Great Places to Stay
- Melville Castle, Edinburgh
Travel writer Vivien Devlin spent some time at historic Melville Castle and was most impressed by an exceptionally fine hotel in every respect - style, comfort, furnishings, service and cuisine.
Perhaps her only disappointment was not coming across the resident ghost!
A Fairy Tale Come True
Historic, romantic, elegant yet homely - and with its own ghost!
The story behind Melville Castle is like a fairy tale come true. Ten years ago this magnificent baronial mansion house, built in 1786 and designed by the renowned architect James Playfair, had been left unoccupied for some time and allowed to become virtually derelict. This was indeed a tragedy for an A-listed building described as of "outstanding architectural and historic significance." The Hay family came to its rescue, purchased the property and over the past five years has completely restored it into a luxurious and stylish country house hotel.
Set in fifty acres of beautiful parkland, with the River Esk running through the estate, there are thirty bedrooms, grand function rooms, bar and restaurant. While now furnished in a contemporary style, the redecoration proudly retains the elegance of the former private aristocratic home.
A Fascinating and Romantic History
Melville Castle, situated just outside Edinburgh near Dalkeith, was commissioned by Henry Dundas, the first Viscount Melville on the site of an old medieval castle. In the earlier days, Mary Queen of Scots used it as a hunting lodge, while her courtiers lived nearby in the district still today called Little France. In the 19th century, Queen Victoria came to visit as well as George IV and the novelist Sir Walter Scott (pictured here). It is said that former family residents still lurk in the castle today. The ghost of Elizabeth Rennie, wife of Henry Dundas, has been seen by the new proprietor William Hay and others during the restoration. He witnessed the apparition glide through a solid wall in the castle and during later renovations an old blocked off doorway was found where she disappeared.
Don't let that put you off coming to stay - I had a most comfortable and restful sleep with no bumps in the night!
Melville Castle Today
The grand, grey stone Castle with its four corner turrets is extremely imposing on arrival, at the end of the long, sweeping tree-lined drive. The thick woodland and avenue of tall poplar trees hide the house from the main road. Yet inside it has an intimate homely feel, with a spacious lobby and reception, adjacent to the lounge, bar and reception rooms. On the lawn at the back of the hotel, there are cedar wood chairs and tables where you can sit for afternoon tea or drinks on warm days. There are plans to develop the garden with a conservatory terrace as well as further landscaping of the grounds down to the river.
There are thirty bedrooms of every size, style and furnishings to suit every taste and occasion. We were shown to one of the six Gallery suites, which are most attractive and well designed. Due to the extremely high ceilings, practical use has been made of this empty space. A mezzanine floor has been constructed to divide the room into a split-level suite with a staircase leading up to the bedroom, while downstairs there is a sitting room, with sofa, Satellite TV and the bathroom. There are plans to provide DVDs and second TVs in the gallery bedrooms. The Gallery rooms are like small apartments, and its fun going upstairs to bed.
Elsewhere there are deluxe double rooms, family bedrooms and two very special rooms both on the top floor with lovely views over the garden and river - a Spa bedroom, with a corner jacuzzi, and also a pretty and very spacious suite with Four-Poster bed and delightful Chaise Longue at the window - both ideal for a romantic weekend.
All bedrooms have a mini fridge, tea and coffee tray, luxury bathrooms with power showers and complimentary Gilchrist and Soames toiletries.
Personal attention is the name of the game here and all staff are extremely friendly and professional from reception to the restaurant to room service. Requesting an iron and ironing board, this arrived within 3 minutes - a level of service you would rarely receive in a so-called 5 star city hotel.
Wining and Dining
Having been impressed with every aspect of the hotel so far it was now time to check out the bar, restaurant and cuisine.
There are two bars, a lounge bar upstairs overlooking the gardens, and downstairs there is the Cellar Bar and Brasserie, open for lunch and dinner, seven days a week. This is charming, retaining the atmosphere of the dungeons, with candle-style lamps, low archways, snug corners, original thick stone walls and floor. It's ideal all year round with a log-burning stove for winter nights yet cool in the summer with plenty natural light.
