Executive travel: Edinburgh's Balmoral hotel is the height of Scottish hospitality
Last year voted the UK’s Top Business Hotel outside London, Edinburgh’s palatial skyline icon The Balmoral is a standout choice for visiting executives as well as the legion of tourists who descend on this city for its international arts festivals in August.
From October 1 Emirates Airline will operate daily direct flights to Edinburgh, replacing the existing Etihad service on that day.
Originally opened in 1902 as a railway hotel, The Balmoral was first bought by the Forte Group in 1990, and quickly acquired again by the Forte family after the stock market-quoted group succumbed to a hostile takeover bid in 1996.
There are 10 function rooms to seat from 15 to 350 guests, all with natural daylight, and delightful views of Edinburgh Castle and the Old Town.
The largest, Sir Walter Scott suite, is a high-ceilinged, columned space for grand corporate events. During my visit I noticed the Prudential insurance company giving a breakfast there, and meetings were also in session in the hotel for Cala Homes and Berenberg investment bank.
A Scottish woodland theme enlivens the 168 bedrooms and 20 suites, each individually designed in contemporary style by Olga Polizzi, sister of Sir Rocco Forte the family patriarch. The hotel even has its own tartan worn by many of the staff.
The largest 220 square metre Scone & Crombie suite is named after the famous Scone Palace in Perthshire and intended for VIPs, CEOs and heads of state. Recently refurbished in serene colours, it offers two or three bedrooms, Asprey amenities, grand fireplaces, a separate dining room and traditional Scottish detailing.
A smaller 55-square-metre suite is dedicated to author JK Rowling. She completed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows while staying here and still occupies the bijoux suite when visiting Edinburgh. The door knocker is a brass owl in her honour.
The internet speed hit 20 Mbps. There are double UK plugs behind each desk but I had to ask for an adaptor.
In-room dining presented traditional Scottish dish Haggis for £10.50 (Dh50) and a club sandwich for £19, Coke at £3.90 and Speyside Glenlivet water for £4. It was £10 to get a shirt or blouse cleaned and pressed, and £25 to dry clean a suit.
Some guests were critical of room prices, starting from £545 in high season for the smallest, although the general opinion was that the hotel’s very high service standards justified the cost.
Staff do remember guest’s names, know their jobs very well and I noticed them attend to small details without a second thought.
Be careful to book well in advance as 100 per cent occupancy in peak periods like August is common. The concierge told me May or September would also be better for the weather, too.
Newly opened this June, the Brasserie Prince by celebrated French chef Albert Roux is a splendid place to eat the finest Scottish fare with a Gallic twist, and with a three-course set menu for £15 there’s nothing to complain about high prices here.
If you want fine dining then the Michelin-starred Number One restaurant has a three-course dinner menu for £85, again using the best Scottish ingredients; and the Palm Court is a fine space at the centre of the hotel, ideal for an award-winning £40 afternoon tea, a five course extravaganza that can take over two hours.
The extensive spa complex features a 15-metre lap pool, steam room and sauna as well as beauty treatments and massages.
Its gym has Technogym cardiovascular equipment, including two rowing machines as well as three cycling, stepping and running machines. There is also a separate weights room with both free weights and Technogym weight machines.
Sir Rocco Forte remains a fitness fanatic and his flagship hotel reflects this passion.
The writer was a guest of the hotel