In the Scottish Lowlands, a cultural revival
Long thought to be little more than the home of whisky and haggis, Edinburgh is in the midst of an art, style and design revolution
Scotland is known for many things: Traditionally, Sean Connery, whisky, bagpipes and haggis. But you might be surprised to also discover elements of avant-garde art, style and design in Edinburgh's Old Town.
The Scottish Parliament Building, a discordant ode to steel, oak and granite, and the streamlined neo-fortress of the Museum of Scotland are both comfortably embedded among precarious medieval buildings that teeter-like grey-stone Jenga towers over Old Town's cobblestone streets. Two miles west of this tourist quarter, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art – which showcases everything from questionable installations of cotton balls to paintings by iconic artists such as Picasso, Andy Warhol and Lucian Freud – offers further proof that Edinburgh is not entirely immune to the contemporary world.
Now, Old Town can also claim a refreshingly innovative 21st-century hotel as the first five-star property to reign beside the Royal Mile, the historic spine of the city.
Where to stay
G&V Royal Mile Hotel Edinburgh: Forget tartan carpets, tobacco-stained wainscoting and paintings of shaggy Highland coos. The 136-room G&V Royal Mile Hotel Edinburgh is a decidedly Scottish hotel, but not in the style you might expect.
Since taking over from the Missoni Hotel in 2014, the Quorvus Collection's G&V has embarked on a multimillion-pound renovation, gradually revealing re-envisioned rooms and public spaces that were finally completed last November. Calling upon the talents of a cadre of Scottish artists, the hotel has created a cocoon of cutting-edge chic, located just down the hill from Edinburgh Castle.
The spacious, open lobby features an eye-level slit of a fireplace which dispenses with anything as old-fashioned as a mantelpiece, a communal marble work table kitted out with electrical sockets and USB ports, and a coffee shop/florist manned by a young hunk in a kilt. The G&V also espouses an eco-friendly attitude, exemplified by beehives on the roof, an Evogro hydroponic machine used to grow herbs for the hotel's Epicurean bar and Italian Cucina restaurant, and a small spa using Scottish products such as "wild-harvested" plants and minerals and seaweed extracts.
All rooms offer an iPod connection, high-speed Internet access, rain shower heads and Scottish-made toiletries, but the most coveted accommodations are nine suites upon which individual Scottish artists have placed their own distinctive stamp. Fashion designer Judy R. Clark incorporates vintage details such as velvet chairs and well-polished antiques in her suites, while her twin sister, painter Christine Clark, has created a clean-lined "Rooftop Rest" reached by a secret stone staircase. The Timorous Beasties Suite, from the Glasgow studio of Alistair McAuley and Paul Simmons, is swathed in ethereal thistle prints, and textile guru Hatti Pattison's "Garden Paradise" offers up riotous florals. "Arthur's Seat" features fifth-floor skyline views over the city, a retractable TV/movie screen, and a mural of the University of Edinburgh's New College by Jim Hamilton of Graven Images. Nightly rates start from £209 (about $340 Canadian) a night, including breakfast. 1 George IV Bridge, quorvuscollection.com/gandv-hotel-edinburgh
Eat and drink
Whiski: With more than 300 Scotch malt whiskies and an assortment of Scottish craft brews, you'll find plenty to whet your whistle at Whiski. But don't imbibe on an empty stomach. Fill up on a hearty Scottish steak-and-ale pie or a Whiski burger, made with haggis, smoky bacon, cheese and chutney. Bonus: This Royal Mile favourite offers live music every night. 119 High St., whiskibar.co.uk
Angels with Bagpipes: Food critics for the 2017 Michelin Guide were sufficiently impressed with this intimate, atmospheric restaurant to mention its "modern interpretations of Scottish classics." Try the haggis with neeps (turnips), tatties (mashed potatoes), pancetta and whisky sauce or the rabbit loin with black pudding, pancetta, pearl barley, carrot and kale. 343 High St., angelswithbagpipes.co.uk
The Elephant House: It must be something in the water … or rather, the coffee and tea … which has drawn such wildly popular authors as J.K. Rowling, Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith through this café's doors. It's fun to imagine Rowling, who actually wrote some of her early Harry Potter novels here, scribbling spells on a soiled napkin. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served alongside views of Edinburgh Castle. 21 George IV Bridge, elephanthouse.biz
Museum Context: Speaking of the wizarding world, this cozy warren of rooms would appear perfectly at home in Diagon Alley. Packed with oddities such as a miniature T-Rex model, a vintage First World War airplane propeller, early 20th-century military binoculars and even a tiny tin of clotted cream fudge with a recipe for a deep-fried Mars bar ("Scotland's Gift Tae Aw Nations"), it does indeed look like a museum, but everything is for sale. 40 Victoria St., contextinteriors.co.uk
Walker Slater: This is the place for all your tweed needs, from jackets, trousers and waistcoats to caps and hip flasks. Dapper Dans can complete the country-gent look with a selection of bow ties, cuff links, suspenders and watch chains at the men's shop (16-20 Victoria St.), while ladies will find a more feminine selection at 46 Victoria St. walkerslater.com
Fabhatrix: "Head" here for a creative array of hats for both men and women. Fabhatrix's team of five milliners fashion toppers in tweed, felt and even straw, as well as fancy feathered fascinations for special occasions. 13 Cowgatehead, fabhatrix.com
Greyfriars Kirkyard, a cemetery off Candlemaker Row, is the eternal resting place of the man who may have inspired the name for "he who shall not be named" – that is to say, Lord Voldemort, also known as (spoiler alert, for the two people who haven't yet read Rowling's Harry Potter series) Tom Riddle. Little is known about the real Thomas Riddell Esq. His gravestone notes that he died in 1806 at the age of 72 and is buried with three of his children, but Death Eaters don't even rate a mention.
The writer was a guest of the G&V Royal Mile Hotel Edinburgh. It did not review or approve this article.