Literary greats have long sought out the most unexpected and far-flung destinations to draw inspiration for their next groundbreaking work. George Orwell rented a remote cabin on the Scottish island of Jura when he wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four and Ernest Hemingway settled in a house on the outskirts of Havana, Cuba where he wrote The Old Man and the Sea and For Whom the Bell Tolls. So in 1937, when Agatha Christie began work on Death on the Nile, she headed straight to the source of her story: Egypt.
No one knows for sure how long Christie planned to stay when she checked into the Old Cataract Hotel in the small city of Aswan in Upper Egypt, but what we do know is she made the hotel her residence for nearly a year while working on her book. Maybe it was the hotel's unobstructed views of the River Nile or its proximity to an abundance of historical sites, but whatever it was, the hotel made for the ideal spot to conjure up vivid scenes for a murder mystery that would go on to become a celebrated classic.
Now, nearly 85 years after Christie checked into her room, the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan is still welcoming guests to revel in the history that made it such a beloved stay among those exploring the country. And guests can even stay in the same suite that Christie spent her time writing away, now aptly called the Agatha Christie Suite. But the hotel isn’t the same as when Christie stayed there. The property closed for three years, from 2008 to 2011, to undergo a major renovation. When it reopened, the property has been split into two sections, the Palace Wing which preserved the historic elements of the hotel and the Nile Wing with a more contemporary feel. In total, the five-star hotel boasts 138 rooms and suites.
But while the hotel is most well known for its association with the iconic murder mystery writer, it also played host to a handful of other notables throughout the years. Winston Churchill stayed at the hotel a number of times, first in 1902 during a visit for the inauguration of the Aswan Dam. King Farouk, who reigned in Egypt from 1936 to 1952, was known for his lavish parties at the property. And Princess Diana, President Jimmy Carter, and Margaret Thatcher all famously checked into the hotel for brief stays.
When the hotel opened their doors in 1900, it catered to wealthy travelers looking to experience a romantic journey down the Nile. Today, it’s still a popular destination for those embarking on a Nile River cruise, a winding journey to Lower Egypt where you can stop to see pyramids and crypts all the way to Luxor and Cairo. But while in town, there’s plenty to explore. From the local souk (open-air market), where you can buy anything from spices to Egyptian cotton goods, to exploring historical sites like Philae Temple or the Monastery of St. Simeon, it’s easy to pack your itinerary.
But once back at the property, it’s all about embracing your surroundings, kicking back, and relaxing. Take a stroll through the gardens or stop for a bite at any of the four restaurants or three bars on-site. Maybe, after a long day of exploring centuries of history and imbibing in a hearty local meal, you’ll just want to sit and soak it all in. The hotel’s terrace offers domineering views of the Nile, Elephantine Island, and the surrounding Nubian Desert, making it the ideal place to cap off your day. Or if you’re lucky enough to be staying in the Agatha Christie Suite, spend your evening on your private balcony overlooking the grounds and start writing your own literary classic.