Wahby's legend lives on ...

WahbyÕs memorabilia on display at Sheraton Royal Gardens.

The legend of Egyptian actor Youssef Wahby is alive today under the Giza Pyramids at the newly-refurbished Sheraton Royal Gardens Hotel in Cairo.

Wahby, who is considered the founder of modern Egyptian theatre and was its major driving force for decades, lived a few minutes from the Great Pyramids at Giza.

His residence and theatre were magnets for admirers of the creative and artistic. Wahby had a private cinematheatre next to his home.

Sheraton Royal Gardens is today home to Wahby's legacy as his residence and cinema remain part of the overall architectural scheme of the hotel.

Photos of Wahby as well as period furniture adorn the hotel. The general theme of this boutique hotel is bohemian - almost as if Wahby had a hand in the design.

"This is a special place, a slice of modern Egyptian history," says general manager Michael Wegner.

"You can feel Youssef Wahby everywhere."

The hotel's design for the millennium is that of a tropical South Seas paradise surrounded by modern guest room buildings, but the historic villas are immaculately preserved as reminders of a rich and colourful past.

As well as being near the Pyramids, the 153-room Royal Gardens is conveniently located between two major thoroughfares, Pyramids Road and King Faisal Road, and only 15 minutes drive from Cairo's central district.

Wahby built two villas plus a billiard place and private cinema in the early 1940s. From then on the complex became extra-special.

Cinema devotee King Farouk often dropped by to watch a film while another visitor after

"We have many families visiting from the Gulf as well as corporate travellers," says Wegner.

"We're close to everything - whether guests' needs are leisure, such as shopping, or business. And when people stay with us they soon realise it's a special hotel - and much of that is due to Youssef Wahby. And Gulf visitors are very comfortable with Cairo anyway."

The Royal Gardens features a number of new international restaurants, including the well-known international chains Senor Pico, Inakaya and Trader Vic's. A showpiece is the Youssef Wahby Memorial Ballroom. Furniture from Wahby's residence is outside the ballroom.

Some of Egypt's most famous films were made at what is now the Royal Gardens. They include the local version of Rasputin plus the black comedy Aterafat Zoug. Legendary Omar Sharif worked there, as did Maraie Mounib.

"We have done some things to ensure the property is all it should be to meet the highest standards that will be demanded by travellers in the new millennium, but the wonderful history and charm of the hotel remains unchanged," says Sami Zoghbi of Starwood Hotels and Resorts.

The Royal Gardens is currently offering a special summer Gulf package - book three nights and get the fourth free.