PLANNING a Scottish city break in the lap of luxury? Or just fancy a nosy at how the other half travel? We round up ten of the country’s best five-star hotels.
Beyoncé, Bill Clinton, Anna Wintour, Simon Cowell, Mick Jagger, Missy Elliott, Karl Lagerfeld, Oprah Winfrey, Bono – a group of people you could reasonably expect to be well-versed in luxury travel, and one that has stayed at Edinburgh’s Balmoral Hotel in recent years, albeit separately. Tom Hanks lived there while filming The Da Vinci Code in 2002; Zara Phillips stayed on the eve of her wedding in July 2011; JK Rowling wrote the final Harry Potter instalment in room 552 (or as it’s now known, The JK Rowling Suite) in 2007 and in the 1960s it played host to Paul and Linda McCartney, Sophia Loren and Elizabeth Taylor. Visitors have included Laurel and Hardy, the Queen Mother (who would order plain roast lamb), Edward Heath and Harold Wilson, while Father Christmas and the Easter Bunny make annual appearances. With its iconic address (No. 1 Princes Street) and landmark clock tower looming into the city skyline, The Balmoral is an Edinburgh institution.
The hotel, known then as The North British Station Hotel and owned by the North British Railway Company, opened in October 1902. It closed for a major refurbishment in 1988 and was re-opened by Sean Connery as The Balmoral, meaning ‘majestic dwelling’ in Gaelic, in 1991. Its 188 bedrooms, including 20 suites costing up to £2275 per night, overlook Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh Castle and the Old Town vista and benefit from marble bathrooms, blankets designed exclusively for the hotel by Johnston’s of Elgin, concierge service, ‘teddy turn-down service’ for children, valet parking and 24-hour room service, if guests tire of the Michelin-starred Number One restaurant, the Bollinger Bar or afternoon tea with piano accompaniment in the Palm Court.
The five-star spa offers treatments using ESPA and Sundari (developed by supermodel Christy Turlington) products, swimming pool with candlelit relaxation area, a Finnish dry sauna and Turkish steam sauna, and a gym complete with personal trainers and a complimentary health check service. VIP services available include after hours access for private shopping at Harvey Nichols, Jenners and Hamilton & Inches; guaranteed tee times at golf clubs with year-long waiting lists and tickets to sold out Edinburgh Festival shows. The Balmoral has been named Condé Nast’s Traveller’s top Scottish Hotel, a Fodor’s top 100 Global Icon, the Telegraph Travel Awards’ top Scottish hotel and second favourite in Britain.
Occupying a row of five perfectly-preserved Victorian town houses in Glasgow’s leafy West End, one of which was the former home of William Burrell who commissioned the stained glass window in house number four, One Devonshire Gardens has made the Condé Nast Gold List and won Glasgow hotel of the year at the Scottish Hotel of the Year Awards and most stylish hotel at the Scottish Style Awards. It has also received the stamp of approval from a who’s who of famous faces including Michael Jackson, George Clooney, Justin Timberlake, Kylie Minogue, Robbie Williams, Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole and the Spice Girls.
The 49 bedrooms and suites (costing up to £975 per night) are all stained glass windows, mini bars, Arran Aromatics products, fresh flowers, Egyptian cotton bed linen, fluffy bathrobes, corniced ceilings and wood panelling, while some have roll top baths, four poster beds, open fireplaces and direct access to the gardens. The Duplex Suite, which sleeps eight, boasts two bedrooms, two sitting rooms, two bathrooms, two shower rooms, an exercise area, jacuzzi, sauna, plasma screen televisions with Bose surround sound, private entrance and parking and even a secret garden.
If you choose not to avail yourself of one of the three private dining rooms, the Bistro Deluxe restaurant has been awarded three AA Rosettes for its Scottish menu featuring locally-sourced ingredients, and guests can visit the walk-in wine cellar to choose from over 600 bins, then take a stroll outside to the Cigar Shack in the Secret Garden. There’s a spa treatment room and if you don’t fancy visiting the air-conditioned gym, you can always take a turn round the private walled gardens.
