I love staying in hotels that come with a lot of history. The past associated with the property seems to still permeate and imbue the place with a “presence”. And, no that’s not code for ghostly apparitions – far from it.
The Edinburgh hotel where I stayed, when I toured Scotland in April, was very lively with the energy of living, breathing people but there were more than just nods to the history and heritage of this place.
The Principal Edinburgh is fashioned around five heritage-listed Georgian townhouses (whose occupants were some of the most illustrious in the city) built in 1775. The hotel is on where else but George Street (named after King George III), and on the street is a statue of George IV who visited Edinburgh in 1822. But I digress. The hotel has been taking in guests since 1881.
In fact, one of the townhouses is now the hotel’s F&B restaurant, The Printing Press Bar & Kitchen. It was once home to acclaimed novelist Susan Ferrier (according to Sir Walter Scott, she’s an equal to Jane Austen – so I dined where literary “royalty” used to live).
In the 1840s, it was home to one John Oliphant, and a frequent visitor was Robert Burns (that Burns, the national poet of Scotland). And Oliphant and Ferrier’s descendants founded Oliphant, Anderson and Ferrier, one of Scotland’s most prestigious publishing houses.
Presented with the Gold Laurel Award, City Hotel of the Year, and Scottish Hotel of the Year at the 2017 Scottish Hotel Awards, the hotel’s interiors combine luxurious natural materials such as oak, marble and leather with a palette of colours inspired by the great 19th-century Scottish landscape painters.
And that is what you get when you walk into the lobby – imposing white marble columns and marble-tiled floors, a reception area filled with plush leather seating, and oak tables. Greeting you are doormen in full Scottish kilts – just in case you forget you’re a laddie visiting Scotland.
My Signature Suite took my breath away with its sitting room with high ceilings and tall windows high up the wall. The many cabinets, a large spacious closet and even a complimentary mini snack pack (which I was grateful for, to stifle my hunger pangs just coming off a long flight, and which they kept topping up) just added to my delight. And the flourishes, like the large framed cutouts of dogs on the wall, left a smile on my face.
In the cupboard, I even found a bladeless fan and a heater unit – they seemed to have thought of everything.
My bedroom, decked out in natural colours, had a huge, comfy and soft bed. At the foot was a sofa and table. So I could watch the flat-screen TV with its numerous channels on offer while lazing in bed or sitting on the sofa.
The complimentary WiFi (throughout the hotel) was super-fast and didn’t lag as some complimentary ones are wont to do.
Do be warned, though, that because of how the buildings are designed, the windows in the room are not for viewing as they are too high up. I could spy a spire. Later, I found out that the neighbouring building is the St Andrew’s and St George’s West Church, a Church of Scotland that serves the New Town area.
The hotel proved to be a popular venue for events; during my time there, there was either a wedding, a birthday, a reunion party or some such going on. There’s either the grand Kings Hall (with its stunning chandelier and mood adjustable lighting) or The Editor’s Bar in The Printing Press.
I had my meals at the Printing Press, where they have a great buffet spread for breakfast. They are open to the public but only after noon. Because it is in essence a separate building, its main entrance is accessible to the public while hotel guests use the side entrance. This way, you don’t have non-guests crowding the hotel premises.
They also have afternoon tea and dinner available. For my dinner, I chose to go with the pork terrine for my starter. The meat was nice – tender and flavourful. The apple slices that came with it were crunchy, and the pickled walnuts tasted very fruity, almost like berries.
For the mains, I opted for a spiced duck leg served with creamed sweet corn, pickled rhubarb and pomegranate. The flesh was very tender but everything just got smothered by the sauce, which tasted like a sweet barbecue sauce.
The selection of wines, liquors and cocktails is quite extensive at the bar, which is also popular with the locals.
Coffee culture is everywhere; the Principal has Burr & Co to satisfy your caffeine cravings (and if you prefer chai or juices, not to worry; they have those, too). They use freshly roasted, ethically sourced beans from Caravan Coffee to create their own George Street blend. And you can have that there or order one to go and have it with cakes, pastries, salads and sandwiches. I was happy that I got two complimentary coffees as a guest.
Location-wise, New Town is within walking distance to all the places that would be on most visitors’ must-do list when in Edinburgh – shopping at Princess Street (five minutes away), the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle, Calton Hill and so on. Bus and tram stops are minutes away, and the city’s Waverley Railway station is also walkable.
No wonder it’s the principal choice for many visitors.
19-21 George Street
Edinburgh EH2 2PB, Scotland
Tel: +44 (0)131 225 1251