Does Edinburgh need another Hotel, one wonders, outside of Festival Time? Ah, but the Nira Caledonia is not just another hotel.
Comprising two listed Georgian townhouses in Gloucester Place, Nira Caledonia describes itself as a boutique hotel which blends Bohemian chic with contemporary comfort and an emphasis on excellent service. It rates making guests feel at home above protecting them with rules and regulations. It sounds like my kind of place.
Given that the two townhouses are separated by an independently owned building, guests who are booked into Number 6, have to walk backwards and forwards between Numbers 6 and 10 to book in and out, and to eat, so I was relieved to be in the ‘right’ building during my stay because it never stopped raining! Of course a hotel like this thinks of everything and umbrellas are available for the trip.
I arrived after a tiring afternoon traipsing around Edinburgh getting wet and was looking forward to a relaxing slump before dinner. My welcome was friendly and sincere and I was taken to a room in the basement. Now I should say that, being a listed building means there are no lifts, which will not suit everyone, but thankfully I am not at that stage just yet. On entering my room I was instantly sent into relax mode. Soothing music and side lights awaited with a large promising, becushioned bed and a whirlpool bath. Bliss! A particularly nice touch was the personalised welcome letter from the manager. I felt I had earned a touch of luxury today and was looking forward to enjoying a few of life’s little treats.
The first thing I did, though, was to remove the electronic air freshener. I’m not a fan of artificial scents â€“ they make me wonder what they are trying to hide. Then I thought I would try the nespresso machine while the bath was running. There were no instructions and it was impossible to read the selection of flavours, but I could see from the colour map that there was no decaff so I gave up. There was a lovely selection of teas hidden in the bedside cabinet. I looked for a socket to plug in the kettle, bearing in mind that the flex was less than 12″ long. The room had a desk/table facing the bed, dominated by a large flat screen television. Surely there would be a socket there where you could plug in a laptop, charge your mobile phone and make yourself a cup of tea. No.Â There was a temptingly free socket in an extension lead behind the bedside table but despite lying down and trying to wriggle through I couldn’t reach this one either. The only available socket was in the skirting board by the window. Apart from being below regulatory standard, it was an inconvenient hands and knees job to make the tea. Thankfully, as I said before, I’m not beyond that yet.
After a delightful soak with my herbal tea, my next problem was, how to empty the bath. The plug had nothing to get hold of. It took a fair bit of scrabbling around (fortunately I hadn’t done my nails yet) to tease it up. It looked as though the chain had come off and I made a mental note to mention it at the reception. But by the time I had got there I had also failed to empty the wash hand basin (It’s so easy when you work it out!) and decided to spare the staff what must be a daily problem.
At this point I’ll mention the layout of the room. You come in to a corridor with the bathroom immediately on your right, then pass another room with a couch (which is probably a spare bed) and built in wardrobe. There is a socket beside the bed here but it’s regulation height off the floor so too high to be of use for the kettle, which would have had to sit on the floor and although it would be fine for the hair dryer, there is no mirror in this room. In the main room, we have already discovered, the only available socket is a hands and knees job by the window so you can’t see in the mirror at the same time. Ah well. Back on the floor to dry my hair and time to close my eyes for half an hour.
Dinner in the Blackwoods restaurant is highly recommendedÂ but do make sure you book, as there are only places for twenty. You’ll probably start in the bar while you read through the menu and get to know the barman Robbie, who produces his own whisky. Chef David Scott is enjoying his Josper oven and the menu reflects a commendable commitment to local produceÂ complimented by a great selection in the bar. The bar and restaurant feel cosy and friendly, the sort of place you could imagine feeling quite at home in, if you lived locally and popped in often enough. Importantly to me, the staff seem to enjoy their jobs and are happy to muck in and help each other when it’s busy â€“ and they remember you with a smile (it would have been a grin if I’d told them about the plugs!).
Having very carefully switched off all the lights and music when I left the room, I was rather surprised to find them all on again when I returned during dinner to use the bathroom (there was a bit of a crush to use the public unisex ones) later that night. I’m quite happy for a member of staff to pop in and turn back the bedcovers and lay out my nightie (though also quite happy if they don’t) but I don’t like waste. A two way light switch in the hall would have made the process much easier and I wondered who was benefiting from the music.
After dinner and chat, I was grateful for the free wifi but not happy at having to get back on my hands and knees and leave my phone on the floor to charge overnight. Fresh water had also appeared and it was good to note that this was tap water, which is perfectly acceptable in this part of the world.
I had another go at the nespresso machine in the morning, when my system can cope with Â full on caffeine, but still couldn’t work it. Where’s George Clooney when you need him? I had also observed the night before that despite the size of the suite, there wasn’t the floor space to do my usual exercises and tai chi. The garden through the french window would have been perfect but it was just a tease as it was only accessible from the next door room and I had neglected to make friends with the occupant in advance. I doubted he would welcome my knock on the door at 7 am to request access to the garden. Although I later discovered that he had gone for an early morning run so he may actually have been sympathetic.
Not to worry, there was a choice for breakfast that I hoped would set me up for the day. Indeed, the breakfast choice was very good, given the size of the restaurant, nothing special for a hotel of this calibre, but there was a choice of healthy and less healthy cereals, continental offerings and dried and fresh fruits as well as variations on the full cooked breakfast and plenty of tea or coffee and toast.
Every room is different and that is the charm of Nira Caledonia. I’m sure the other rooms had different difficulties and treats. The caveat would be, if you aren’t too good on your pins, ask for a ground floor room in Number 10 and bring an extension lead. The location is good for getting to Central Edinburgh on foot (though uphill, so I got my workout) and there is a fair choice of eateries within a short walk, should you want to experiment.
The atmosphere and levels of comfort, the staff, the food are all excellent, but there is little point in supplying fancy equipment without instructions. The assumption that we are all au fait with docking stations and nespresso machines is a bit risky andÂ I do think you should be able to plug in a kettle or hairdryer and charge your mobile phone in every room, without having to crawl around on the floor. Hotels a quarter of the price can manage that.
The owner, the charming Manvinder Puri, is aiming to build, if not an Empire, certainly a number of highly loveable Nira boutique hotels in rather delightful places around the world. There is oneÂ in the Swiss resort of Surlej for those who love the mountains and one in Mauritius for those who love the ocean, with another planned for the Seychelles. Â Nira Caledonia is the only one in the UK , (for those who love cities) and has a great deal to commend it. Prices can go up to Â£200, depending on your room, but you might be lucky and find a last minute deal. I loved the ambiance and the idiosyncrasies but I would like to see the basics sorted out before I can honestly say it’s worth the extra money.