Most people don’t realize how truly small Edinburgh, Scotland is. For all its hype as one of the leading cities to visit in the United Kingdom, Edinburgh is really just a small, compact, accessible, charming, very friendly, exquisitely posh village that one can walk in a few hours, and visit within a few days. Add to that, a castle and the five-star luxury Rocco Forte Collection‘s Balmoral Castle Hotel, and basically this is the most perfect town on the face of the earth.The Balmoral is right next to the Waverly Train Station (and, in fact, there used to be an underground pathway from the inside of the hotel to station), which makes getting here a breeze, even for the most jetlagged traveler. Its Princes’ street address signifies two major goodies: you’re not only in the main shopping district of Edinburgh, but you’re going to have incredible views of the Edinburgh Castle, the Sir Walter Scott Monument and Princes Street. And, indeed, the 188 recently refurbished suites offer up these views.
The eclectic country-meets-modern decorated rooms in the colors of the Highland mists, moors and heathers (think Scottish kilts, blended with modern decor) are the epitome of comfort; with oh-so-high ceilings and square footage practically unheard of in the UK, a bathroom to die for (sumptuous shampoo, soap, and shower gel amenities, French windows that open wide, heated towel racks and heated floor tiles!), and a bed that magnetically pulls you towards it (with exclusively designed Johnston’s of Elgin blankets on every bed), the conundrum is that you won’t even know where to begin with your self-indulgence!
So don’t even start there.
Instead, before you even visit your room, take the Afternoon Tea inside the Palm Court Drawing Room, overlooking the famous Edinburgh Castle. (They don’t call it High Tea in Scotland; it’s either Cream Tea or Afternoon Tea; the more posh the place, the more likely you are to get Afternoon Tea.) In comes a tiered set-up of canapés and scones: Heather Honey Scones, Chocolate Scones, Raisin Scones, Dundee Cakes, Selkirk Bannocks, served up with Clotted Cream (who can resist!) and Strawberry Preserves. And there are Finger Sandwiches (Scottish Smoked Salmon, Egg Mayonnaise, Plum Tomato and Chives, Roast Beef, Ayrshire Ham with Gruyère Cheese, Cucumber and Milled Pepper) that are every bit as delicious as the marvelous variety of pretty homemade Pastries at the very top of the tier. And, of course, don’t forget the always flowing Tea, Coffee and Bollinger Champagne.
After you’ve had your fill of, perhaps, the best food in the UK (and we aren’t even talking about the restaurant yet), then head to the Balmoral Spa, voted this year as Scotland’s top Urban Day Spa by Conde Nast Traveler Readers’ Spa Awards. This is where you’ll be glad you reserved the “Simply Spa” package, which comes with a one-hour organic Ytsara Treatment; a Manao Head, Face and Body Treatment (where a heavenly smelling herbal poultice is placed all over your body, followed by a floral body rub); and the Nuat Namman Body Oil Ceremony with a tropical aromatherapeutic acupressure massage. After, skinny it into the Finnish sauna and Turkish steam room, then cool off and jump into the clear, 15 meter pool, and dry off in the candle-lit, scented Relaxation Suite, sipping fresh-fresh fruit juices and reading all the newest fashion magazines.
By this time, of course, you’ve built your appetite back up and it’s time for dinner at the Michelin double-starred number one restaurant, where Chef Jeff Bland will start you off with something exceedingly delicious, such as Seared Scallops with Baby Spinach Soup and Salt Cod Ravioli, Langoustine and Poached Quail Egg or the Baked Morel Mousse, Green Asparagus, Morel Fricassee and Confit Egg Yolk. Segue into the Loin of Spring Lamb, Boulangere Potatoes, Peas, Baby Gem and Tarragon Emulsion or, for the fish lover, the Fillet of Halibut with Ratte Potatoes, Poached Scottish Lobster and Caviar Cream. Finish off with the Lemon Soufflé with Strawberry Shortbread and Strawberry Sorbet, because, well, you just have to have the Strawberry Shortbread while in Scotland, period. Yum.
And, now, you can visit your room!
Or let’s just say you had too much to eat at Afternoon Tea and you want to forgo dinner. Then you really can take advantage of your luscious room. Reserve the Pajama Party package (ask for the gorgeous Presidential Suite!) where you can sneak down to the spa for whatever treatment you want, whenever you want, or have a spa therapist come to your room to give a mini back rub and manicure, all while you watch flicks, drink champagne and snack on comfort food. And, yep, you can even work in your P.J.’s because each room has two telephone lines; fax-modem lines and broadband Internet connection, as well as an interactive national and satellite television. And seasoned European travelers will be happy to know that the individual air-conditioning is a blast of arctic luxury on those rare days in Scotland when the air gets toasty.
With all this, you won’t even want to leave the hotel to visit the Balmoral Castle — after all, you can view the Castle from your window while you sip champagne.
Originally published in Jolie Magazine (a specialty monthly magazine for The State — a McClatchy Newspaper in South Carolina).