A beacon of comfort in Edinburgh’s East End
“I love Edinburgh” said the American tourist to his young family, as he took in the length of the Royal Mile with its impressive historic buildings and clutter of souvenir shops. And I couldn’t help but agree. An easy journey from wherever you’re based in the UK (or internationally) Edinburgh is a compact city that never fails to impress and delight.
I’m here as a guest of Marriott, who are proudly launching their new Courtyard Hotel, within a historic Georgian terrace located at the east end of Princes Street in the heart of the city’s new shopping and entertainment hub.
The hotel was once home to Robert Stevenson, the famous Scottish lighthouse engineer and the grandfather of ‘Treasure Island’ author Robert Louis Stevenson. Following a £30m restoration project, the property combines this heritage with modern comfort and a Scandi-feel, contemporary, style present throughout its public areas and 240 bedrooms.
If you’re new in town then Edinburgh’s “New Town” is something of a misnomer. Developed in the mid-18th century this was where the wealthy built their homes to escape “Auld Reekie”, the over-populated Old Town area.
These days, behind the bustle of Princes Street, two attractive squares bookend a grid of impressive streets offering an oasis of relative calm, elegant independent shops, cosy cafes and smart bars. Amongst the big brands, Harvey Nichols have their store on St Andrew’s Square and from their Forth Floor restaurant you can enjoy great city views (and, of course, the Firth of Forth!).
In the nearby Scottish National Portrait Gallery, immerse yourself in the history of this proud nation and meet the individuals who shaped it. Meanwhile on Charlotte Square, the National Trust for Scotland’s beautifully restored Georgian House, offers a unique opportunity to view the house as it was lived in by its landed gentry owners and their “below-stairs” staff.
Across the ordered Princes Street gardens the Old Town dramatically clings to its prehistoric landmass. There’s a feeling of pilgrimage as visitors make their way across the North Bridge and begin their ascent to one of the most famous castles in the world – home of the Scottish Crown Jewels; the ancient Stone of Destiny and the spectacular Edinburgh Military Tattoo which has been performed here each August for the last 66 years.
The Royal Mile stretches from Castle Rock to Holyrood Palace and within that space manages to combine serious history, architectural wonders, fine dining and memorabilia for the masses. With living space at a premium, prior to the New Town development, people built upwards. The towering tenements, hidden courtyards and alleyways radiating from the Mile easily evoke times past. The charming, People’s Story Museum, and it’s neighbour, the Museum of Edinburgh provide context and present the city’s fascinating history.
You don’t need to go far to find a refreshment stop to suit your budget or taste. A former Victorian pump house, tucked away in Advocate’s Close, The Devil’s Advocate Kitchen & Bar, boasts over 300 whisky expressions from around the world. The inventive menu is designed to include seasonal Scottish produce delivered in a modern style. A starter of crispy black pudding, apple, endive and brandy soaked raisins (£8.50) is simply delicious and large enough to suffice as a light lunch. The garlic and rosemary picanha steak with frites and choice of sauce (£22) is meltingly good. The same emphasis on quality is evident in the attractive cocktail and wine list. My Wildflower Soul (£8.50) of gin, bramble syrup, falernum, lemon and violet draws much admiration from fellow diners who are warned to keep their distance.
Cocktails are on the menu too back at the Marriott Courtyard when I return foot-sore but content and settle down in its Lantern Room Bar and Restaurant. Here the menu offers a wide selection of small plates, sharing plates, grills, mains, burgers and sides all served by a helpful team who encourage me to try their signature Bellrock cocktail (£10). This mixture of gin shaken with apple juice, lemon and sugar topped with prosecco is named after the oldest existing rock lighthouse in the British Isles, engineered of course by Robert Stevenson. I wondered what he would think of this new development in his New Town. His prior home now acting as a beacon, offering leisure and business visitors a haven of Scottish “hygge”.
Jenny was a guest of Courtyard by Marriott at Baxter Place, Edinburgh
Hotel photographs courtesy of Marriott Hotels. Edinburgh photography copyright London Unattached