Great Places to Stay
- Radisson Blu Edinburgh, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh
"Such dusky grandeur cloth'd the height,
Where the huge Castle holds its state,
And all the steep slope down,
Whose ridgy back heaves to the sky
Pil'd deep and massy, close and high,
Mine own romantic town!"
Sir Walter Scott
Location and Introduction
The Radisson Blu is located right on the famous historic Royal Mile - or High Street - which stretches from the Castle down to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Edinburgh residence of the Royal Family. This is indeed the heart of the Old Town and the ideal place to stay in order to explore the Castle, Palace, St Giles Cathedral, old kirks and the quaint cobbled courtyards, closes and wynds nearby. The hotel is within a short distance of the train station and airport bus terminal. During the Edinburgh Festival in August, the Royal Mile is closed to traffic when the area becomes an exciting platform for free street theatre and entertainment.
The Royal Mile (it's actually one mile and 107 yards from the entrance to Edinburgh Castle to the gates of the Palace of Holyrood House) is not only a popular tourist attraction but also provides a fascinating insight into the history of the City and of Scotland itself. It was described by Daniel Defoe as the "Largest, Longest and Finest Street in the World." While much of the architecture is Victorian, many fine townhouses and tenement (apartment) buildings date back to the 15th and 16th century. These are now open as important visitor attractions such as Gladstone's Land and Lady Stair's House, which houses the Writers' Museum. And just down the street stands the Radisson Blu: built of rose-tinted sandstone with corner towers and turrets, it may look like an ancient building but in fact was originally constructed in 1990 as the Scandic Crown hotel in a gap site where a block of 18th century houses once stood. The design has been heralded as "the finest example of medieval architecture built in recent times" in the way it sympathetically blends with its ancient neighbouring properties. Inside, however, is an outstanding modern hotel for the 21st century traveller.
In 2004 Radisson SAS purchased the former Scandic Crown hotel and embarked on a £5 million refurbishment programme. This has been a radical face-lift, virtually gutting the interior and incorporating a completely fresh and contemporary new look. The entire renovation and décor has been devised by highly renowned and innovative Glasgow design company, Graven Images, under Jim Hamilton and his team. Graven Images specialise in graphic, exhibition and interior design and were previously in charge of the design of Collage bar at the Radisson Blu, Glasgow, which has won numerous awards for design, service and hospitality.
The moment you walk in the automatic doors at the Radisson Blu, Edinburgh you can see the dramatic change. The reception lobby, with three neat desks in a row, literally sparkles with clean-cut lines and monochrome tones in off-white and matt black. Beyond the lobby and three elevators (you never have to wait long for one) the space opens up into an open plan lounge - definitely a lounging about place - featuring comfortable dark brown and blue upholstered armchairs and low coffee tables. Pillars, plants and wide archways divide up the large room to create intimate seating areas. But the piece de resistance to the new design is the addition of a stunning and sleek Manhattan style bar and restaurant, called Itchycoo, located to the right of the entrance door. This makes perfect sense to entice non-residents into the hotel to wine and dine beside hotel guests. More on Itchycoo below.
The hotel offers first class conference and business meeting rooms, swimming pool, Spa and fitness centre. As the hotel had been purpose built in 1990, facilities also include a car park for 131 cars, which is an added bonus in the city centre.
And So To Bed....
The Radisson Blu appears from the lobby like the Tardis - a compact six-storey building, which does not seem on a large scale, yet there are 238 bedrooms. Each accommodation floor has extra wide corridors and occasional square hallways so that is all very open and light. There are four basic styles of guest room from Standard (which is pretty spacious, decorated in white and grey), Business Class (slightly larger with more lavish furnishings), Family rooms and Suites. In addition, two rooms have been adapted for those with disabilities and wheelchair users.
Graven Images was given a brief to create a bold, contemporary 21st century look yet reflecting the neo-Gothic architecture of the original building. Furnishings were sourced using Scottish wood, textiles and wallpaper. The Business Class rooms have pale wood furniture contrasting with cleverly deceptive black-on-black thistle motif wallpaper (designer -Timorous Beasties) across one wall, complemented with quality woven Bute Fabric curtains for the medieval-style windows. The majestic Classic and Turret Suites offer ultra sophisticated, minimalist, mini apartments for living, eating and sleeping with the luxury of extra space and comfort. Highly recommended is Room 429, a Turret Suite that has a fabulous round tower for the dining area and as a centrepiece of the living room is a stunning long L shaped sofa upholstered in soft oatmeal tweed. A great deal of thought has gone into the lighting with a fabulous modern bright white standard lamp and practical desk angle poise lights. Watch your head though on the bedside lights attached rather too low down on the headboard - Ouch! With 24-hour room service, the suites are ideal for a romantic weekend or in-room entertaining. All bedrooms have free broadband access, direct dial telephones, satellite TV, pay movies, hospitality tray, mini bar and laptop safe. Heating and air conditioning can be self-controlled at the touch of a button. Certain other usual facilities such as a trouser press are surprisingly absent. Also no iron and ironing board but when requested at 8am, this was delivered within five minutes. In room breakfast was delivered on the stroke of 8.30am so top marks for service.
Bathrooms in every standard of room are all the same size and style - white, small and compact with bath and overhead power shower. And they certainly have power to wake you up in the morning. Radisson own brand toiletries are supplied in tiny tubs such as lemon conditioning shampoo - which looks dodgy but is of surprisingly good quality. Bathrobes are supplied in Business class and Suites.
