Balmoral Hotel conjures a touch of magic for visitors to Edinburgh
Edinburgh has always had its own kind of magic – even on a sopping wet weekend in February when there are more brollies and wellies on view than kilts and sporrans.
This was our squelching lot on a recent visit but we were soon reminded why Auld Reekie continues to figure in the pantheon of ‘must visit’ locations. An eclectic range of eateries, plentiful choice of hotels to suit all tastes & budgets and a good range of retail outlets offering pretty much everything from clothes to clams lend the capital an enduring attraction.
The experience is made flesh for visitors and locals alike as they meander down Princes Street in the shadow of the castle to mooch or shop in their own sweet time without having to worry about a one-way system which often renders traffic to a standstill but makes Princes Street a doddle to cross.
We decided to let the train take the strain for our recent trek north and pre-booked a weekend stay at the Balmoral Hotel which is just a stone’s throw from Waverley Station on Princes Street. That proximity was a bonus as the rain lashed down and a distinct drop in temperature began to bite.
Hogwarts the Rocco Forte hotel most certainly is not. But entering the foyer, especially against such a sobering climactic backdrop, it was easy to imagine such a transmogrification.
Throughout our stay the hotel and its abundant and cheery staff conjured a touch of the enchantment that persuaded J.K. Rowling to encamp in Room 552 at the Balmoral in January 2007 to complete the final book in the Harry Potter series.
The author left a signed statement on a marble bust of Hermes in her room which read: “J. K. Rowling finished writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in this room (552) on 11 January 2007.”
In a statement on her website, she added: “I’ve never felt such a mixture of extreme emotions in my life, never dreamed I could feel simultaneously heartbroken and euphoric.”
I don’t think we even signed so much as a visitors’ book from our suite – one floor down – but the emotions Rowling expressed certainly chimed: Euphoria at the comfort and the food and a tinge of regret when we said our farewells.
Seeing so many staff buzzing around with genuine smiles on their faces and so eager to chat, it was hard to imagine that the owners had been forced to board up the Balmoral to deter vandalism when the hotel was forced to close for the early stretch of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Rocco Forte chain took the opportunity to embark upon a major and tasteful refurbishment of key areas of the establishment’s interior during the closedown.
The Balmoral bounceback was rendered replete as the hotel reinforced its people count to a level where guests never had to wander off to find someone who could help with directions or general queries.
A word or two to the wise – and the not so canny – here. If your visit to the city includes a weekend stay ensure you book restaurants well in advance because they fill up fast. That includes the Balmoral’s Brasserie Prince restaurant.
Our schedule out and about was pretty full-on so we were able to take a more relaxed approach to where and what we ate, and at what time: That meant largely dining in the hotel, occasionally in the brasserie and sometimes in our room.
We breakfasted in the Brasserie Prince and it was noticeable that we invariably struggled to finish everything on our plates; whether that was the full Scottish breakfast or one of the ‘Balmoral Classics’ – in my case fish cake, poached egg, herb crème fraîche and various trimmings.
Whatever the mealtime, the brasserie marries French cuisine with Scottish produce to good effect – and consistently – which is important over a prolonged stay.
The brasserie is a fun place. While there are echoes of Paris in the refurbished decor and lay-out of the room the buzz is terrific; attentive staff appear to ‘dance’ around the floor to the backdrop of a music system that belts out pop and rock classics that are highly unusual for such an environment.
It was the same over Sunday lunch which also went with a swing. So many choices but we settled on the perfectly prepared roast rump of beef and all the trimmings.
Those with a more pioneering spirit and clothes one size bigger than they need might care to venture into starter and dessert menus that ooze class and calories in equal measure.
Lest it appear that we are shore-huggers rather than seasoned adventurers in terms of cuisine, I should add that we had occasion to forage further into the a la carte menu via a couple of in-room dining sorties.
On one occasion I had a particularly mouth watering rump steak and then, as if a mystery guest somewhere in the hotel had waved a magic wand, my partner rediscovered the joy of eating oysters.
Based on a particularly nasty experience years into the distant past at a Cambridge restaurant she had eschewed the dish to this point.
Having plucked up the courage to reacquaint herself with the delicacy she still felt it prudent here to try the dish in close proximity to the bathroom. She need not have worried. Deliciously fresh and classically served, the mollusc rematch was to remain one of several highlights of an upbeat visit.
While talking cuisine, I should add for guests staying with infants that the Balmoral has designed a special and reasonably priced menu for young children which fuses culinary nous with shrewd insight regarding the eating habits of this unique and highly treasured section of humanity.
Away from the epicurean and writing from the viewpoints of location and comfort one could see why J.K. Rowling had chosen to stay at the Balmoral and add her name to a host of famous guests along the years.
Comedy duo Laurel and Hardy, Hollywood stars Sophia Loren and Elizabeth Taylor, tuneful twosome Paul and Linda McCartney, former PM Harold Wilson and the Queen Mother are just a few of the dignitaries to have graced these far from deathly hallowed halls.
As in all walks of life you get what you pay for at such a high quality establishment and we had full value from our suite – from the luxury bathroom to the oh so welcoming bed, comfortable array of seating and a good range of in-room catering aids.
At night the view from our window was uplifting. As the rain teemed down on a still busy Princes Street, lights twinkled and sparkled from the Castle to our left as well as neighbouring properties and shop fronts along the thoroughfare to the right of our personal palette.
There were other bonuses. Our room was just along the corridor from the Balmoral spa which contributed to a thoughtfully designed wellness centre. Guests can take a dip in the pool, work out in the gym or relax via a range of treatments including the deliciously named ‘Hebridean sea salt oil scrub and body wrap from Ishga.’ Hagrid might have enjoyed it had JK thought to bring him along!
The Balmoral Hotel
1 Princes Street
Edinburgh EH2 2EQ
reservations.balmoral [at] roccofortehotels.com
Telephone: +44 131 556 2414
For room prices, special offers and menu tariffs, visit: www.roccofortehotels.com/the-balmoral-hotel
• Photographs courtesy of The Balmoral Hotel.