One Royal Circus
I wish Mr Smith and I were having an illicit affair: One Royal Circus in Edinburgh is the perfect place for a secret weekend assignation. It’s pretty perfect just for a couple of nights, but it is so discreet, so quietly sophisticated, so determined not to blow its own trumpet, and yet its attention to detail is so finely tuned, that it deserves to be exploited by more than a ‘comfy couple’. It deserves high heels and sexy underwear, lots of secrets and plenty of staying in. The huge bonus is that instead of being somewhere anonymous – often the price of a genuine escape – it is situated at the end of a grand Georgian crescent (a World Heritage Site, no less) in the heart of Edinburgh, which – tied with Paris – is perhaps the most perfectly formed of any city.
Oh, Mr Smith and I loved this bed and breakfast – but don’t let that label mislead. Make no mistake: One Royal Circus is up there with the best (Frette linen sheets; Egyptian cotton towels; a huge, light?filled bedroom with shutters fitted across enormous windows). Of course, it provides more than just somewhere to sleep and a morning bite, but it is also clear and unapologetic about what it doesn’t offer guests. You can’t have breakfast in bed. There is no room service of any kind. The TV in your room is small and offers terrestrial TV channels only. There are no staff to pamper you, or to pour you a drink of an evening. How wonderful.
Staying at One Royal Circus is like staying in a friend’s very grand townhouse, but without the effort of having to be charming to the friend. The owner greets you at the door and offers to carry your luggage up to the room. And she’s there in the morning to make you breakfast and straighten your bed. But otherwise, she’s gone, leaving her number on the kitchen table with instructions to call her on the house phone if you need any assistance. The beauty of this virtual abandonment is that it really couldn’t be more relaxing – not having to deal with anyone at all, never being disturbed by housekeeping’s knock on the door.
Nor do you feel deprived. If you fancy a soft drink, you are told on arrival, by all means, help yourself. Mike and Susan offer their guests an aperitif or nightcap with their compliments and other drinks can be pre-ordered through their local vintner. Similarly, you are encouraged to use the kitchen, which has a large Aga and well?stocked cupboards and fridge. For breakfast, I asked for fruit, and was given a salad of fresh raspberries, strawberries and mango, with fresh orange juice, yoghurt and granola on the side. Mr Smith had, as requested, a bacon sandwich and a large pot of coffee.
We found that the real joy of staying at One Royal Circus is the house itself. The moment we walked in, our spirits lifted. Bed and breakfasts are all too often squirrelish, sometimes pokey places with too many homely touches and creaking floorboards. Usually, you stumble into the wrong room looking for the kitchen. Not here. It’s a huge house, and yet has only five bedrooms, each with its own dressing area and bathroom. (Ours had a wonderful shower, but no bath, which we missed – but we did find out that there were plans to install one shortly after.) Instead, space has been given over to a large hallway that extends vertically all the way up to a fabulous domed roof, as well as generous drawing, sitting and pool rooms. Likewise, there is nothing mimsy about the decor. Strong, handsome pieces of antique furniture sit by examples of modern design. Rooms are lined with old oak glass?fronted cabinets salvaged from a court house, but leavened with more lighthearted pieces such as Philippe Starck’s Ghost chair. Walls are painted matt white, and hung with Italian and French posters from the 1950s, advertising Gauloise and Cinzano, Vermouth and Orangina.
On the Saturday, it rained all day – and we were glad of it. We played pool on the large blue Brunswick pool table, before retiring to the sitting room to read the papers, flick through coffee?table books (on New York Interiors and the Colombe D’Or) and listen to music. There is a large selection of CDs to choose from (Frank Sinatra, Al Jarreau, Burt Bacharach, some disco classics for late?night revels, plus Oasis), and a high?class stereo system in every room. If we were more musically able we could have played the baby grand piano (music and song sheets provided), but we aren’t, so we watched the football on the large television while sprawled across a pale?grey deep-pile sofa and helping ourselves from the bar. Apparently, there were other guests (visiting Scotland to play golf, we were told), but we never saw them.
For lunch, we darted round the corner to nearby Iglu, where we feasted on melting slivers of rare roast beef, home-made bread and a fabulously dressed leaf salad. Edinburgh is packed with delicious places to dart into to eat, and for dinner we took a taxi to one of the restaurants on the Leith waterfront to gorge on fresh fish.
The next day was sunny, so we walked around the city before climbing Calton Hill to enjoy spectacular views from this verdant natural vantage point, bang in the centre of town; then we marched home. It doesn’t matter what time you want to leave One Royal Circus – there is no up-with-the-birds check?out time – and you are given a front?door key as well as the one to your room so that you come and go as you please. You do need to remember the address though – there is no indication on the outside that the place is anything other than a private house. What is more remarkable, and a proper luxury, is that nothing inside it ruins that illusion either, except that the shopping is done, the bed ready, the rooms spotless, the white wine chilled and the candles lit.
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Smith extra at One Royal Circus
Two single malt miniatures and drinks on arrival