One of the most exciting aspects of this new look hotel is the creation of a fabulous and funky bar and restaurant, Itchycoo, located just off the lobby and open to guests and non-residents. It's a catchy name - (remember the Small Faces hit, Itchycoo Park?) - and sure to become a trendy place for cocktails or meeting friends for a meal. In fact it already is the place to be seen in town - some of the cast and crew from the movie, The Da Vinci Code were spotted here in the bar and stayed at the Radisson during filming in Roslin near Edinburgh.
The central island bar - all shining stainless steel and black surrounded by extremely comfortable white high stools - dominates the space. With soft chill out sounds and low lighting, the mood is all very Manhattanite. All around, like other tiny islands, there's a choice of where to sit, eat and drink: Long, black high tables with stools, an intimate leather booth hidden in a turret, small square dining tables with bucket chairs, and a wall of low bench sofa seats against diner tables. The décor has extraordinary artistic flair - if rather eclectic. Giant bumble bee wallpaper contrasts with a fantastic installation by actor/ artist Bob Kingdom, who has created huge 3D photographic portraits of five 20th-century icons including Warhol and Picasso.
And so to the food. Head Chef is Swedish born, New York based, Christer Larsson who has created a classy, contemporary menu for the modern international appetite. Forget starters and mains - here in Spanish tapas style, all dishes are appetiser size with an eat/drink menu divided into simple user-friendly sections: sea, farm, field and vineyard. Diners are advised to select two to three platters each for sharing. Several of Larsson's signature dishes from his New York restaurant are reproduced here, including a delectable tender, smokey-flavoured salmon served on an oak board with sweet potato puree. The Vineyard section lists a wide selection of New World wines by the glass or bottle. Full marks for serving ice cold Italian Prosecco by the glass.
Once you have experienced a meal at Itchycoo, you will soon think that the formal starter, main course, dessert menu is old fashioned and boring. Here you can share an eclectic mix of dishes with your dining partner or group of friends. Advised to have two or three each we chose a total of five - Steamed mussels, with a vanilla bean sauce, Grilled Sea Scallops with saffron risotto and roasted pepper sauce, Fried fillet of Turbot with black beans, corn and avocado salsa, with two side dishes - a bowl of Ratte fries and Steamed Broccoli with roasted garlic, olives and almonds. Dishes come to the table when ready in no particular order and it was such fun to taste and experiment the various flavours and textures. All the fish dishes were cooked to perfection especially the lightly fried turbot - and do try the scrummy chunky chips made from Ratte heritage potatoes. The cuisine is a fusion of American, Mexican, Spanish and Thai which results in a fantastic exotic feast to surprise and tease the taste buds.
Breakfast is served in the Carrubbers restaurant downstairs with a cold and hot buffet. Expect the usual display of tinned and dried fruit, juices, cereals, yoghurt and pastries. To follow, the typical Scottish fry up, with fried eggs, bacon, sausage, black pudding, haggis, potato scone, mushrooms and tomatoes. Not wonderful for vegetarians. You may order a freshly made hot dish (with 15 minute delay), poached or boiled egg and selection of smoked fish. It's a shame that breakfast does not reflect the contemporary, healthy American style food of Itchycoo. The in-room service is far superior with a large bowl of fresh fruit salad (melon, pineapple, berries, apple, redcurrants) and croissants as part of an attractively presented continental breakfast tray.
Wellness Leisure Centre
The Radisson Blu has inherited the original Evolve leisure Club of the former Scandic Crown hotel. The 10-metre swimming pool is very small and not ideally suited for serious laps but great for children to splash about. On a Monday morning I went down for a pre-breakfast swim at 8.30am to find the pool crowded with parents and young kids - but it was school holiday time and normally on a weekday it would be quiet. The good news is the spacious well-equipped gym and there are separate saunas in both the men's and ladies' changing rooms. Guests can also arrange Wellness health and beauty treatments including massage, facial, reiki, manicure, reflexology, head massage or a Dead Sea salt scrub.
Apart from all the tourist attractions up and down the Royal Mile, including the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre, Writers Museum and Camera Obscura, you can also browse here around the excellent Scottish cashmere, tartan, whisky and gift shops, or enjoy traditional hospitality in one of the local pubs, some of which have live Celtic music in the evenings. It's only a short stroll downhill to the city centre and Georgian New Town with its designer shops, world class art galleries, bars and restaurants.
Weddings and Conferences
The Radisson Blu prides itself on excellent conference, function and meeting room facilities. There are eight conference and banqueting rooms named after some of the Old Town's most famous attractions such as Holyrood, Canongate and St. Giles. There is a dedicated Corporate and meeting co-ordinator to arrange all facilities and equipment, catering and entertainment. The hotel can cater for private dinners, parties and is popular for weddings. The hotel has a licence for the ceremony and can organise your reception in the Great Scottish Hall.
Having stayed at the former Scandic Crowne a few years ago, it was an absolute delight to return to experience the magical transformation into this cool, contemporary and very classy, Radisson Blu. Congratulations are due to the design team, Graven Images which has created a completely new identity and atmosphere from front of house to bedroom furnishings as well as designing the fun and funky Itchycoo bar and restaurant. It's a dazzling and dynamic new hotel environment for visitors to Edinburgh.
For more information or to make a reservation see the Radisson Blu Edinburgh Web site.
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