This is a story about a 24-hour love affair.
…with the Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh – The Caledonian.
Fun fact: the original Waldorf Astoria in New York invented room service in the 1930s. So, it’s not surprising that the name Waldorf Astoria has become the stuff of luxury legend.
And yet, pleasantly and admittedly unexpected, there is nothing pretentious or uptight about Edinburgh’s Waldorf Astoria – The Caledonian. It has all the familiarity of a well-oiled machine that you want from a 5-star hotel; they know how to do their jobs very well indeed.
But what it really feels like is a family-owned inn where the employees are happy to warmly chat with you, have a laugh, and make sure you love the place as much as they do.
I inititally reached out to the Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh – The Caledonian because of its unique historical ties to the Caledonian Railway. Plus I’d never stayed at a Waldorf Astoria before, only gazed up at the one in New York City.
The Caledonian (aka The Caley) and its listed sandstone walls have been an icon of Edinburgh since 1903, part of the former train station. The original Hamilton & Inches clock is still on display in Peacock Alley, ticking away as it has for over a century. Although the station itself was torn down in the 1960s, the hotel remained. The Caley became a Waldorf Astoria in 2012, as part of the Hilton family.
My better half TJ and I arrive by rental car on a sunny, warm afternoon in late September. Not sure where to park for valet, we park on the side of the building, out of traffic. We’re shortly greeted by two gentlemen who immediately help us with our luggage, give us a valet card, and escort us inside.
“We’ve been expecting you, Ms. Sandifer,” is always nice to hear, I’ll admit. That’s how we’re greeted at check-in. The lobby has a marble mosaic floor and huge chandelier that, like the rest of the hotel, is a great blend of design that will appeal to both the modern-minded and the lover of all things Victorian.
While checking in, the front desk attendant helps us go through the room service breakfast menu for the following morning. She then personally takes us to our room. “Elevator or stairs?” Well, I was looking at the elevator, but “Stairs” pops out of my mouth and honestly, thank god it did. She guides us past the lobby elevators into the next grand room – and there you have it: an immense and ornate staircase leading up to the rooms above. It’s not a strenuous route, thankfully, as we talk to her about the hotel’s history without losing our breath.
Off the main hallway, our host unlocks a leaded-window door into a smaller, more private corridor. This is where our room is. And the name on the door: The Alexander Graham Bell Suite.
She unlocks the door and a massive living room sprawls before us, decked out in creams and purples, with an up-close and personal view of the northerly side of Edinburgh Castle and the Princes Street Gardens, with St. John’s Church framing the room on the left.
She leaves us with our bell-hop from Concierge, who unloads our luggage in the closet (which is bigger than my closet at home). He asks if there’s anything we need to know about the room. “Is there anything we should know about the room?” He laughs and gives us a tour.
“Your television is in there,” he points to a large mirror jutting out from the wall. Good to know.
He walks us down a hallway to a stunning luxury bathroom, with a tub the size of a hot tub, as well as a shower, robes, and slippers. Next is the bedroom, which is larger than my entire first apartment in Los Angeles. The king bed is massive, with a collection of paintings above its Victorian headboard: moody paintings of the Scottish Highlands.
There’s a welcome slate of elaboratly crafted chocolate and macarons. There’s also Laurent-Perrier Champagne on ice. Not even Prosecco, which would have tickled us just fine. The fireplace has a faux flame and smoke, which adds to the overall “magical” vibe of the suite. I know this is the Alexander Graham Bell suite, complete with images of the Scottish-born inventor himself and other historical photos of sound board operators, but I will admit to feeling more like I’m at Hogwarts than anywhere else (which for me is 100000% brilliant).
The next wee bit of magic is the television. I find TVs unphotogenic, so the mirror seems like the perfect solution to temporarily cover it up when not in use. I try to open the mirror, thinking it’s a cabinet. Nope – TJ tells me not to mess with it. It’s a two-way mirror, in fact (with, yes, the TV on the inside), nothing needed other than pressing the power button on the remote to have it be visible. No doors or cabinets. So at this point, I’m completely sold. Yes, truly. This is the room for me.
