Wel­come to fes­ti­val city

SOME ED­IN­BURGH LO­CALS ARE BRACING THEM­SELVES FOR THEIR HOME­TOWN’S AU­GUST TRANS­FOR­MA­TION. OTHERS, LIKE DAVID MCCANN, CAN’T WAIT FOR THE FUN TO START. HERE’S HIS IN­SIDER’S GUIDE TO THE BEST PLACES TO STAY, EAT AND DRINK

Sunday Herald Life - - TRAVEL FEATURE -

AU­GUST is dawn­ing and Ed­in­burgh na­tives are grow­ing rest­less. Across the el­e­gant New Town, a sym­phony of suit­cases zip­ping shut can be heard echo­ing off the Ge­or­gian ter­races as the well-heeled em­bark on an an­nual fes­ti­val ex­o­dus – their sub­stan­tial mort­gages to be paid, for one-month only, by ex­cited vis­i­tors itch­ing to drink in the world’s great­est cul­tural bo­nanza.

Dur­ing this pe­riod of flux, much that you hold dear is turned on its head as al­most ev­ery inch of pub­lic space is re­pur­posed to serve the fes­ti­val. That old-man pub which earns its crust from hard­ened drinkers is now a hot­bed of hip­ster-laden po­etry slams, while pub­lic toi­lets and sta­tion­ary lifts host en­ter­pris­ing per­form­ers des­per­ate to make their name in a city brim­ming with the most thrilling en­ter­tain­ers of their day.

At any other time of year, just shy of half-a-mil­lion souls in­habit Scot­land’s cap­i­tal. Right now the city is lim­ber­ing up to ac­com­mo­date five world-class fes­ti­vals, a tourist in­flux of hun­dreds of thou­sands, and 5am clos­ing times.

Go to any bar in late sum­mer and it feels like the world has ar­rived – and ev­ery­one is get­ting served be­fore you. But back­lash from the jaded has be­gun. Al­ready, an in­nocu­ous-look­ing photo of tourists at the foot of Ed­in­burgh Cas­tle has trig­gered a col­lec­tive face palm on so­cial me­dia.

The of­fend­ing tweet is a pic­ture of a young cou­ple pos­ing next to the liv­ery of the Voda­fone shop on Princes Street. It fea­tures a mag­ni­fied im­age of the city’s fa­mous rock-mounted fortress. Loom­ing large, but out of shot, in the back­ground is Ed­in­burgh Cas­tle. “Tourists in Ed­in­burgh are a dif­fer­ent breed, turn around and get your pic­ture taken with the ac­tual Cas­tle you melts.” This ex­as­per­ated post by Laura Law­son char­ac­terises a cu­mu­la­tive sigh from the 20,000 lo­cals who re­sponded. Among them was a gem from an­other fes­ti­val vet­eran. “Silly sea­son has be­gun ... time to de­ploy the 1,000-yard stare and sharpen the el­bows for the walk to work!”

There are hide­aways to beat a re­treat from the over-zeal­ous dance troupes and un­der­whelm­ing stand-ups as well as hid­den gems to en­hance the Au­gust ex­pe­ri­ence.

As an adop­tive Ed­in­burgher (via Belfast) who has turned ev­ery an­cient wynd and trod­den ev­ery warped cob­ble, I have sought to ex­plore lesser trav­elled paths the city might have to of­fer its new vis­i­tors. What and where in Ed­in­burgh would I rec­om­mend? Walk this way ...

Lodg­ings

Ce­ment your fes­ti­val cre­den­tials at a lux­u­ri­ous base on the busy Royal Mile – the swirl of street per­form­ers just a stone’s throw away.

Lo­cated within 10 min­utes’ walk of the all the must-see Ed­in­burgh at­trac­tions, the con­tem­po­rary core of The Radis­son

Tourists in Ed­in­burgh are a dif­fer­ent breed, turn around and get your pic­ture taken with the ac­tual Cas­tle you melts

Blu ho­tel be­trays its faux medieval ar­chi­tec­ture. The lobby – stylishly grey and min­i­mal but with bold pur­ple light­ing – ex­tends into the award-win­ning Itchy Coo Kitchen and Bar near the ho­tel en­trance, while at the rear there are sev­eral floors of park­ing bays (a con­sid­er­able perk in a city no­to­ri­ous for its un­flinch­ing “blue meanie” traf­fic war­dens). There are rooms to suit most bud­gets but ex­pect to pay up­wards of £160 a night dur­ing the fes­ti­val.

I enjoyed a two-night stay in the deluxe dou­ble-bed­room – it is a treat worth the ex­tra ex­pense. Chic and smart, the char­coal-coloured liv­ing room boasts one huge L-shaped sofa that could com­fort­ably sleep three. A gi­gan­tic top­spec TV is set on the main wall while a soft car­pet and cosy fur­nish­ings cre­ate an un­ex­pected feel­ing of lav­ish home­li­ness. A well-stocked mini­bar boast­ing a se­lec­tion of quintessen­tially Ed­in­burgh snacks and bev­er­ages, such as the full-bod­ied In­nis and Gunn beers, is topped off with a first-rate Ne­spresso cof­fee ma­chine.

