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8 Secrets of the Old Cataract Hotel Agatha Christie’s Muse for Death on the Nile!

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In Aswan, there’s only one hotel you should consider staying in, The Old Cataract Hotel Agatha Christie’s old haunt.

Standing proud on the edge of the Nile since 1899, it has welcomed many celebrities through its doors ever since. The most famous of which was Dame Agatha Christie who took residence here to write her famous novel Death on the Nile. 

As I walked through the Old Cataract Hotel doors I truly felt like I was walking in Agatha Christie’s footsteps. I could instantly see why she chose this location.

The jaw-dropping interiors and suites were one thing, the amazing service another.

But, most of all, it was the amazing view of the Nile river and Elephantine Island opposite. It was like an oasis and took my breath away.

Ever since I was a child, I have been a huge Agatha Christie fan. I’d eagerly read her novels and watched the tales of Poirot and Miss Marple trying to figure out whodunnit.

Death on the Nile was one of my favourites. The intrigue of a murder mystery in Egypt was the thing that set me off wanting to visit this country in the first place and led me to this amazing historical hotel.

The Old Cataract Hotel quickly rose in rank to one of the top favourite hotels I’ve ever stayed in. Here are some little-known secrets about the Old Cataract Hotel Agatha Christie’s muse for Death on the Nile. 

old cataract hotel agatha christie

The history of the Old Cataract Hotel and Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie’s love of history led her to visit archaeological sites in the Middle East and the Ottoman Empire.

Fatefully it also led her to Max Mallowan on a dig in Ur, a city in Iraq, in 1930.

Mallowan and Christie fell in instantly in love there and were married soon after. She then travelled with him to many places to assist with excavations including Tell Brak, Nineveh, Nimrud in Syria and Iraq.

During this time, Christie would eagerly take photos, scribble field notes and clean and conserve anything that was found.

These countries, including Egypt, eventually became her romantic muse which would lead her to write many murder mysteries including Inspector Poirot’s Death on the Nile.

Checking into the Old Cataract Hotel and using the help of her close friend and Egyptologist Stephen Glanville, they concocted a perfect tale of a crime of passion. A mystery novel that would remain famous and have people guessing whodunnit even today.

old cataract hotel agatha christie
Agatha Christie with Max Mallowan in Tell Halaf

Little known secrets about the Old Cataract Hotel Agatha Christie’s muse

1. The Old Cataract Hotel was Agatha Christie’s home for a year in 1937

No one ever knows whether, when Agatha Christie arrived at the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan, she intended to stay for as long as she did.

But what we do know is that in 1937 she checked into the Old Cataract and remained there for most of that year.

old cataract hotel agatha christie

Her suite, which is still available to see today, beyond the lavish furnishings, contained a simple mahogany desk.

This is where she would sit for hours and write (and probably re-write) chapters of her book.

There was also a wicker chair on the veranda where she would sit and admire the view of the Nile below, all the while contemplating her work.

As you wander around the grounds, you can see why she fell in love with this place so much.

The resort has a huge pathway around the Nile that provides fantastic views.

It even has it’s own jetty to catch a felucca to Elephantine island and beyond. Agatha must have loved exploring and retreating back to her oasis in Aswan.

old cataract hotel agatha christie
Wherever you sit in the Old Cataract you get the most amazing views !

2. The Old Cataract was Christie’s muse for Death on the Nile

The Death on the Nile is a crime novel of passion, intrigue and complex characters who all act as ‘red herrings’ in the tale.

I don’t want to spoil the story for you, but it centres around the murder of Linnet Ridgeway a young but wealthy heiress on a Nile cruise ship in Egypt.

All the passengers on the boat have a connection to the victim, but inspector Poirot is on the case to solve the mystery and catch the murderer.

Agatha Christie used so much inspiration from her stay in the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan for the novel. She even created the outlandish fictional character Salome Otterbourne, a drunk novelist with flowing robes, to make fun of herself!

Stephen Glanville also was one of the sources of her inspiration. A close friend of the Mallowan’s, he provided Egyptology insight. Even Christie said herself, her works and plays set in Egypt would not have been possible without his help.

old cataract hotel agatha christie
old cataract hotel agatha christie

3. You can snoop on Agatha Christie’s suite on the Old Cataract hotel walking tour

Every day around 5.30pm the Old Cataract hold a walking tour of the hotel for interested guests. I would highly recommend taking it.

