Cushioned, wooden lounge chairs, nautical striped towels, a kidney-shaped pool and the view of the Nile – idyllic? Just about.

The recently renovated Zamalek Residence Cairo, most commonly known and referred to as the Safir Hotel, is the perfect place to unwind after a hectic week stuck in the city with no beach in sight. Granted, the pool is small and warm – surprisingly – but it still does the trick and gives one the illusion that they’ve been away on vacation without ever leaving town.

At 150LE for a day’s use (up from 100LE just a few months ago) it’s one of the more moderate options in the city, and you can swim to your hearts’ content from 9AM until sunset. Just go up to the Health Centre on the Mezzanine, where they’ll take your payment then escort you down to the pool, give you some towels and set up your chaise-lounges. The rest of the day is up to you.

As mentioned, the pool isn’t very large, nor is it deep; but it usually isn’t busy either and does make for a nice dip and a relaxing unwind. The pool feels very exclusive, especially in the evening when there are fewer people competing for their place in the sun.

Speaking of sun, keep in mind the Safir is quite a tall structure, as are many of the neighbouring buildings; so the sun makes its appearance in the morning, then leaves after about 2PM. If you want a golden tan; go early. If you’re escaping the heat, visit in the afternoon to catch a nice soothing breeze off the Nile.

As for food, you can order from the hotel’s café, the Nile Breeze; but there’s an annoying 100LE-minimum charge and the food is pricey; so no light snacking here. More substantial options on offer include breakfast, soups, sandwiches, starters, mains and desserts. We ordered the pan-fried, marinated duck breast with cauliflower hash, sautéed spinach, cinnamon-poached apples, and orange sauce (79LE), which was disappointingly average.

The duck breast was good but gamey and came with lots of fatty skin. The sauce was delicious but the cauliflower hash tasted odd and very peppery. We also tried the baked American cheesecake with vanilla sauce and seasonal fruits (32LE), which was less than fresh and bore a heavily buttered crust that was just too much.

The service is courteous but slow and information is fuzzy – calling before we went gleaned different information than when we inquired in person. The chaise-lounges are slightly hard and the change rooms (equipped with two showers, lockers, and three toilets) are not up to par with the hotel’s four-star status, which will soon become five-stars; Safir has signed a management deal with Hilton, expected to begin sometime in October 2010.

In the evenings, the lights come up and there’s live oriental music that makes for a beautiful atmosphere and a Nile view. The deck is open until 1AM, with music playing until 12AM.