High Tea at The Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably aware that I’m a giant nerd. But this is your fair warning that this is a nerd alert kind of post!

When I was researching Egypt, I found out that Agatha Christie wrote Death on the Nile while sitting at The Terrace Restaurant at the Old Cataract Hotel. I also learned that the hotel and restaurant are still open, and they serve high tea.

For the first time in my life, I took the time to sit down and have high tea. While overlooking the Nile at sunset. While reading Death on the Nile. Seriously, it was perfect!

It was another reminder of how much tourism in Egypt is hurting – I think I was the only person having tea that day, and it used to be quite a difficult ticket to get. I simply walked in and had run of the place. If you’re going any time in 2017, my guess is that there will be no reservations needed. Just head over!

The hotel itself is gorgeous – the grounds as you enter have all sorts of lush plants and landscaping, and there’s a giant fountain along the way. The lobby is grand and very “Arabian Nights” feeling (in a fancy way). It is not, however, air conditioned. I found that a bit odd, but many things in Egypt aren’t.

I headed down to the Terrace for tea, and chose a spot right next to the river. My view was of palm trees over a bend in the river, with lots of feluccas sailing by for sunset cruises. It was just perfect.

Tea was lovely, and I liked that they let me have my tea iced rather than hot. It was a patio in the sun in Egypt – it was hot and as fabulous as high tea sounded, hot tea did not sound great. I had a wonderful iced hibiscus tea that really hit the spot. They have a pretty robust tea menu that (I think) should cover just about any tastes.

The tea was composed of three layers of plates filled with goodies – the top had a few finger sandwiches, the middle had a selection of desserts, and the bottom was filled with fruit.

It was a bit odd to me that it all arrived with each plate wrapped in cellophane. It was a bit like they’d made it ahead of time and put it in the fridge. And then immediately served it.

The sandwiches were fairly tasty, but the desserts were the star. Each and every one was pretty good! The fruit was nice and refreshing in the heat. I don’t know what it is about grapes over here, but the grapes were so sweet and tasteful!

High Tea (the one I got) costs 360LE (Egyptian Pounds), and with tax and service charges it comes out to about 460LE. There’s a fancier option that’s 495LE, but I think that one serves two. Especially if you’re really having high tea and not trying to use it for a meal, the one I got could happily be shared between two.

This was another place the exchange rate being so favorable was awesome – generally, tea works out to start at more than $30 US – but with the exchange rate, I was all in under about $26 (and given the 13% service charge and I believe 14% tax, all-in under $26 was good!). I noticed a lot of hotels and tourist places beginning to price only in USD, so I suspect that the Old Cataract will follow suit and things will go back to being more expensive.

I will say, as with most places in Egypt, I was a little less than impressed with the service. Even while there were two people working and I was the only customer, it still took them over 10 minutes to come over so I could even ask for the menu. And then it took over 30 minutes for my tea to come out. It would have felt more normal had the tea felt more fresh – but the cellophane suggested that it took them less than 45 seconds to just pull it out of the refrigerator.

The tea was an overall good experience, but if anyone wants to go – just know it is not a fast affair by any means! The length does do a good job of letting you soak in the atmosphere and imagine what it was like back when Agatha Christie was whiling away the days writing!

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