A Highland Fling!

A Highland Fling!

15 Aug 2013

Ahlan! made a flying visit to Scotland’s historic capital Edinburgh, which is now just a hop, skip and a jump away from the UAE, thanks to a new Virgin Atlantic route…

Fancy a short break with a difference? Then high-tail it to the historic city of Edinburgh, which is now a doddle of a trip thanks to new connecting flights from Dubai via London. The ancient city, surrounded by green rolling hills, is filled with atmospheric cobbled streets, jaw-dropping architecture and is loved by royals and celebrities alike. Its cosmopolitan festivals, top-notch shopping and year-round cultural vibrancy make it the perfect place for an entertaining city break.  

Time for Luxury
Built in 1902, Edinburgh’s iconic Balmoral Hotel is one of the city’s most famous landmarks, offering superb modern comforts in a five-star setting. Ideally situated in the city centre at the end of its main shopping hub, Princes Street, The Balmoral is famous for its majestic clock tower, which runs a few minutes early to assist tardy passengers who struggle to keep up with the timetables of the Waverley train station next door. Each of the stunning rooms has been designed to capture the mood and beauty of the Scottish countryside with rich, earthy colours reflecting the moors, mists and heather. Many sights, including the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle and Arthur’s Seat, are within easy reach and can be admired by simply looking out of the window.
Each of the 188 bedrooms, including 20 suites, come packed with super-comfortable furnishings and all of the amenities you’d expect from a five star retreat. The spacious marble and ceramic bathrooms have luxurious bathrobes and are stocked with REN spa products. All of the air-conditioned rooms have internet access, an interactive entertainment system, private bar, personal safe, while for the kids, a cute Balmoral teddy bear wearing a monogrammed bath robe lies in wait!
The hotel also has a fantastic spa that offers a peaceful retreat from the city above. As well as a 15-metre swimming pool, sauna, steam room, gymnasium and exercise studio, the spa offers a number of ESPA signature treatments, from facials to massage and speciality services. It’s the perfect place to unwind after a hard day’s exploring!
The Balmoral is renowned for its personal touches, including its excellent concierge and famous turn-down service, which comes complete with delicious homemade chocolates. Indeed, guests who are eager to trace their roots can connect with the history and heritage of Scottish ancestry via the hotel’s Tartan Butler, Andy Fraser, who is a master at unearthing secrets. He can trace as far back as the early 13th Century, sourcing tartan for guests and even arranging kilt fittings.
Because it’s part of the Rocco Forte group of hotels, The Balmoral offers a veritable family experience. The hotel, which is helmed by Sir Rocco Forte, is packed full of personal touches. In fact the interiors are artfully hand-picked by Sir Rocco’s sister and the hotel’s design director Olga Polizzi, who has created the ultimate urban retreat. The Balmoral is one of the most famous venues in Scotland and has hosted celebrities including Chanel chief Karl Lagerfeld, Laurel and Hardy, Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor, Paul and Linda McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Luciano Pavarotti, Beyoncé, Oprah Winfrey and world famous James Bond star, Sir Sean Connery.

Potty for Harry!
The Balmoral Hotel has long been synonymous with class but its biggest brush with fame came six years ago when JK Rowling checked in to finish her book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Room 552, now renamed The JK Rowling Suite, still retains a marble bust of the Greek god Hermes on which the author scribbled in black marker: “JK Rowling finished writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in this room (552) on 11th Jan 2007.”

Roll out the Red Carpet! 
Each year over 30 separate festivals are organised, attracting millions of tourists from around the world. The Edinburgh Festival is a collective term for a variety of arts and cultural events that take place each summer, mostly in August, it was established in 1947 in a post-war effort to “provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit.” Each year thousands of performers descend on the city to entertain tourists, while other events like the Edinburgh International Film Festival attract an A-list crowd including famous faces like Sienna Miller and Keira Knightey. Another huge event is the city’s Hogmanay party, which celebrates the New Year in style with a spectacular fireworks show and live music. 

