‘My image of the Novotel,” said a frequent-flying US visitor at breakfast, “is that it’s next to airports and it’s small.”
The French hotelier opened its first premises in Lille Lesquin – near an airport – in 1961, and now has more than 85,000 rooms across 60 countries. It has built its reputation on convenience, a quality that the Edinburgh Novotel I visited recently, in Lauriston Place, has in spades. A five-minute walk in either direction takes you to the sort of bars and restaurants whose patrons would squirm if you were to describe them as “hip”, “trendy” or, worst of all, “hipster”. (Should that sound like a descent to a fresh circle of hell, you can walk an extra ten minutes to Lothian Road, where the drinking dens are a little more lived-in, or, if you’re going in the opposite direction, continue on until you get to Morningside.)
Novotel, in a peculiar way, is responding to its surroundings. Earlier this year, it opened a bar called The Tap, whose interior is an expensive-looking blend of whisky den and student union. It used to be a punk hangout called The Tap o’ Lauriston, which was demolished two decades ago to make way for an Inland Revenue office and, since 2004, the hotel that stands in its place. “Our mission,” their menu says, “[is] to make every night as cool as a Friday night!” That’s less alarming than it ought to be – when I visited on a recent Friday evening, it was a long way off from the Dionysian free-for-all of the Cowgate.
Wining and dining
The restaurant has a pan-global approach to its menu, where you can choose between the king prawn ramen (£15), jerk chicken and sweet potato fries (£14.50), a starter of chipotle prawn tacos and much more besides. (For the less adventurous, there are burgers and pizzas, too.) I went for the green Thai vegetable curry (£15), which resembled a fancy vegetable soup of carrots, red onion, green beans, boiled and sweet potatoes. It was hearty and satisfying, but not exactly authentic. Ting Thai Caravan, a short walk away in Teviot Place, better caters for that craving. Bonus points, though, for the crisp, oil-free batter on the deep-fried calamari (£5.80), and the warm chocolate brownie with caramel salted ice cream (£5.50), a dessert I usually find too cloying to finish.
Budget or boutique?
The most obvious luxury that Novotel affords is the short walk to the city centre, or, if you’re on the right side of the fifth floor, as I was, a panoramic view of the castle. Some of the hotel’s other four-star features seem squashed. The pool is too small to do any exercise of note in, though there is a gym room nearby.
The rooms are bright, pleasant and not entirely without features of interest – in my “Executive Room”, a print of an Yvon Taillandier painting resembled the artwork for the 1982 album Junkyard, The Birthday Party’s last hurrah. The hotel has three room types – there’s the Superior Room, the Executive Room and the Suite, in ascending order of fanciness.
For Le Club members a decadent, chocolate-based dessert awaits in the room prior to check-in.
Worth getting out of bed for
Let’s assume you’re visiting for a few days. (And that the weather isn’t terrible.) After a cooked or continental breakfast at the hotel, head to Holyrood via the Royal Mile and seek out one of the paths from the bottom of the nearby Arthur’s Seat to its summit. For another picturesque amble, head through Dean Village for the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art then to the Royal Botanic Garden in Inverleith.
One of the waitresses at the restaurant, a trained biologist from Spain, told me she was a big fan of Creedence Clearwater Revival. A staff-curated playlist for The Tap might be more faithful to the venue’s ancestry – and the tastes of most visitors, this one excepted – than the incongruous mix of Jay-Z, The Who and Katy Perry.
Prices start from £89 per room. Le Club AccorHotels members can save 10 per cent by booking direct at Novotel.com. Novotel Edinburgh City Centre, 80 Lauriston Place, Edinburgh EH3 9DE (0131-656 3500, www.novotel.com)