Hotel Insider: The Caledonian, Edinburgh
Glaswegians would have you believe that residents of Edinburgh are comparatively unwelcoming. Glasgow has traditionally been the hard-working city, unglamorous but friendly, while Edinburgh, for all its riches, is cold and aloof. It's a stereotype that's well wide of the mark at the Caledonian, which, following a £24 million (Dh142m) refurbishment by the Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, is grander and more welcoming than ever. Unusually for a 120-year-old property with such a central location, there's an on-site car park and valet service. Don't be surprised if the doorman greeting you is wearing tartan trousers (Scotland's capital is rarely subtle about its nationalistic pride) and shoos you away should you try to lift your own bags.
Located at the end of Princes Street, the city's primary retail artery, in a 120-year-old former train station, there are few more spectacular spots in the city. Neighbours include the beautiful Princes Street Gardens, a selection of shops and some of Edinburgh's oldest buildings - most conspicuously the 800-year-old Edinburgh Castle.
The rooms have been updated as part of the investment, and though they remain fairly plain with neutral colours and largely bare walls, they're spacious and well equipped. As well as the usual mini-bar and flat-screen TV, there's complimentary Wi-Fi and an espresso maker. In the bedroom, an emperor-sized bed dominates the space. Dainty Salvatore Ferragamo toiletries are found in the large bathroom, which has a monsoon shower as well as a stand-alone bath. We stayed in a King Deluxe room with a view of the castle, meaning we could just about see the building from a prone position in the bath.
The staff is a mix of local Scots and multilingual expatriates, all expertly trained in the machinations of the city. And they understand good service: when we checked out, we were allowed to leave our car parked on-site for several hours while we explored the city.
As home to the world's largest arts festival (www.edfringe.com) and one of its largest New Year parties, Edinburgh attracts an eclectic mix of visitors throughout the year. During our stay over the Christmas break, the crowd was primarily wealthy families, while the restaurants attracted the city's movers and shakers.
The hotel's two restaurants are worth a visit. The Galvin Brasserie De Luxe offers good value with its fixed three-course menu (£18.50; Dh110). The atmosphere is relaxed, the waiters knowledgeable and the food better than its price tag suggests. We enjoyed the vichyssoise of smoked haddock (known locally as Cullen Skink). One of Scotland's most distinct flavours, it was cooked perfectly.
The Pompadour has been making diners happy since 1925, and the owners hope the refurbishment will convince Michelin's inspectors to bestow on them a star. They also poached chef Craig Sandle from another Michelin-starred restaurant - signature dishes on the seven-course Gourmand menu (£68; Dh400) include rabbit and ricotta ravioli, and slow-cooked Angus beef with creamed spinach.
The warm, genuine service. The location and view from the rooms surely cannot be bettered - except, perhaps, from inside Edinburgh Castle itself.
The breakfast service was strangely below par, with long queues to be seated, no knives on table, and some breakfast items depleted a full hour before the restaurant closed. Thankfully, the food itself - including indigenous treats such as tattie scones and haggis - was much better, the coffee strong and the waiters calm and friendly under pressure.
A genuinely five-star experience in an unbeatable location in the city known as "Auld Reekie" - the old stinker. Rarely has the moniker been less applicable.
The bottom line
A castle-view king deluxe room costs from £260 (Dh1,540) per night, including taxes. The Caledonian, Princes Street, Edinburgh, Scotland (www.thecaledonianedinburgh.com; 00 44 131 222 8888).
Published: January 18, 2013 04:00 AM