City breaks take on a whole new meaning once you become a family rather than a couple. Once upon a time you would book a last minute flight to some hot European capital, splashing out on a room in the latest concept hotel which you then barely see, too busy are you cramming in all sights and dining at that hip restaurant you read about on some blog somewhere.
Post-babies, it’s all about whether family rooms are available, if the littlest guests are allowed to dine in the restaurant and how many zoos and museums are within walking distance. All of which will need to be planned with military precision, months in advance.
But should you be lucky enough to have a child-free weekend this Valentine’s (or indeed, at any time), the idea of rest and relaxation probably appeals more than the old 48-hour stimulation overload approach. And this is where Nira Caledonia comes in…
Part of the small but discerning Nira group (which includes the Shanti Maurice in Mauritius and Nira Alpina in Switzerland), this plush boutique hotel is nestled away on a quiet residential street, just a short walk from the main shopping run of Princes Street, and is the former home of 19th Century essayist and hedonist Christopher North.
Set in two grand Georgian townhouses with sweeping staircases, a couple of doors apart, it oozes low-key comfort and relaxation. The décor is very grown up, all dark woods, dim lighting and cosy velvet chairs, balancing period features with all the mod cons – iPod docking stations, Nespresso coffee machines and flat screen TV.
We stayed in an executive suite (room 1008), which boasted three dramatic floor to ceiling windows overlooking the street, a squashy leather couch and a huge bed, sweetly scattered with rose petals for our arrival. Each room is different so you may prefer to request one opening onto the private garden or go all out and upgrade to a luxurious Jacuzzi suite.
What with hugely inviting bed and the fabulously attentive staff (they genuinely did make us feel at home), it would have been tempting to stay put all weekend, but Edinburgh has too much to offer. The gothic winding streets around the Royal Mile are perfect for a romantic stroll, with plenty of pubs to duck into should rain strike. Or pull on your walking shoes and ascend Arthur’s Seat for breathtaking views.
The castle is a must while there are plenty of seasonal festivals to keep you entertained, from Hogmanay to the Fringe, depending on when you visit. If you prefer more organised leisure, the hotel team can arrange golf days, whisky tasting or even a shopping experience with exclusive discounts at Edinburgh’s impressive line-up of designer stores.
We had quite the appetite by the time we sat down for dinner at the hotel’s intimate Blackwood’s Bar & Grill. Focussing on locally sourced, Scottish ingredients, it’s fine dining without feeling stuffy, and a delicious amuse bouche of duck, wild mushroom and celeriac puree while we considered the menu gave us a real taste of what was to come.
On a recommendation, I plumped for the chef’s signature Shetland smoked mussels in a cream sauce with garlic, tarragon and whisky to start, while my husband had the lobster tarragon ravioli. I made absolutely the right choice – they were juicy and full of flavour. However, my serving was enormous so Tom generously helped me finish them, before wolfing down his rib-eye steak accompanied by the most moreish chunky chips - a real man’s meal.
In contrast, my bacon wrapped monkfish with scallops and black pudding tortellini in a pea puree was almost too pretty to eat (not that this stopped me). We finished with a zingy lemon brulee tart for me, and a Scottish cheeseboard for him (that he reluctantly let me steal from), which included the rather unique Caboc cheese – a Highland speciality, rolled in oats and tasting not unlike butter, which holds the accolade of Scotland’s oldest cheese.
Utterly stuffed, we sensibly eschewed hunkering down in the bar with another drink and staggered back to our room - to find a nightcap of the hotel’s own whisky waiting. Well, it would be rude not to…
Rooms at Nira Caledonia from £139 per night, inc breakfast. Find out more at niracaledonia.com or call 0131 225 2720.
There is no hotel parking but metered parking is available on the street. The hotel is easily accessible from Edinburgh Waverley Station and Edinburgh Airport.
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