Salisbury Green Hotel and Bistro – a Hidden Gem in Edinburgh Old Town
We are creatures of habit. In my case, when I’ve visited Edinburgh, it’s always been to stay in or around the New Town. I love the tidy Georgian architecture and the broad streets and I always feel as if I am going home, despite never having lived in Edinburgh. On this occasion though, I was offered the chance to visit Salisbury Green Hotel and Bistro, right over by Holyrood Park, on the furthest edge of the Old Town. Now, while I’ve ventured into the Old Town before it’s generally been to find a good bar. That’s actually a good reason in my mind – Edinburgh Old Town is popular with tourists and students and tends to be lively – a good place to enjoy a glass of wine or a pint. It’s not an area I’d have thought to visit for peace, quiet and views of the countryside. But, I’m always happy to be proved wrong!
Visitors usually pack the Old Town, a bustling area of centuries-old buildings and narrow alleys. At its heart, perched on an extinct volcano, Edinburgh Castle is home to Scotland’s crown jewels. The Royal Mile, a steep street lined with traditional pubs, casual eateries, souvenir shops and small museums, runs from the castle to the Scottish Parliament and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen’s Scottish residence.
Behind the Palace, Holyrood Park stretches out, the site of yet another extinct volcano, now known as Arthur’s Seat. A 640-acre royal park with hills and lochs, in the 12th century it was a royal hunting estate. That space was formed into the park in 1541 when James V had the ground enclosed by a stone wall.
I walked through Holyrood Park to the Palace for a quick tour followed by tea in the cafe. It’s a fascinating place and I’m sure I’ll go back another time as my ticket is valid for a whole year.
Where else could you see the doll-sized tartan dress that was made for the young Princess Victoria? Or learn about the Order of the Thistle. There’s much more on display to the public than, for example, at Buckingham Palace. And, the silver lining to lockdown is that entrance tickets are limited to ensure social distancing which makes for a relaxed and uncrowded experience.
I’d have liked more time to explore the park itself too. I hadn’t brought walking shoes which are really essential if you plan on walking up to the top of Arthurs Seat, the highest point in Edinburgh. At 640 acres, a walk around the park takes on a whole new meaning in terms of fitness too and I was in awe of the joggers and runners making their way around and up the hills!
The University of Edinburgh Pollock Halls of Residence provides space for students residences but also has conference facilities and my own destination, the Salisbury Green Hotel and Bistro which is spread over two buildings, one relatively modern and, the one where I stayed which dates back to 1750!
Masson House has 72 recently refurbished rooms, while the 18th Century Mansion house has 36.
I loved my spacious room in the Mansion House which had its own study, with well-appointed desk and trouser press(!).
Pretty watercolour wallpaper, a massive bed with pristine white linen, a comfy chair and a TV on its own stand rather than fixed to the wall made this feel like a home from home.
A spacious bathroom came with excellent shower and Arran Aromatics toiletries.
There was an excellent hospitality tray with cafetiere coffee and Novus tea. While the bistro itself was still closed following the recent lockdown, there was a good room service menu (normally also served in the lounge) which I made use of, enjoying a delicious sandwich which was served with crisps and coleslaw on the side and a glass of prosecco for supper. Now I want to return to try the Bistro – if the food I enjoyed is anything to go by it will be excellent.
The sort of room where you can open the windows for fresh air rather than turning on the aircon, I slept like a baby.
With the idea that I could enjoy a lazy morning, I ordered tray service breakfast. My Full Scottish (without egg) arrived on the dot of half-past eight, with extra tomatoes and mushrooms to complement the Stobbs Farm smoked back bacon, Hornig’s Haggis, Borders sausage and Charles Macleod Stornoway black pudding. Perfect with some toast and several cups of breakfast tea.
With University vacation in full swing, the campus itself was really quiet and I enjoyed exploring a bit. I would imagine there’s something of a different atmosphere during term time or if there’s a big conference running.
This building, St Leonards House was, apparently, the model for St Trinian’s and in the evening light it really looked as if at any minute a bell would ring and hoards of girls in gym-slips and pigtails wielding hockey, or worse still, lacrosse sticks would descend. Today it’s part of the University conference facilities.
Meanwhile, the Mansion House has its own history. The original house was built in the 1750s for Edinburgh merchant Alexander Scott. When publisher Willam Nelson acquired the house he commissioned the architect John Lessels to make alterations and extend the building substantially in what is known as Scottish Renaissance or Scottish Baronial style. It was John Lessel’s additions which resulted in the building that stands today. The tower house was built as William Nelson’s personal suite. By the 1880s, William Nelson was running out of space again and new additions of a gate-house, stables and coach house were added.
It wasn’t until the mid-twentieth century that Sir Donnal Pollock bought St Leonards, then Salisbury Green and its grounds. The entire estate was gifted to the University of Edinburgh and the Mansion House opened as halls of residence for male students. As new buildings were added to the Salisbury Green campus, the men moved out and the Mansion House became the main residence for female students. Finally, in 2006, the building was converted to a hotel, part of the conference facilities on the Salisbury Green campus.
Now, despite the sweeping staircase and ornately carved wood panelling, it’s a more dash than cash type of place. By Edinburgh hotel standards it really isn’t expensive for what you get – large, immaculate and well-appointed rooms just a stone’s throw from the Scottish Parliament, Holyrood Park and Holyroodhouse Palace. For anyone who wanted to make the most of both town and country, it would be an excellent base as there’s parking available and hiking right on your back door around Arthur’s Seat and the range of hills and lochs that form this great natural monument. But, it’s also an easy walk back into town. For another time, the Holyrood Distillery is close by and offers tours and tastings in their gin and whisky distillery.
We didn’t try the Bistro because it was due to reopen the day after we left! Simply decorated, it has an astonishing good sounding menu focussed on local Scottish produce, I’ll be happy to go back sometime soon so I can confirm my instinct that, like the hotel itself, it’s a hidden treasure. But, for anyone wanting to stay around the University or Old Town, this seems an excellent choice. While it may not be QUITE as grand as its nearby neighbour, it’s really not far off…
I was a guest of the Hotel for this visit but all content is editorially given. For those concerned about cleanliness and safety at the moment, there were sanitisers throughout the hotel, staff wore face masks or worked behind screens and there was an efficient one-way system in place.
18 Holyrood Park Rd,
Edinburgh EH16 5AY
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