already by that year, but Carter’s magnificent discovery brought in its wake a flood of visitors eager to see for themselves the riches of ancient Thebes: the Valley of the Kings, Hatshepsut’s Temple and the Colossi of Memnon. It became one of the world’s true “destination” hotels, offering a sun-filled holiday and a glamorous social life to the elite who came to “winter” here.
Today, the Winter Palace is replete with the old-world charm of its illustrious past. The queen is still here, showing her age, but sharing her grace and wisdom. Her dress may be a little frayed and her pearls may lack their original luster, but oh, what good company she is. Visitors today do not have the luxury of time to spend a winter here, but many come to stay for a day or two before embarking on a Nile Cruise, or at the end of their river journey, when they can indulge in a longer stay. Constructed in 1997, the Pavillion Winter Palace wing with its garden views is a lovely addition, with all the modern amenities that the most discerning guest would expect.
The extensive garden is lush with both indigenous and exotic trees, shrubs, and flowering plants, serving as the most delightful outdoor parlor for those who wish to meet for tea, a tranquil escape from the commotion of modern-day Luxor. For those who seek solitude and quiet, the grounds are spacious enough to serve as a perfect hide-away. A sparkling swimming pool beckons at the far end of the garden, its blue waters mirroring the sky above. I remove my shoes and stroll on the velvet green lawn, beneath the towering palms in the midst of lush bougainvillea. A gardener appears out of nowhere and hands me a freshly-picked blossom, wishing me a nice stay… It is a tender gesture in a timeless place, where hopefully the future will carry on with the gentile ways of the past. I think the queen would nod her approval.
Sofitel Winter Palace Luxor
Kornish El-Nile ~ Luxor, Egypt
Sofitel Winter Palace Luxor ~ Original watercolor painting by Ginda Simpson
All images and reviews copyright 2015 by Ginda Simpson