Friday, November 6, 2009

The Sun Shines on Fairmont Towers Heliopolis

CAIRO - Hillary Clinton checked out the day before I arrived at the Fairmont Towers, in the aptly named Heliopolis (city of the sun) district of Cairo, but the hotel staff was still abuzz about the visit of the U.S. Secretary of State and an entourage that included 50 security officers.

But then the two-year-old, light-filled hotel - a 247-room business redoubt near Cairo International Airport - sees frequent visits by high-profile people. One reason is its proximity to the airport, which sports a handsome new terminal (terminal 3) just several months old. Another reason is this is Egypt's governmental district; the presidential palace is here, as are other walled government buildings, interspersed with highrise apartments, along a broad, beautifully landscaped boulevard that runs between the airport and the congestion and bustle of downtown Cairo. Heliopolis is on the eastern side of the megalopolis (estimated population: anywhere from 15 to 20 million), and prime tourist attractions such as the sphinx and the pyramids are in Giza, on the western edge. Old Cairo and the River Nile are halfway between.

I tumbled off my 6-hour Egyptair flight on a sunny, breezy day and settled into my room: large, well-appointed, with a big, sparkling bathroom, a comfortable bed - covered with Egyptian cotton, of course - and a good-sized desk. My room looks directly out into the hotel's defining feature: a 5-story atrium, complete with skylight, a bar area, an indoor stream and clusters of tall palms and ferns. The business center is right off the main lobby, along with a good place to have a French-press coffee and croissant, which I did. Just past the reception desk in the lobby is a plush area tucked away behind closed doors: Fairmont Gold, a lounge with food and beverages and comfortable, modern furniture reserved for the Fairmont's best customers.

Hillary Clinton and her posse may have been gone, but the hotel was packed. Most of the property's guests are business travelers, according to hotel executives, and the meeting rooms below ground level were humming and crowded. My only complaint: smoking is allowed in the public rooms, so billowing clouds of tobacco smoke are abundant. This is a cultural feature in much of the world, including the Middle East, where smoking restrictions, let alone bans, have yet to widely catch on. Hence, the hotel goes with the flow. Otherwise, Fairmont Towers Heliopolis is a lovely property with a friendly, attentive staff; it earns its five-star rating.

For more information: Web: Toll-free telephone in North America: 1 888.0707. E-mail:

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