The 250th anniversary of the birth of Sir Walter Scott, 15th August 1771, is being celebrated not only in his native Scotland but around the literary world (who realises, incidentally, what ups and downs he had in his financial life as a result of continual share speculating?).
The Balmoral, Edinburgh, offers everything the first-time visitor to Scotland wants. You can even arrive by train: the hotel was built, in 1902, above the city’s main rail station, Waverley, and today, just under four and a half hours after leaving London’s King’s Cross station, you disembark in Edinburgh, and immediately enter the hotel’s south door.
The north-front main entrance opens directly, with no turning circle, on The Royal Mile, running from Edinburgh Castle up to your left and right down to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, official Scottish home of Her Majesty. Some of the hotel’s staff, incidentally, wear trews, trousers, made of plaid tartan from Kinloch Anderson, which holds her Royal Warrant, and The Balmoral’s own tartan concierge helps you design a bespoke plaid. Want to hear bagpipes, try haggis, and over 500 whiskies?
This 188-room hotel, part of Rocco Forte Hotels, is your solution, and although Sir Rocco is more Italian than Scottish his famous father, Charles Forte, Lord Forte, was brought up near here. Balmoral GM Richard Cooke is another ‘immigrant’, in his case from St Alban’s, southern England (‘but I never want to push myself’, he told me at the end of a recent four-part Wonderhood Studios’ reality television series, Inside The Balmoral, which he reluctantly agreed to at the request of Sir Rocco’s niece, ‘hotel inspector’ Alex Polizzi). Yes, this hotel is something of a family affair. Olga Polizzi, sister of Sir Rocco and mother of Alex, is Rocco Forte Hotels’ lead designer. She had chosen a suitably Scottish palette of soft greys and blues with hints of heather-purple for #230, the Bothwell Suite: I looked out at the Castle, and felt immediately at home, in Scotland.
One of the cores of this hotel is the stunning pool, with adjacent ESPA that seemed to be equally popular with both hotel guests and locals. Another big draw is the Palm Court, full every afternoon with mainly-distaff afternoon tea takers, reservation slots are two hours, here. For special occasions, book ahead for Michelin-starred Number One, where Edinburgh-boy Mathew Sherry’s seven-course menu includes such Scottish products as Loch Duart salmon, Orkney scallops, perhaps with Viognier The Age of Grace, Lismore 2020, Cape South Coast – and Gaindykehead beef, followed by Blairgowrie strawberries.
I had a really early departure. My room service breakfast arrived on the dot of 4.30 am. At 5.15, a suave gent in sunflower tie and matching lapel flower, fresh of course, awaited for the 20-minute drive to the airport. Waverley, the book Sir Walter Scott finished in 1814, is now top of my must-read list.