Fine Dining
Scotland is well known for its organic farmed produce and abundance of fresh seafood, not to mention bizarre delicacies like the deep-fried Mars Bar, and thankfully there’s plenty of delicious treats to tempt food lovers in the nation’s capital. The Balmoral’s Michelin-starred Number One restaurant is an outstanding culinary experience and is recognised as one of the country’s best restaurants. Executive Chef Jeff Bland has created a delicious menu with Scottish and French twists. Using local produce, the restaurant offers delicious a la carte, tasting menus and private dining with fresh ingredients including Borders Lamb, Dry Aged Orkney Beef and Loch Duart Salmon.
Led by Chef Simon Lannon the hotel’s Hadrian’s Brasserie is a 1930s Art Deco palace filled with walnut floors and set off with a lime-coloured palette. It offers a more low key epicurean experience and each morning serves a delicious traditional Scottish breakfast with sausages, eggs, bacon and potato scones, while lunch and evening meals attract a trendy clientele who love the buzzy atmosphere.
The Balmoral also plays host to Scotland’s only Bollinger Bar at Palm Court, their delicious award-winning afternoon tea is accompanied by live harp or piano music in the evenings. Guests can sample a selection of home-made cakes, scones and traditional finger sandwiches – including their delicious Blairgowrie beef finger sandwiches with red onion marmalade on malted brown bread and Scottish smoked salmon sandwiches with cucumber and milled pepper – while sipping on a glass of bubbly.
Farther afield, Edinburgh offers a variety of incredible restaurants from Italian to Korean to vegetarian. The hysterically titled Scran & Scallie gastro pub is a must try. It’s a relaxed dining experience with menus showcasing great Scottish food – or scran as its locally known. As well as delicious fare it has a range of traditionally brewed ales served in a cosy setting and is the perfect place to hide from the often inclement weather!

Shop ‘til you Drop!
If it is great shopping you are after, The Balmoral is ideally situated to access Edinburgh’s shopping district. Just a few hundred yards away is Princes Street, which hosts a variety of high street stores, and just around the corner is high-end heaven where you can spend away at Harvey Nichols, Louis Vuitton, and Anne Fontaine before flexing your plastic on exclusive fashion brands such as Bottega Venetta, Jil Sander, Balenciaga, Gucci, Prada, Marc Jacobs and Chloé. The Grass Market and Royal Mile are just a stone’s throw away and also offer boutique stores for the more adventurous shopper, while George Street also has an excellent selection of trendy shops.

A Knight’s Tale
A stroll to Edinburgh Castle, which has pride of place atop Castle Rock, a 350-million-year-old volcanic outcrop, is an eerie yet enjoyable experience. For Dhs91 you can head behind the fortress walls and take in the sights including the Great Hall, the Royal Palace and St. Margaret’s Chapel, which was built in the 12th century and is the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh. Scotland’s crown jewels, known as the Honours of Scotland, are the oldest regalia in the British Isles and are housed inside. They comprise a jewel-encrusted crown, an elaborate sword and a sceptre. The Stone of Destiny, which has a long and intricate history and has played a central role in the coronation of Scottish kings, is also on show. 

Pandamonium 
The Far East met the east coast when giant pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang settled into their new home at Edinburgh Zoo in 2011. And now that Tian Tian is rumoured to be pregnant, the facility, owned by The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, is expected to be inundated with visitors. A visit to the Zoo is well worth a trip and costs Dhs74. www.edinburghzoo.org.uk 

A Touch of Royalty
Edinburgh has a long and proud history with British crowned heads and has played host to successive royal families through-out the centuries. The Palace of Holyroodhouse is the Queen’s official residence in Scotland, situated at the end of the Royal Mile and was the venue for her granddaughter Zara Phillips’ 2011 wedding to Mike Tindall. The evening before the wedding, the royals chartered the now-decommissioned Royal Yacht Britannia for a cocktail reception that was attended by Princes William and Harry, as well as the Duchess of Cambridge. For more than 44 years the Britannia served the Royal Family, travelling over one million miles to become the most famous ship in the world. Now a fully operational permanent exhibit, Britannia offers visitors a chance to experience the former royal residence, which was used for glittering state visits, official receptions, royal honeymoons and relaxing family holidays. Ticket cost just Dhs68 and can be purchased online from www.royalyachtbritannia.co.uk.

Getting There!
Escaping to Edinburgh for a short break couldn’t be easier now Virgin has launched a new service via its London Heathrow hub. Fly Virgin Atlantic from Dubai to London on Upper Class and you’re in for super-star treatment. Their onboard services are second to none and offer the ultimate door-to-door luxury travel experience. As well as exquisite personal attention on board, the Upper Class seats are some of the biggest in the business. They’re 22” wide, and turn into a 33”-wide, 6’6”-long flat bed at the touch of a button. Once on board, you’re offered a pre-flight glass of Lanson Black Label bubbly, then after take-off the pampering continues. Choose what you want to eat from the extensive menu and have it delivered whenever you like. Their services also include a vast array of drinks and up-to-the-minute entertainment. If the music, TV, films and comfy seats aren’t enough to keep you occupied, then you can shimmy up to the in-flight bar and meet some new friends! On arrival in London, before the short one-hour-long Little Red flight to Edinburgh, you can sit back and relax in the amazing Virgin Clubhouse. The award-winning flagship lounge will enhance your trip tenfold. It’s an ultra-fab sanctuary where you can relax, work, play, drink and dine with one-on-one service that’s truly magnificent. You can go all out with a last-minute trim, have a lush facial or massage at the Cowshed Spa or simply kick back and chill on a chaise longue with a bite to eat. There’s so much to enjoy you’ll be reluctant to leave! Check out www.virgin-atlantic.com.