In addition to pioneering riverboat tourism on the Nile, Thomas Cook built two remarkable hotels on its banks around the turn of the 20th century: the Winter Palace in Luxor and the Cataract (now called the Old Cataract) in Aswan. Wealthy Europeans would escape the cold and spend weeks at a time there. As a 1911 travelogue about Egypt put it, “The soft air and golden light of the Egyptian winter make everything seem like a dream.”
The Winter Palace and Old Cataract provide bookends for most Nile cruises. If you plan to sail between Luxor or Aswan, it will likely be necessary to spend at least a night in a hotel before you board your ship. (The two cities are only 115 miles apart by river, but a usual cruise lasts between three and five days.) On this trip, we started our journey in Luxor. The city — known as Thebes in antiquity — and the surrounding area boast some of the most extraordinary ancient sites in the world, not least the massive temples of Luxor and Karnak. We saw the major attractions over the course of two days as part of our cruise, but it would be rewarding to spend a day or two more exploring the region.
Sofitel Winter Palace Luxor
On my last visit to Luxor, I reviewed Al Moudira, a boutique property on the quieter west bank of the Nile, convenient for touring the dazzling tombs in the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, as well as the dramatic mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut. But though this charming and idiosyncratic hotel has a strong sense of place, it’s not an ideal choice for a first-time visitor to the area. I therefore decided to give the 92-room Sofitel Winter Palace Luxor another try. Near the Temple of Luxor, the historic hotel building stands between the Nile Corniche and palm-filled gardens centerpieced by a large swimming pool. (The modern Pavillon Winter Luxor hotel shares the gardens and pool with the Winter Palace.) Although the building needed freshening when I’d stayed years ago, and I’d heard no reports of a renovation, I hoped for a pleasant surprise.