The bed­room walls are home to ink sketches of Ed­in­burgh land­scapes, and there are some spe­cial touches, including a pil­low menu where the guest can se­lect from a range of head-and-neck

com­forters chris­tened with Cale­do­nian name­sakes such as Agnes, Bruce and Irvin, while a fra­grant pil­low spray aids a rest­ful slum­ber.

Given its cen­tral lo­ca­tion, one not im­mune to the de­lights of stag and hen par­ties, one of the most sur­pris­ing as­pects is the quiet and sense of tran­quil­lity. To help with the lat­ter, the ho­tel also has a spa, treat­ment room and gym, as well as some of the best masseurs and beauty ther­a­pists to help the fraz­zled fes­ti­val-goer un­wind.

Din­ner

Yet to be ac­knowl­edged as an Ed­in­burgh in­sti­tu­tion, Dine on Loth­ian Road is one of the most dis­tinc­tive eater­ies the city has to of­fer. Nes­tled on an up­per floor be­side the Tra­verse The­atre, few restau­rants can boast a wall blan­keted with rich, green earthy moss. Hang­ing foursquare on the stairs up to the res­tau­rant, it’s like a huge pic­ture framed bowl­ing green, with all the ac­com­pa­ny­ing fresh aro­mas.

An­other fea­ture, exclusive to Dine one should imag­ine, is that you can eat your tea un­der the branches of what the man­age­ment tells us is a real, liv­ing tree. Yes, a tree. Not hang­ing ivy, or overblown pot plants, but the kind of thing be­neath which well-heeled chil­dren from an Enid Bly­ton novel might eat pic­nics.

Given its hor­ti­cul­tur­ally-in­spired dé­cor, Dine cre­ates an un­ri­valled at­mos­phere height­ened by the cal­i­bre of its chefs. The fi­nal rub­ber stamp of ex­cel­lence is the classy cock­tail bar with a team of braces-wear­ing mixol­o­gists, each of whom ex­hibits a sa­vant-like knowl­edge of aper­i­tifs, in­duce­ments and al­co­holic en­hance­ments.

A spot of lunch

Af­ter­noon tea with your mum at the Bal­moral Ho­tel has been a rite-of-pas­sage for many, but per­haps lesser known is The Colon­nades set in­side the majestic Signet Li­brary.

None of your pub lunches here. This neo-clas­si­cal mas­ter­piece is so in­cred­i­bly or­nate it trans­ports you to a time of bowler hats and pen­guin suits, when high so­ci­ety was in full swing and peo­ple knew how to treat them­selves.

Lunch is served in bite-size sam­ples on a tiered sil­ver plat­ter with care­fully se­lected teas – or wines – to ex­tract the best from the dishes, which in­clude ev­ery­thing from duck parcels and prawn cock­tails to heart-shaped mac­a­roons and blue­berry cake with cham­pagne jelly.

The sand­wiches and cakes are made us­ing the finest, fresh sea­sonal ingredients and along­side the ex­ten­sive list of teas there are mouth-wa­ter­ing cham­pagne and cock­tails. The Colon­nades also has its own gin, cre­ated in part­ner­ship with Ed­in­burgh Gin.

De­spite the grand set­ting – the up­per li­brary was de­scribed by King Ge­orge IV as the “finest drawing room in Europe” – the at­ten­tive staff make ev­ery­one feel re­laxed and at home.

Whet­ting the whis­tle

There is no short­age of ex­cel­lent pub­lic houses. En­sign Ewart, es­tab­lished in 1680 at the top of Royal Mile, is the city’s high­est pub (with the low­est ceil­ings). It is par­tic­u­larly quaint, though mobbed dur­ing fes­ti­val time.

To en­joy a sup away from the crowds, head to the New Town to try the earthy Star Bar on Northum­ber­land Place. A hid­den gem, its folksy in­te­rior jars in­ter­est­ingly with the gran­deur of the sur­round­ing street, and there is a cosy beer gar­den. The Star Bar is a solid spot to take a load off, its fan­tas­ti­cally crotch­ety pub­li­can drawing me back time and again. It has, how­ever, at­tracted some churl­ish com­ments on Trip Advisor: “Avoid on a sunny day as the pony­tailed bar­man will be too busy sun­bathing in the gar­den to come and serve you. Oth­er­wise nice bar with a good but loud juke­box.”

On my first visit to the pub, the same fella re­fused to serve me for 20 min­utes while he mur­dered the Kinks on a bat­tered pi­ano on the up­per floor. I NTRIGUED, ex­cited, can­not wait to get here? Then this wel­come note has done its job. There is noth­ing more to be done for some of us than to zip up that case, close the door be­hind us and put the key in a safe place. “Take care of our Ed­in­burgh,” say the New Town types. “See you in a month!”.

Me, I’ll be stay­ing with the rab­ble. Who would want to miss this – our mo­ment in the sun. David McCann was a guest of the Rad­dis­son Blu, High Street, Royal Mile : www.radis­son­blu.com/ Ed­in­burgh and ate din­ner at Dine https://di­need­in­burgh.co.uk. He enjoyed lunch at www.the­signetli­brary.co.uk

@lau­ra­jd­law­son

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.