One for fashion fans, the Italian Missoni fashion clan chose Edinburgh in 2009 for the first outpost of their burgeoning design hotel empire, which now extends to Kuwait and plans to expand to Muscat, Oman; Bahia, Brazil; Belek, Turkey and Mauritius. Those familiar with Missoni’s signature rainbow textiles will not be surprised to find the hotel a cornucopia of candy pink, egg yolk yellow, silver, plum, lavender, tangerine and teal, all swirled into the label’s unmistakable wave patterns and zig zag prints and splashed with almost childlike glee across everything from the dishes to the bathrobes to the bed linen.
Guests to have been greeted by the hotel’s instantly recognisable Missoni kilt-clad doormen (who all look like they could moonlight in their employer’s ad campaigns) have included Lady Gaga and Kings of Leon, Snow Patrol and, of course, the family’s It Girl Margherita Missoni.
With a reputation for informal service, the hotel has 136 rooms (including a 67 ft sq suite) that come with 50 free movies; a ‘healthy minibar’; espresso machine; iPod touch and dock; Missoni bathrobes, towels and slippers; Missoni bed sheets; Missoni crockery; LCD televisions and Missoni fragrance-scented bathroom products.
Cucina, The Missoni’s restaurant where Lady Gaga once threw a dinner party, won Italian restaurant of the year twice at the Scottish Restaurant Awards and was crowned runner up for Scotland in the Best Restaurant category at the Observer Food Monthly Awards 2010, while downstairs at Bar Missoni there’s Prosecco on tap.
Upstairs, Spa Missoni creates bespoke packages from more than 50 treatments using Eve Lom, Natura Bissé and Aromatherapy Associates products and services for guests include concierge service, 24 hour room service, a fitness centre, services for pets, valet parking, complimentary laundry and turn-down service – and the hotel even has its own Hotel Missoni app to access them all.
Set in 11 acres of wooded grounds, three miles outside Aberdeen in a house built in 1848, The Marcliffe is apparently home to the North East’s corridors of power, which have been stalked by guests that include Mikhail Gorbachev (who opened the hotel in 1993), Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, as well as the perhaps less politically-minded Meatloaf, Rod Stewart, Lionel Ritchie and Oasis.
With just 34 rooms and seven suites, the intimacy of the Marcliffe is a big draw, as is the service – some staff have been there for more than 40 years and proprietor Stewart Spence can often be spotted behind the hot plate on a Saturday night. Amenities at guests’ disposal include snooker tables, a golf memorabilia room, a grand piano (festooned with photos of the hotel’s celebrity clientele), a gym, a hair salon, and a spa offering beauty treatments, massages and reflexology.
The Conservatory Restaurant offers locally-sourced seasonal Scottish produce and a choice of more than 400 wines and 100 malt whiskies, and arrangements can be made for those wishing to play the country squire with pursuits including salmon and trout fishing, game shooting and stalking.
Sitting unobtrusively on Great King Street in Edinburgh’s Georgian utopia, the New Town, The Howard has just 18 luxury rooms, including suites with their own private terraces, and is the very definition of elegance and discretion – it has played host to a long list of celebrities, being a particular favourite with stars of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, all of whom it resolutely refuses to name.
Besides visitors, the hotel has its own resident ghost – a female one said to be of a friendly disposition. However amiable she may be, it’s unlikely she’ll usurp your own personal butler in the new best friend stakes.
Assigned to each guest, butlers will serve a candlelit dinner complete with harpist in the privacy of your suite, bring a pitcher of Pimms to you in the Hidden Garden, sew on buttons and stitch hems, pack and unpack your bags and press or steam your clothes, polish your shoes, shop for you and wrap your gifts, provide a suggested itinerary based on your interests, bring you tea or coffee and your favourite paper in bed in the morning, organise a drinks reception with canapés for your friends in your suite, give you a private whisky tasting session, arrange personal shopping at Belinda Robertson Cashmere, Harvey Nichols and Cruise, and even run you a bath with your favourite from a menu of essences and foams, light your candles and pour you a glass of wine.
The butlers keep a box of treasures, and can replace forgotten bow ties, tights and cufflinks at a moment’s notice. Regular guests can even leave a bag of essentials at the hotel which the butlers will ensure is ready and waiting in your room the next time you visit – they’ll even purchase new supplies for you before you arrive if it looks like you’re running low on something. That is, if you can ever bear to leave in the first place.