Here, you can hear about all the history of the hotel, snoop on the Winston Churchill suite and see the suite of the Queen of Crime herself.

I almost squealed with excitement when I joined the tour. As sad as it’s sounds, I’d been looking forward to it for weeks.

 We were informed by the kind Sofitel hostess that the hotel was created in 1899 by Thomas Cook and Sons. The same builders as the Old Winter Palace in Luxor.

Then we were taken up to the Winston Churchill Suite. This is the premium suite at the Old Cataract which costs over £10,000 GBP to stay in a night!

To my surprise, they receive guest in it all the time. I can’t imagine ever having that much money to stay, but I reckon it’s glorious!

old cataract hotel agatha christie
I mean, will you LOOK at that view!

The Agatha Christie suite at the Old Cataract hotel

After the Winston Churchill suite on the top floor, we then went down one floor to visit the Agatha Christie Suite. As we sat opposite the door, we all eagerly anticipated to see what was on the other side.

Most of the hotel has been renovated, so none of the original furnishings (apart from the wicker fans and shutters) are present. But, during the reconstruction, a lot of the original decor was kept in mind.

As we walked into the room we were able to gaze eyes on the gorgeous living room! This was mostly cream chesterfield leather sofas with beautiful teal blue cushions.

old cataract hotel agatha christie
The Agatha Christie Suite at the Old Cataract Hotel

Then, we moved onto my favourite part; the bedroom! Whereas the Winston Churchill suite was more reds. This Christie’s suite was much more subtle and sumptuous. The four-poster bed had beautiful mauve bedding and velvet cushions and chairs to lounge in.

The bathroom had a star lantern chandelier and a claw-footed bath, with a huge window overlooking the Nile river as you bathed. It looked like complete paradise!

I also thought that Agatha’s view from her balcony was a little better. Watching the sunset was like a gazing at a beautiful painting.

old cataract hotel agatha christie

4. Agatha Christie rubbed shoulders with Winston Churchill at the Old Cataract Hotel

Apart from Winston Churchill and Agatha Christie both having suites at the Old Cataract, they actually met here too.

Winston Churchill, a famous British prime minister (or maybe the most famous), visited Egypt many times throughout his career.

Egypt, was under the rule of Great Britain before its independence in 1922, so Churchill would visit to discuss Middle Eastern relations regularly. This included the Cairo conference a year before that in 1921.

Even after Egypt’s independence, Churchill would still visit Egypt on political business and was a regular resident of the Old Cataract in Aswan.

Winston Churchill and Agatha Christie regularly crossed paths while she was a guest and a picture of them both hangs in the Winston Churchill suite.

old cataract hotel agatha christie
Agatha Christie and Winston Churchill are in the middle

5. Agatha Christie’s desk and wicker chair can be found in the Foyer of the Old Cataract

The famous desk that Agatha Christie worked tirelessly at to produce her masterpiece has been treasured and placed in the foyer of the Old Cataract.

That, along with her favourite wicker chair that she used to contemplate chapters of her book in. Probably overlooking that fab view from her balcony!

On the desk, there’s a small homage with her picture nearby explaining the significance of it and some information about films and TV adaptations of Death on the Nile that have been filmed here.

old cataract hotel agatha christie

6. The Old Cataract 1902 restaurant will take you back to Agatha Christie’s era

There are four restaurants at the Old Cataract, but the most famous of all of them is ‘1902‘.

It was first inaugurated by Winston Churchill and is one of the most gob smackingly gorgeous restaurants I have ever laid my eyes on!

The huge Moorish archways, chandeliers and beautifully laid out tables makes this place fit for a queen.

It’s strictly formal dress only and men have to wear suit jackets to dinner but it’s a nice excuse to scrub up for a lovely dinner.

As you take your seat, the sound of the live pianist floats in the air setting the atmosphere marvellously.

The menu is expensive, but has a fine range of scrumptious dishes in traditional and international flavours. I went for a light chicken dish that was packed with flavour.

My favourite part, that made me feel really snobby, was ordering a flambé pancake for dessert. The waiter came over and cooked it at my table! As he shook the pan the flames went high up in the air.

This was by far my favourite place in Egypt that I ate and it felt so special dining here. It’s quite dark to set the atmosphere so all the menus come with little reading lights. So romantic.

Booking is recommended, but half of the time it’s empty! Probably due to the suit jacket rule.

