Great Places to Stay
- Balmoral Hotel, Edinburgh
For one hundred years, The Balmoral featuring its stunning 195-foot clock tower has been a magnificent landmark, dominating the city skyline and affectionately named "the grand old lady" of Princes Street. Formerly called the North British Hotel, (also known as the NB), this glittering and opulent Edwardian residence for the well-to-do traveller opened in October 1902. Owned by the North British Railway Company, guests could take a private elevator from Waverley station directly up to the arrivals hall, all adding to the exclusivity of the hotel.
With its Palm Court for afternoon tea, elegant dining and drawing rooms complete with marble pillars, chandeliers and ornate cornicing, the NB offered a taste of world class luxury and fine living. The 300 bedrooms and suites were furnished in mahogany with leather and crimson moquette reflecting French and Italian interior design and the communal bathrooms were equally spacious and luxurious. Special guest facilities included hairdressing salons for men and women, two billiard rooms and an innovative American Cocktail Bar. With its spectacular banqueting suite for dinner dances and special functions, the NB was renowned for exceptional fine dining - in classic tradition the Chefs and all kitchen staff only communicated in French.
For seventy years the North British welcomed the rich and famous, royalty and rock stars, city visitors and local residents to experience its fine hospitality and comfort. In 1981 British Rail sold the hotel, beginning a period of mismanagement and decline. From 1988 the hotel closed for three years during a major £23 million refurbishment programme, reopening in 1991 with a new name - The Balmoral, which is Gaelic for `majestic dwelling` (not to be confused with the Royal residence in the Scottish Highlands).
"Under New Management"
And so we come up to date into the current era in the hotel's long and glamorous history. In 1996 Sir Rocco Forte, after a long and successful career in the hotel industry, began to plan his own personal collection of 5 star deluxe hotels in the major capital cities across Europe. It is extremely significant that the first property Forte purchased was The Balmoral in Edinburgh, a decision that pays great tribute to the city and also to the history and heritage of this famous hotel.
It was then important to put his own distinctive hotelier's mark on the property, investing a further £10 million on touching up its interior design. Keeping it in the family, his sister Olga Polizzi was given the task of selecting fabrics and furnishings, antiques and accessories, to bring a hint of a contemporary lifestyle without losing the hotel's traditional and elegant ambience.
The Balmoral Today
Today the legacy of the old NB lives on yet with every modern facility and convenience for the business and leisure traveller. The entrance lobby recreates the original 1902 design with chandelier, open fire and marble floor combined with a fresh modern colour scheme and Scottish art on the walls. The Balmoral offers luxury accommodation all bedrooms with en suite marble bathrooms, a generous display of Rocco Forte branded toiletries, air-conditioning, Interactive TV, Fax and modem point, mini-bar, trouser press, bathrobes and slippers.
There are 168 standard, superior or deluxe bedrooms as well as 20 superior, deluxe and royal suites, all individually designed and decorated in soft pastel shades of cream, ochre and green, with perhaps a subtle hint of Scottish plaid or heraldic pattern. There's a choice of views over a quiet courtyard, Princes Street, up to the Old Town, or over the gardens and the Castle. The suites offer the added luxury and space of a separate sitting room, some with four-poster bed or homely touches such as a coal effect gas fire and selection of magazines and books.
The three Royal suites would be the ideal choice of a special celebration or romantic weekend - such as the Balmoral Suite, a spacious apartment in itself with en suite bedroom, sitting room with open fireplace, CD and DVD player, and a dining room with an oak table to seat six people. Located on the third floor there are views over the Firth of Forth and the Old Town. The hotel's most luxurious suite is the Scone & Crombie offering a spacious apartment with elegant sitting room with beautiful antique furniture include a Chinese Armoire, Regency sofa, standard lamps as well as contemporary art work.
Dining at the Balmoral
There are few finer places in the city in which to enjoy first class cuisine than at the Balmoral, which boasts the Michelin starred Number One restaurant under Chef Jeff Bland.
For a more casual Brasserie style atmosphere, guests may prefer Hadrians. Stylish and contemporary it may be, but you will still find white linen tablecloths and excellent personal attention. This is a long, sleek and chic restaurant with comfortable banquette seating on the ground floor of the hotel, overlooking North Bridge and open to non-residents as well as hotel guests. The staff are immaculately dressed in traditional French waiter uniform and everything about it smacks of five star service. The menu is extremely appetising, featuring fine Scottish produce with an international flair.
Begin perhaps with Tartare of Smoked and Marinated salmon with celeriac remoulade, or classic Mussels Marinière or Smoked chicken with satay sauce. There are separate sections of salads, soups, eggs, pasta, fish, meat and vegetarian. The range of dishes is extremely varied to suit time of day, jet lag fatigue and individual appetite.
For instance you could select Eggs Benedict at 8pm if you have just flown into town and feel like a late breakfast, or alternatively dig into a Char Grilled Rib Eye Steak with sauce béarnaise. Highly recommended is the Linguine with saffron and King Prawns, an oh-so freshly prepared pasta, tossed with chunky pink shellfish and spices, tasting just like a dish I enjoyed al fresco in Sardinia. Home cooking - there's fish and chips on the menu as well as Breast of chicken served with French Mash Potatoes. Salads are extremely innovative such as the Baby Gem Lettuce with avocado, tomato, spring onion and ginger.
A good selection of classic desserts including Lemon Tart with raspberry sorbet or Dark Chocolate pudding with vanilla ice-cream as well as a platter of cheese and biscuits.
During the day the original Palm Court with its minstrel gallery still retains the glamour of its Edwardian past and here you can still indulge in afternoon tea, coffees and cocktails. There is also a traditional pub called NBs, a popular place for a drink, with live music entertainment at weekends.
The Balmoral Spa
Part of the major refurbishment programme to bring the Balmoral into the 21st century as a world-class five star hotel was to create of a luxurious Health Spa in the basement. This features a 15 metre swimming pool, sauna, steam room, gymnasium, exercise studio, treatment rooms, juice bar and poolside relaxation area. The range of E`SPA health and beauty treatments for men and women are very popular with guests and advance booking is advisable. In today's stressful and fast paced world, a facial, massage or manicure is part of everyday life.
100 years on The Balmoral continues to offer its guests the highest level of hospitality, homely comfort and exceptional service. Sir Rocco Forte has been extremely wise to retain the grace and glamour of its heritage yet neatly combining this elegant setting with every modern facility and a relaxed, cosmopolitan style of hotel living for the discerning traveller today.
For more information or to make a reservation see the Balmoral Hotel Web site.
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