Former home of the publication you are reading, in its new incarnation as a five-star hotel The Scotsman has welcomed guests no less illustrious than the newspaper staff, including Justin Timberlake, Pink, Kiefer Sutherland, Tilda Swinton, John Cleese and Kofi Annan. The Scotsman has been named one of the top hotels in the world by both Condé Nast Traveller and Departures magazine, and among the top 20 in the UK by Tatler, and has won AA Hotel of the Year.
The 69 rooms, all converted from the offices of the newspaper, have all retained the character of their former function and no two are alike – they’re also named after the previous inhabitants, with Editor Rooms and Publisher, Director, and even Baron suites – with one containing the old wooden Scotsman newspaper mission statement.
The spa, which uses Thalgo products and offers a frankly staggering array of treatments (including the Writer’s Block facial and The Freelancer – choose three of your own mini treatments) plus Chinese medicine, is in the space once occupied by the printing presses in the bottom floor of the building on Market Street below North Bridge. The Penthouse, costing £1,125 in Festival season, used to house the paper’s carrier pigeons, and now has its own sauna, walk0in dressing room, library and private terrace with barbecue looking over the Castle.
The concierges are a goldmine of knowledge of the building’s original features, which they pass on to guests as they escort them to their rooms. They’ll also arrange luxury sports car hire, a private chauffeur-driven tour of the glens, distillery visits and private film screenings. Rooms come with Edinburgh Monopoly, a Scotsman umbrella, a complimentary daily copy of The Scotsman and 24 hour room service using the privacy hatch if guests didn’t get their fill at the AA Rosette-awarded restaurant.
Glasgow’s Blythswood Square hotel has sold more than 120,000 cocktails since opening its doors in November 2009 – presumably a few of them to P. Diddy (or whatever he was monikered at the time), one notable guest of the up-to-£2,450-a-night Penthouse. Other famous faces rumoured to have stayed are Brad Pitt and Beyoncé – but the hotel are too discreet to confirm.
Penthouse guests are greeted by a bottle of Dom Pérignon, and enjoy private viewings of the film of their choice in the hotel’s screening room, private lift access, their own rooftop terrace and sole access after 9pm to the Thermal Experience in the hotel’s 10,000 sq ft spa, which boasts a vitality pool with massage fountains, aromatherapy saunarium and a rhassoul chamber and uses Elemis products for bespoke treatments.
Harris Tweed - also used by Chanel, Vivienne Westwood, Nike and Céline – was commissioned to design the textiles for the hotel, their last interior design job having been the QE2 in the 1960s. The job took 100 weavers six months to complete, and the fabric adorns every room, down to the cinema seats in the screening room.
The hotel’s Rally Bar is so-named as it was one of eight starting points for the 1955 Monte Carlo Rally, Blythswood Square having previously been the Clubhouse for The Royal Scottish Automobile Club from 1910 to 2002.The Sunday Times named Blythswood Square as one of its 50 Most Amazing Hotels in the World this year, and it has also won Most Stylish Hotel at the Scottish Style Awards and AA Hotel of the Year Scotland, been awarded two AA Rosettes for its food, and featured on the Condé Nast Hot List.
The Witchery restaurant, located within striking distance of Edinburgh Castle and possibly just as well-known, opened on Halloween in 1979 and its eight adjacent opulent suites are suitably Gothic in flavour. Cosmopolitan magazine named it ‘one of the seven wonders of the hotel world’ and celebrity guests have included Ewan McGregor, Jack Nicholson, Pierce Brosnan and Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, while more permanent residents include the ghost of one of the thousand people burned for witchcraft on Castlehill in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Swagged out in theatrically decadent style, all moody candlelit crimson and gold, orchids and champagne, the suites are habitable aphrodisiacs with waiting lists for months that even VIPs have to join. Guests can opt for private dining in the magical Secret Garden, choosing their own menu and, with help from the restaurant’s sommeliers, their own selection of wines and Champagnes from the packed cellar.
The most gothic of the suites, Vestry is a riot of red and black, with an organ pipe headboard and windows overlooking the Royal Mile. Once the Edinburgh residence of the eponymous aristoctratic family, who bought it in 1743, Sempill is high-camp, with a velvet-draped four poster bed and antique leather panelled walls and panelled dining hall stuffed with antiques.
