What is it that makes Edinburgh cab drivers so jocular? (Listen, I cued you up for that ‘jock’ pun.) Seriously, every time I’ve visited the Scottish capital the cabbies are so darned friendly and chatty I wonder whether there’s something in the water. (In case you’re curious, a cursory Google of ‘in the Edinburgh water’ reveals only a mention of some icky multi-syllabic bacteria and the council denying its presence, so no, that’s not it. And don’t take on board that cryptosomethingdium drivel, it doesn’t exactly act as a mood-enhancer – and trust me, this city and hotel does nothing but deserve delight.) At risk of raining further on what should be a parade, our arrival at our chosen hip hotel is underwhelming: the cab drops us at a grand but non-descript Georgian building in the respectable West End. A quick phonecall later and we realise we’re at the wrong entrance.
A member of staff soon appears, speed-walking around the corner to steer us to Chester Residence’s main reception. Within moments she’s trumping our taxi when it comes to illuminating info: a graduate in history, she reveals the backstory to this distinguished part of town. ‘All the aristocrats used to live in the mediaeval area next to the castle but it was getting cramped and squalid and so a couple hundred years ago they decide to knock up this fancy new neighbourhood instead.’ I paraphrase, but you get the gist. We turn into Rothesay Place and an even grander row of grey-stone 19th-century townhouses curves before us. Mid terrace, we’re led into a proper entrance hall with sexy wallpaper and showy Seventies glass-link chandeliers. That’s more like it.
Basements aren’t the usual jewel in a bolthole’s crown but our two-bedder ‘Mews II’ reveals itself to be roomier than most long-term pieds à terre, let alone hotel suites. In fact, it’s a blooming Star of Africa when it comes to luxury pads. Two big khaki-cool ensuite bedrooms eyeballed and an extra tub-boasting bathroom later and we’re smitten; and we haven’t even bowled into the open-plan living space yet. Mushroom walls, slate flooring, stylish oil paintings and black and lime colour accents in top-dollar soft furnishings follow. Swoon again.
Checking out the fully fitted kitchen I clock a Dualit toaster, an Alessi toast rack, a Siemens this and a Miele that – we’re impressed. And beyond the fine cooking space lie a dining area and lounge big enough to film porn in let alone simply watch it on that big screen. My apologies here obviously – this is far too respectable a joint for such inappropriate low-rent references. And goodness knows you wouldn’t want anyone so unsavoury pawing those elegant heavy silk drapes and stylish textured woollen cushions.
If you’ll indulge me one more touch of smut though, there’s what can only be described as an orgy of audio-visuals. They’ve even thrown in a fully loaded iPod. I track down AC/DC and set about reviving teenage rock fantasies, aiming to crank up Back in Black to the max. Instead I successfully channel my granny. Which remote control to operate what speaker? It’s all too baffling despite having had a demo from kind receptionist. We resign ourselves to News 24 on the massive flatscreen while I root around for a pre-supper snack. It’s not just the modcons that are dazzling – it’s also the volume of other stock. Discovering a cupboard full of glasses I realise that next time I shouldn’t just bring a couple of pals, I should ask Chester’s management if I can host a full-on cocktail party during my stay.
Now, just to contextualise, I’m here with my American sister and her stepmother (actually our relationships via our Jackie Collins-novel-worthy family tree is a tad more complicated than that – but I’ve digressed enough). It’s their first trip to this unique history-steeped city and we’ve got 24 hours at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Mind you, we haven’t even sampled any of this colourful cultural calendar’s shenanigans and our chic accommodation has already provided these tourists with something to write home about it. A big-up to the Chester Residence has even hit dizzy Facebook-status heights thanks to free WiFi.
Over a sparkling water from the fridge, my step-Smith extols some choice guidebook revelations: ‘Did you know the Scots invented the first rotative steam engine?’ No. ‘And the first bicycle.’ Uh-uh. ‘And in fact they created the first telephone, TV, continuous electric light, radar, penicillin and antiseptic… and let’s not forget Dolly the cloned sheep. So remind me why the Scottish capital isn’t up there with DC and Tokyo on the World Summit circuit?’ she asks. (Sorry to any Scottish nationalists who would assure her it is.) ‘This country clearly kicks ass,’ suggests my American cohort.
Maps in hand, umbrellas and sunhats clutched (‘schizophrenic’ is an understatement when it comes to the weather), we head towards the Royal Mile, a mere 15 minutes’ walk away. One glimpse of that ancient castle on its outcrop and my LA and NY companions are bowled over. ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet,’ I assure them. Around every corner is another incredible spire or mediaeval skyline. Unsurprisingly, a stroll through Princes Gardens is punctuated with pausing to take snapshots every few metres. As captivating as it is to while away an evening ogling street performers – the good (kilted chap climbing an unsupported ladder mid-air – now, that’s magic), the bad (jugglers, I just don’t care how many balls you have in the air at once) and the downright ugly (Lycra-clad quinquagenarians waving flames to techno – pah – at least make it look like they’re a fire hazard) – we were perfectly content to get back to Chester Residence.
In a city full of so many great eateries, the option of self-catering might seem a drag. But not in our Mews apartment. We’re delighted to forgo dining out in order to enjoy more time in our home from home. (Although I wish my own nest had Jo Malone unguents on tap and such amazing rainhead showers.) Breakfast is a dream. Having what you want, exactly how you like it – free-range eggs, organic bread and fresh fruit, all at your fingertips – but with the five-star treat of someone else cleaning up after you. I confess I butter my toast straight on the counter sending crumbs everywhere, just because I can.
I won’t bore you with the minutiae of our festival itinerary, but just to say even when this city’s not in season, you have to plan how best to use your time. Titians in the National Gallery demand a look-in; scallops, oysters and tempura’d salmon beg to be gorged at legendary Fishers in Leith’s port. (It’s always fun playing ‘guess the accent’ here with American visitors; our Polish waitress has them bamboozled with her Scots-laced Slavic tones.) And don’t you dare forget to have a tot or two of single malt along the way. Whether you want to risk diluting your dram straight from the tap is between you and the water board…
Anonymously reviewed by Juliet Kinsman (On-the-go editor, Mr & Mrs Smith)
Whenever you book a stay at a Mr & Mrs Smith, we'll invite you to review it when you get back. Read what real-life guests had to say in The Chester Residence's guestbook below.
We loved everything about the hotel and its Georgian architecture. Didn't see any of the other apartments but ours was fantastic - a real 'WOW' - huge lounge with beautiful high ceilings sporting decorative cornices and mouldings, large windows with original shutters. The remaining decor being very contemporary and immaculately clean, it was just so lovely and spacious. We stayed over the New Year and on New Years Eve and were entertained by a piper playing in the entrance porch below - we could hear this from our apartment - it added a superb ambiance to our New Year celebrations. The staff were extremely helpful and friendly. We loved every minute of our stay and would very much like to return.
I can't think of anything - it is a perfect place to stay.
ELIZABETH, SilverSmith stayed on 29 Dec 2012
A novel experience for us – an apartment not a hotel, but the only difference was the huge amount of space. Usually I take a suite in the Hotel du Vin but here I got two double bedrooms, two bathrooms, a massive sitting room, and fully equipped kitchen for less money. A few niggles: The bed was a bit small, there was no cot for our four month old, the entry phone was broken, no dogs were allowed and there was no parking. However this did not detract from the stay, the staff were friendly and getting a takeaway delivered and having friends around for drinks in your 'own' apartment is a great way of doing things.
Jamie, BlackSmith stayed on 18 Jun 2012