Sitting in the cosy bar over a G&T, we studied the menu with a good choice of about five starters and main courses. Begin perhaps with Salad of home- dried tomato, Buffalo Mozzarella and Parma ham, Oak Smoked Salmon, Seared king prawns and sweet pepper salsa, or Baked goat's cheese mushroom and pesto crust. Main courses include Fillet of Angus Beef, served with braised leek, fondant potato and wild mushroom jus, Seared Pentland Lamb, with gratin potato and puy lentil jus, Chargrilled tuna steak on salad nicoise and for non -meat eaters, Roasted Mediterranean vegetables. AT first glance, the descriptions sounded different and inventive - fine Scottish produce with a contemporary, fusion style. The chef is Alastair Ritchie, previously of Cringeltie House Hotel, near Peebles, where he gained a fine reputation for his menus and personal style of cuisine.
The verdict? Every taste, texture and artistic presentation of each course was first class and delicately prepared with the sense that the chef and his team are passionate about food and enjoy the creation of a new combination of flavours.
Rather than a bottle of wine, the restaurant manager suggested a glass of crisp, dry white with our choice of Smoked salmon and the Goat's Cheese, followed by a glass of rich, fruity Cabernet Sauvignon with the Tuna steak and Mediterranean vegetables. It was an ideal choice to accompany this delicious meal.
Then time to indulge in Iced Whisky & Honey parfait, Apple Tart and ice-cream, Raspberry crème brulée or Cheese, fruit and oatcakes.
Breakfast - Most Important Meal of the Day
If dinner was out of this world, then just wait till you see the Breakfast menu. This should receive a Michelin star all by itself. At last a hotel which has bothered to think about ringing the changes for the most important meal of the day.
There's a fine buffet of cereals, fruit juices and fresh seasonal fruit - strawberries, raspberries and cantaloupe melon. Alternatively, porridge with banana and honey. As a variation on the traditional Scottish fry up, here the platter consists of Smoked Bacon, home-made Tattie scone, Stornoway black pudding, mushroom and free range eggs - any which way. Or Pittenweem Smoked Haddock with spring onion fishcakes. A fabulous dish. Vegetarians are well looked after - what about a Tattie Scone, Tomato, Goat's cheese with a Poached egg on top presented as a fabulous tower? Absolutely delicious.
And if that is not sufficient, there are mini croissants and a basket of toast and preserves. A large pot of tea is brought to the table but curiously coffee is served by the cup - which is not very practical because staff are busy serving others, to keep coming round to offer a top up. So coffee pots might be a sensible solution.
Weddings and Conferences
The Castle originally became a Country House hotel back in 1950 and from then on for over 30 years, it was a very popular setting for weddings, private parties and corporate events. Now re-vamped to a high standard of hospitality, service and comfort, this utterly romantic and historic house, with just 30 bedrooms ideal for exclusive use, a magnificent dining room for the reception as well as a license for the marriage ceremony, this is the perfect place to arrange a wedding. While I was there, the hotel was being prepared for a wedding on the Sunday afternoon. The lobby was being laid out with huge vases of flowers and trays of champagne glasses to welcome the guests on arrival.
Many corporate events too have already taken place at the Castle, which can cater for every kind of conference, business meeting, convention and away days. The hotel can arrange all kinds of sports and games, from fishing on the river, to quad biking and clay pigeon shooting. In the grounds there is even a professional Commando training exercise circuit, ideal for corporate team building events.
Melville Castle has only been open since early summer, 2003 and the Hay family are still busy planning the next stage of the recreation. Apart from further landscaping of the garden, there are plans for greenhouses and kitchen garden for fresh vegetables and herbs. This is an exceptionally fine hotel in every respect - style, comfort, furnishings, service and cuisine - perfectly located for business and leisure guests wishing to visit Edinburgh, just 20 minutes drive away, offering the peace, privacy and seclusion of this charming countryside setting.
For more information or to make a reservation see the Melville Castle Web site.
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