I think they need the bookings as an indication of how many people are coming so make sure you reserve to avoid being disappointed. Also, check before if you can eat here if you’re not a resident of the hotel. They’re quite strict on outside visitors.

old cataract hotel agatha christie

7. The 1978 movie of Death on the Nile was filmed at the Old Cataract Hotel

Since I was a kid, I’ve watched the Death on the Nile movie with my Mum and my Nan. So, in fact, our family are a multi-generation family of Christie fans! It’s the first one I watched of Agatha Christie and will always remain my personal favourite.

The 1978 film adaptation of Death on the Nile, starring Sir Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot, is set mostly in Egypt like the novel.

old cataract hotel agatha christie

In the movie you see beautiful scenes of Luxor, Karnak and Aswan. The hotel that they stay in before boarding their Nile cruise is none other than the Old Cataract Hotel. There were many scenes filmed within the hotel and outside of it for the movie.

They also board the S.S. Sudan for their cruise, one of the oldest steam boats still running on the Nile today.

This features in the 1978 movie as the ship where the murder is committed. My guide, called Eid, on my Nile cruise aboard the MS Mayfair used to work on the Sudan. So, knowing I was a big fan, was kind enough to win me an invitation with the manager! So, I got to visit two filming locations while I was here.

It usually costs around £3-5k for a tour. Click here to read all about the SS Sudan.

old cataract hotel agatha christie
Me spotting the S.S. Sudan from my Nile Cruise in Kom Ombo!

8. A new Death on the Nile movie starring Sir Kenneth Branagh is being released soon!

A new adaptation of the Murder on the Orient Express, starring Kenneth Branagh as Poirot was released in 2017 and received spectacular reviews.

The animations and cinematography won multiple critics awards.

Due to the success at the box office, Kenneth Branagh is now returning to the silver screen again to star as Poirot in the new Death on the Nile.

This is due to be released soon and is still currently in post-production. Again, the Old Cataract Hotel was used in the filming of the movie.

I’m counting down the days until this comes out! I’ll be at the cinema waiting quicker than you can say Poirot.

old cataract hotel agatha christie

The Old Cataract Hotel today

The great news is that the Old Cataract Hotel is still around today and is a super luxurious 5* property!

It’s now a Sofitel Old Legend status hotel and by far one the best that I checked into in Egypt.

There are two parts to the hotel. The Classic Wing and the New Wing.

Personally, as I’m a fan of historic and boutique hotels, I opted for the traditional part of the hotel. I winced a little as I pressed the button to book, it’s not the cheapest of properties. But, I knew it would be worth every penny!

old cataract hotel agatha christie
The ‘New Wing’ built in 1961

The rooms at the Old Cataract Hotel

The room was the biggest I’ve ever stayed in with a huge bed I could sink into and canopy over the head.

There was a flat-screen TV and chesterfield sofas in the seating area.

I loved sipping on a coffee on my balcony in the evening that was big enough for a small party. All the Nile view rooms were sold out but the garden view rooms were spectacular as well.

The bathroom was equally as luxurious with a triple-sized bath tub and a even a little closet for the toilet! The loo roll even had a linen hat which was adorable. There was a gorgeous monochrome tiled floor, marble cupboard and double sinks!

It was out of this world and I felt like an Egyptian queen for the night. My only regret is not booking another night.

There is also an outdoor an indoor pool with a spa, four restaurants, a bar and gym facilities.

For dates and rates available at the Old Cataract, see here.

old cataract hotel agatha christie
My room at the Old Cataract Hotel!

How to reach Aswan and the Old Cataract Hotel in Egypt

Aswan is usually the most south tourists go in Egypt in Nubia. Typically, tourists will come here after they have had enough of the bustling capital of Cairo and the Pyramids in Giza. 

There are many ways that you can reach Aswan in Egypt;

  • Aswan by plane – The fastest way is to fly and Egyptair are the best airline for internal flights in Egypt. They have a generous luggage allowance of 23KG. Flights will take roughly one hour from Cairo and can cost anything from £50-£100 if you plan ahead. I always use Skyscanner for flight deals
  • Aswan by Train – trains are a popular option and are a little cheaper than flying. But, they’re usually overnight services that take roughly 14 hours to reach Aswan from Cairo. There is a luxury tourist train that you can book. I’d personally recommend using the Man In Seat 61 for more information. The official Egyptian train website is far from straight forward. Travelling between Luxor and Aswan by train is easier and costs pennies. A first class carriage seat cost me £100EGP (£4 GBP)!
  • Aswan by Nile Cruise – if you’re heading here from Luxor on a Nile cruise. I would recommend sticking around to spend the night here in the Old Cataract then go in a hurry! Not only can you then take a trip to see the marvel that is Abu Simbel, there are plenty of things to do in Aswan as well. Click here to read a review of my cruise!
ms mayfair nile cruise

Getting around Aswan

There isn’t Uber in Aswan yet so you’ll need to haggle with the cab drivers in this city!

