RUMOUR has it that a private lift exists to whisk the Queen from her train platform at Waverley right up to her suite in the Balmoral Hotel. We had a good old snoop but couldn’t track it down, sadly.
Anyway, there is a sense that every guest in this venerable old hotel is treated like royalty – without the bowing and scraping and tugging of forelocks, obviously. That would have been plain awkward.
Her Majesty isn’t the only famous visitor. The hotel has played host to J K Rowling, and even knocked a wall down so Mick Jagger could have a bigger room. (They rebuilt it when he checked out.)
After all that wild living, and considering it celebrates its 110th birthday this month, the old girl could be forgiven for showing her age a little. But a contemporary makeover by Olga Polizzi has kept the design unmistakeably Scottish without so much as a hint of tacky tartanalia. The colour scheme conjures up images of heather-clad hills and romantic, misty moors, while a Vettriano-esque print hung above the bed and a monochrome photograph of Sean Connery assisting a bikini-class Ursula Andress in her beach handstand takes pride of place in the bathroom.
The views, though, overshadow everything. Our room looked up North Bridge towards the Royal Mile, with the castle and Arthur’s Seat in the distance and, from the corner turret, we could glimpse Cockenzie, far down the sun-soaked east coast.
WINING AND DINING? When there’s a Michelin-starred restaurant on site – with a head chef (Jeff Bland) who was crowned Chef of the Year at this year’s Scottish Restaurant Awards – it would be rude not to. So, after a couple of champagne cocktails in the sumptuous Bollinger bar, we decamped to Number One.
We started with a meltingly divine goat’s cheese with young roots and smoked almond, and little cubes of Isle of Skye scallops with pig cheek, sauerkraut and apple. This was followed by monkfish with kalamata, Israeli cous cous, white anchovy and wild garlic, and halibut, cauliflower purée, caper and lemon-thyme noisette with a delicate bacon foam. Each dish was both a culinary and a visual artform, while the light, scrumptious pudding of crème fraîche tart and rhubarb with lemon mousse, plus expertly selected cheeses, were guaranteed to give us sweet dreams.
ROOM SERVICE? Our suite had oodles of space, with free wifi, giant TV (conveniently hidden in a tasteful cabinet when not in use) and all the other facilities you would expect from a luxury hotel. The spotless marble bathroom featured a rain shower above the bath, plus Ren goodies, powerful hairdryer and more mirrors than you could shake a hairbrush at – useful, though you have to avert your eyes unless you particularly want to see a full frontal of yourself perched on the loo. Just one criticism: we couldn’t work the air-con so woke up parched and bathed in sweat, convinced we’d been relocated to the sauna downstairs.
WORTH GETTING OUT OF BED FOR? Want shopping? All the big names are right on your doorstep. Want culture? There’s the castle, the National Galleries of Scotland on the Mound, the National Museum on Chambers Street, Museum of Childhood on the High Street, the Whisky Experience on Castle Hill. Need we go on? OK, Edinburgh Dungeons is practically in the back garden, Princes Street Gardens is a lovely green space in the heart of the city and, just a 15-minute walk away, Arthur’s Seat is begging to be conquered. It’s hardly Everest, yet from the top there is a view, on a good day, as far as the Ochils, beyond the Forth Bridge.
BUDGET OR BOUTIQUE? Possibly too large to be classed as a boutique hotel, the Balmoral still feels like one. There is a relaxed intimacy about the service and a tasteful exclusivity about the design.
LITTLE EXTRAS? The spa features Espa treatments, but even if you’re not in the mood to lie back and let someone pummel you into sweet nirvana, the pool, sauna and steam room are available to guests free of charge, as is the gym.
GUESTBOOK COMMENTS? It’s an Edinburgh landmark and arguably the city’s loveliest luxury hotel, so it’s not cheap but can’t be beaten for a special occasion. Every one of those five stars is deserved.
• The Balmoral Hotel, 1 Princes Street, Edinburgh (0131-556 2414, www.thebalmoralhotel.com)
• Double rooms, from £265 a night, with breakfast; dinner at Number One costs from £64