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The Balmoral

Listed under Best Hotels in Edinburgh, United Kingdom.

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"Classic Edinburgh railway hotel, resurrected by Rocco Forte, with a great restaurant"

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The Balmoral

In the world of hotels, Edinburgh boasts at least two distinctions - it is the last bastion of the great Victorian railway hotel and second, the smartest hotels here dispense with the word hotel altogether. The city sits astride the railway line like a mistress its southern suitor, and the Balmoral has been victualling and resting whatever the train brings in for over 100 years. As befits a railway hotel in this northernmost Imperial city it was for most of its life known as the North British - and the bar still echoes this history.<BR><BR>This was the age of flock wallpaper, thick swirly carpets, and overheated and garishly gilded ballrooms. Hospitality - in the streetwise sense - was for many years thin on the ground here, and the North British and the Caledonian, at either end of Princes Street and a straight stretch of track, provided the twin lodestars of comfort.

<BR><BR>Fortunately times have changed and Edinburgh, like other leading cities, is awash with foreign-staffed coffee shops and boutique hotels. The grand old railway hotels have had to adjust. While the Caledonian has updated and preserved something of its former vulgarity under the stewardship of Hilton, the former Forte hotel Balmoral, a generation after the bitter battle that wrested its control from the Forte family, has been bought back by the son and is now the jewel in the crown of the RF stable. They have recently completely renovated it. Gone - except in isolated pockets - is the flock wallpaper and friends - in has come leather headboards, taupe and off white walls, eclectic bits of furniture and a judicial scattering of worthy Scottish literature. One can see what they are trying to do. The comfort has certainly been cranked up a few notches. The spa and pool is welcoming, the Michelin-starred restaurant is exceptional, and the service runs pretty flawlessly. <BR><BR>But there is a certain uneasy tension between the grandeur of the Victorian building, dominating the end of Princes Street, and the at times seemingly random collection of 'stylish' artefacts - with a hotel of this size it is difficult to devote the resources to the level of detailing necessary to make this work to its best effect. For example, the windows are often high - evidently Victorian guests were not expected to look out of them - and where thick curtains, chintz even, would have served to cosy-up these stark high-ceilinged rooms, blinds are often used instead, so the rooms lack warmth. Leather does not help.<BR><BR>Mind you, when the books have been read and dog-eared, and the revamp has been bedded in, perhaps the character will return. You feel that the old North British, such a powerful presence in the fabric of the building, is in two minds about its new clothes. But nevertheless the Balmoral provides the top choice in this city for those who seek comfort and sophistication in a five star setting.

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