Great Places to Stay
- Caledonian, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Edinburgh
There are several reasons why a visit to Edinburgh should be on your bucket list in the near future. At the recent World Travel Awards, from a short list of major cities including Venice, Florence, Paris and London, Scotland's capital was named Europe's leading destination. Of course, Edinburgh Castle, pictured here, isa great attraction in its own right
Where to stay? The new look, revamped Caledonian hotel, nestled beneath that castle, is a long time favourite of James Bond (aka Sean Connery), is now part of the world class, 5 star Hilton Waldorf-Astoria collection.
Known locally as The Caley, the hotel has been a turreted red stone landmark at the West End of Princes Street since 1903, designed as a Grand Hotel to cater for increased tourism thanks to the Steam Railway.
The Caledonian Railway company was established in 1845, first linking Carlisle to Glasgow and Edinburgh, then within three years providing the first through service from Scotland to London.
This was a major achievement, as until then travellers would have to take a ship from Glasgow to Liverpool, then onwards by train to London. Now with the opening of the cross border mainline, passengers would be able to leave Edinburgh in the morning and dine in London the same day.
The Edinburgh terminus, Princes Street station was gradually developed during the 1890s to create a network of seven platforms handling 250 trains a day. Before the era of car or air travel, journeys by train ruled supreme across Britain. Tourism in Scotland was proving very popular thanks to Queen Victoria, for wild landscape, golf, shooting and fishing. The newly completed Forth Rail Bridge would soon allow train travel to the Highlands.
The directors of the Caledonian company were astute businessmen who were not content in just running a railway. They believed that once they had 'the traveller in their pocket' then they should aim to keep and look after visitors at the end of the journey. With this vision, several city-centre railway hotels were planned for Aberdeen, Inverness, Glasgow and most importantly Edinburgh.
This was major investment requiring serious finance but finally the doors opened on the magnificent, pink Permian sandstone Caledonian Hotel in December 1903. Built above and around the station concourse overlooking Edinburgh Castle, with 205 bedrooms, restaurants and ballroom, this marble-pillared Palace offered a taste of opulence from décor to hospitality. The hotel's Telegraphic address was simply "Luxury Edinburgh".
Dressed in gold brocade, the ornately painted Pompadour Restaurant (named after Louis XV's mistress) opened in 1925, soon established as the most fashionable hotspot in town for dinner dances and haute cuisine.
Throughout the 20th century, The Caley welcomed visiting stars of stage and screen: Charlie Chaplin, Bing Crosby, Gene Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor and Sean Connery; from Edinburgh Festival performers to members of Royal Families across the world.
In 1965 it was the end of an era with the closure of Princes Street Station after nearly a century. But this gave the opportunity to expand the hotel with a new wing of bedrooms built over former platforms. Hilton took over the management of the Caley in 2000, ensuring a fresh modern start in time for the centenary.
Caledonian, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel
Fast forward to Autumn 2012: the Caledonian is reborn once again after a £ 24 million restoration and glamorous design facelift. Now within the Waldorf Astoria brand, the Caledonian joins the elite collection of elegant hotels from New York to Paris.
Welcomed by the doorman in tartan trews and top hat, enter the reception lobby with its crystal and amber chandelier (see graphic on the left), then through to the hallway with the sweeping transatlantic liner-style staircase (see graphic on the right).
The Art Deco heritage has been re-created with polished bronze, gold leaf, crafted rosewood with quirky Scottish motifs, thistle wallpaper and soft plaid tweed.
What is simply fabulous is the artistic theme of travel which embraces the life and times of the old Railway Hotel with the nostalgic ambience of the 1920s/1930s. The old station clock now hangs in a magnificent, glass-roofed Atrium, Peacock Alley, the place to sit and be seen for morning coffee, Afternoon tea, champagne and cocktails.
And of course, classic Waldorf Salad is included on the food menu. It was devised in 1896 by Oscar Tschirky, the Maitre d' at the New York Waldorf, and celebrated by Cole Porter in his love song, You're the Top.
The 241 bedrooms and lavish suites are imaginatively designed for supreme comfort and style: WA monogrammed linen, vintage photographs of train stations, faux crocodile-skin "luggage-trunk" cabinets, Ferragamo toiletries in spacious bathrooms.
Bars and Restaurants follow the enhancement to create a classy, refined lifestyle throughout the hotel. The Caley Bar has booths and armchairs to encourage a leisurely drink - a cool Martini or speciality 1903 cocktail (whisky, honey, orange twist) with popcorn and tortilla snacks on the side.
Dining at the Caledonian is now under the culinary care of the Galvin Brothers who run the Michelin-starred Windows at the London Hilton.
Upstairs on the Entresol floor the Pompadour, decorated with flowers and exotic birds, is a sumptuous Parisian Belle Époque-style restaurant (see graphic on the left). First an aperitif in the intimate salon next door as you study the gourmet French menus, such as Ravioli of Rabbit, Seared fillet of Angus Beef, Poached Turbot, Tarte Tatin. Scottish seafood, beef and lamb are complemented with speciality produce from France.
I sampled a salad appetiser of tender slices of scallops, potatoes and artichoke, shaped like a flower on the plate, Roast Lobster, (from Scrabster, Caithness), stuffed with tiny sweet girolles, and a platter of French and Scottish cheese. This was a gastronomic experience and I can't wait to return. Friends of mine have visited several times in the past few months, and booked again for their wedding anniversary. The Pompadour is certainly one of the top dining rooms in Edinburgh - romantic setting, exemplary service, divine cuisine.
The attractive wood-panelled Galvin Brasserie de Luxe (see graphic on the right) beside Peacock Alley offers a Prix Fixe menu and classic dishes: Oysters, L'Escargots, Lemon Sole, Coq au vin, Steak, Tart au Citron.
A breakfast feast with a buffet counter as well as freshly prepared dishes to order, start the day with your favourites, from coffee and croissants to Eggs Benedict; Le Petit Dejeuner is also served in the Brasserie.
Eat well, keep well. Workout in the Fitness centre with a swimming pool and for pampering relaxation visit the new signature Guerlain Spa (see graphic below), the first in the UK. Designed as a tranquil sanctuary to escape the city, experience specialist face and body treatments such as the exceptional Orchidée Impériale rejuvenating facial.
The Caledonian Hotel is a model of timeless elegance. This glitzy, glamorous renaissance now shows off its grand Edwardian splendour with a touch of contemporary pizzazz, as this much beloved Grande Dame prepares to celebrate her 110th birthday.
The Caledonian Hotel is at the western end of Princes Street - post code is EH1 2AB. For more information or to make an online reservation see the Caledonian Waldorf Astoria Web site or Email or phone +44 (0)131 222 8889
Vivien Devlin, Travel Writer
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