Old Rectory is for the romantics, with a leather-lined bathroom and freestanding silver bath, seven windows with views of the Fife coast and a vast oak bed made from church pulpits. The Library has, appropriately, a book-filled bathroom through a secret door in a bookcase and paisley-upholstered walls, while the Heriot, reached via a stone turret stairway, has tapestry walls, a four poster bed hung with green and gold embroidered velvet, antler furniture and a hidden chapel-like bathroom with painted ceiling.
Another capital institution, affectionately known to locals as the Caley, The Caledonian is a piece of Edinburgh history - it celebrates its 100th birthday this December but is looking more sprightly than ever thanks to a £24 million facelift. In 1947 Princess Elizabeth and Lt. Philip Mountbatten dined with the Duke & Duchess of Buccleuch at the hotel and guests through the decades have included Gene Kelly, Maria Callas, Yehudi Menuhin, Marlene Dietrich, Princess Grace of Monaco and Prince Rainier, Nelson Mandela, Clint Eastwood and Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
Once the station hotel for the now-demolished Princes Street Station, which stood at the west end of Princes Street for almost 100 years, The Caledonian survived when the station was knocked down in 1970, as did what was the station concourse and ticket office – now known as Peacock Alley and home to the lounge bar.
The Caledonian Railway Company’s crests can still be seen, as can the station clock, made by Hamilton & Inches, which survived the station fire of 1890. Walking the corridors is a history lesson, with the walls lined with photographs of the hotel and its celebrity guests through the ages, including its original plans.
The hotel has 241 rooms, including 15 suites costing up to £1,200-plus per night, and post-refurbishment has reopened its original Pompadour fine dining restaurant, now under the direction of the Michelin-starred Galvin brothers, who also run its less formal Galvin Brasserie de Luxe, with both using locally sourced produce for their take on French cuisine. Continuing the French finery theme, the hotel is home to the UK’s first Guerlain spa, as well as a brand new health club with pool, fitness centre with personal trainers on hand, whirlpool, sauna and steam room.
An A-listed building with an A-list clientele, Prestonfield House is the most rock’n’roll 17th-century house you’ll come across. The hotel re-opened in 2003, after a £5.5 million revamp, by hosting a celeb-studded dinner for the MTV Awards and the famous faces have stuck around. The house was built in 1687 by a Lord Provost of Edinburgh as a home fit for entertaining the elite of the day including David Hume, Benjamin Franklin and Dr Samuel Johnson, and Elton John and Oliver Reed have been among those to party in their footsteps, as did Sandie Shaw, barefoot. The Queen and Winston Churchill were possibly better behaved on their visits. More recently Joan Collins, Vin Diesel, Christina Aguilera, Shirley Manson, and the celebs’ favourite spiritual leader the Dalai Lama have all stayed.
It boasts its own heli-pad on the front lawn – although those arriving by regular old aeroplane are met at the airport by a black kilt-clad concierge behind the wheel of one of the hotels black Range Rovers – and the 20 acres of grounds are home to a herd of Highland cattle and an ostentation of peacocks. The hotel restaurant Rhubarb has a wine list of over 800 bins and the hotel has been named among Europe’s sexiest by Mr & Mrs Smith, one of the 101 best hotels in the world by Tatler, Hotel of the Year by the AA and Edinburgh’s ‘most indulgent retreat’ by Elle magazine.
The hotel is a temple to quirky maximalism and the sumptuous interiors are mind-blowingly opulent, looking more like a film set than a hotel (the celebrity guests should feel right at home) with an Aladdin’s cave-worth of antiques and artworks, roaring fires, gilded mirrors, luxuriant flowers and walls upholstered in velvet and brocade. No two of the 18 rooms are the same but all come with mood lighting, a well-stocked minibar and 24 hour room service, wi-fi, plasma TV and DVD player with a library of films, Bose CD player, antique furniture, enormous oak beds, bathrooms clad in Venetian glass mosaic and marble complete with roll top baths and GHDs – plus a bottle of Champagne on ice and petits fours to greet guests.