I grabbed a taxi straight from the train station, it was an old rusty banged up Peugeot. It looked so vintage it made me laugh and I had to get in. The seats were full of the brightest lime green matted fur haha!

I agreed £50EGP at the station and by the time I got to the hotel, he tried to bump the price up (probably knowing where I was staying). The porter then ushered him away. Let’s just say I was more than happy to be in the Old Cataract’s protection from the outside.

So haggle and make sure that the taxi meter is turned on. Don’t get in until the taxi until the price is agreed.

old cataract hotel agatha christie

Don’t miss staying the night at the Old Cataract Hotel

I will always cherish my time spent at the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan. As a long term fan of Agatha Christie, following in her footsteps was the ultimate experience and being able to sneak around her suite is more than I could have hoped for.

Beyond the Christie fandom, this hotel is wall to wall luxury and the most famous hotel in Aswan. Checking in here is not just a room it’s a Sofitel Old Legend experience.

You’ll be greeted with a Hibiscus tea, treated like royalty, eat more food than ever and feel at home, leaving like family.

Don’t miss a stay at the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan, it will stay in your heart forever.

old cataract hotel agatha christie

Read more of my Egypt articles

My perfect 2 week Egypt Itinerary

My top travel tips for Egypt

The perfect Egypt packing list

The most Instagrammable places in Egypt

My guide to the Valley of the Kings

Things to do in Luxor

The ultimate 4-day Nile Cruise

Things to do in Aswan

Top places to visit in Luxor at night

The perfect guide for Abu Simbel

My survival guide for the pyramids

Top things to do in Cairo

Why you NEED to visit Alexandria

Top tips for riding a hot air balloon in Luxor

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old cataract hotel agatha christie


Wednesday 7th of September 2022

Hoping you could offer an opinion. If you could do it over again the first visit, would you pick: A.) A second night in the Old Cataract Hotel, and only a day trip to Abu Simbel B.) Only one night at the Old Cataract with the second night in Abu Simbel to see the temples at night and avoid the crowds

This is a decision we are struggling with, and relate to your posts well.

Sophie Pearce

Monday 26th of September 2022

Hi Jamie, it really depends on your preference in hotels. The Old Cataract is pure luxury whereas Abu Simbel really only have guesthouses. So, it depends on what you'd be mroe comfortable with. It would mean avoiding the crowds if you stayed in Abu Simbel but yuo could spend a night in Old Cataract, leisurely breakfast and a morning at the pool and then ehad onto the temple! I stayed in Old Cataract as I like luxury - I'm weak! Hope this helps. Sophie x

Tod Coles

Saturday 31st of July 2021

A fascinating read, thank you. Just one thing I had hoped to learn is how does an hotel get the name Cataract? I recently had cataracts sorted in both eyes but can't see any connection. Is there one?

Sophie Pearce

Sunday 1st of August 2021

Hi Tod, thank you for your kind words. I'm glad you liked the post! This is what I found about how the hotel gets its name. It seems it's nothing to do with Cataracts for the eyes but a Cataract of water like in a waterfall. 'The Old Cataract hotel takes its name from the meeting of the river with the granite barrier, which creates the first cataract of the Nile nearby the property!'. Hope this helps, Sophie x

Tilly Horseman

Tuesday 19th of February 2019

What a stunning hotel! I agree with you - I’d always prefer the boutique traditional places where possible, so it’s great they have kept the traditional alongside the more modern extensions and upgrades!

Sophie Pearce

Tuesday 19th of February 2019

Yes, It was a dream! Totally agree, it's so much more interesting when the original furnishings are kept. Thanks girly, Sophie x

Alison Pearce

Wednesday 30th of January 2019

Really interesting article about the history of Agatha Christie's stay at this beautiful hotel, great pictures of the interior and the views. Really enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing x

Sophie Pearce

Wednesday 30th of January 2019

Thanks so much ! Amazing memories of watching Death on the Nile. One day we’ll stay here together. Sophie xx