The Alexander Graham Bell suite is a photographer’s dream: the colors, artwork, the bathroom with its herringbone floors and wide shutters where you can sit and watch the street life bustle below you, combined with iconic scenery that seems larger than life every time you pass by any of its oversized windows.
Also incredibly charming is the phone, and it works. Calling down to the front desk has never been better.
We’ve been tromping around Scotland for nearly 5 weeks prior to this, mostly in self-catering cottages in the Highlands. That’s left us with either sneakers or wellies to wear (although I’m sure they wouldn’t look twice at you here for doing so). The proximity of the hotel to Edinburgh’s best shopping is just another huge benefit of staying here. You’re steps away from New Town and Old Town, both of which have earned Unesco World Heritage status. Essentially, you’re in the centre of it all. This makes it quite convenient to shop for a new pair of posh shoes and get back in time for our dinner reservations, all within 30 minutes, I might add. Victory is mine.
Dinner reservations have been set up for us at Grazing by Mark Greenaway. The restaurant prides itself on Chef Mark’s passion for world-renowned locally sourced Scottish ingredients and unique concept dishes. If you’re a hotel guest, the restaurant is conveniently located via Peacock Alley (or there’s a street entrance as well). We’re greeted at the door of Peacock Alley by Elena, who we get the pleasure of speaking with often throughout the evening and next morning of our stay.
She walks us through the famous heart of the hotel, and tells us that every Waldorf Astoria has a Peacock Alley. It’s a term cleverly coined because of the original Waldorf Astoria’s reputation of only the finest ladies and gentlemen sporting their “plumage” of dazzling attire in the lounge. While you might think this means you have to dress to the nines to step foot in it today, don’t fret. Smart casual is perfectly acceptable.
Now that Elena has introduced us to the host inside of Grazing, we’re seated in a comfortable corner table, with views to the cobbled street. The decor is casual yet chic: hints of tartan combined with red leather, warm wood, and bistro tile.
Our server Stewart warmly greets us, and just like everyone else we come in contact here, there’s nothing stuffy or artificial about him. He goes through every single menu item with us for gluten sensitivity. He’s not in a rush and, being Celiac himself, is incredibly knowledgeable. Much of the menu can be altered only slightly in order to be gluten-free. We opt for kedgeree and pork belly for appetizers, and a rib-eye steak and hake for main courses, paired with a Negroni and whisky to drink. I’ll also add that we had no idea what kedgeree is, but Stewart doesn’t make us feel silly for asking. Thanks, Stewart.
There is plenty of time between appetizers and our main course; nothing is rushed here. Which, if you’ve ever felt your belly becoming full just as your main course arrives, you will surely appreciate. We’re well looked after, by Stewart as well as several other servers and that evening’s manager.
But it’s time for a swim. We have a pool reservation. We’re the only ones at the pool, so we take a quick dip, and then enjoy the hot tub.
Back in our room, TJ and I brainstorm for the 5000th time how to move to Scotland, dreaming of a different life than our hectic situations back in California. It’s a well deserved time-out from electronics and cameras; and TJ appreciated that, for once, he can stretch his legs out in the bathtub.
By 9p, I’m struck with fear of missing out on dessert (which we left Grazing without). So, we walk down to Peacock Alley, greeted yet again by Elena, who seats us and orders our drinks. It must be stated that my gin and tonic is simply the most beautiful G&T that I’ve ever witnessed – and the Scots have never disappointed me in the art of gin. Order a G&T in America, and you’ll most likely get the cheapest tonic water combined with whatever typical dry gin they have. That’s fine and well, I mean no disrespect, but once you’ve had a flavored gin and tonic in the UK, you will be ruined for life ever attempting to go back to an American G&T.
So, about this G&T: the photo speaks for itself. Many people will suggest not combining a flavored gin with a flavored tonic, but it tickles my heart. This particular one was Edinburgh Gin Plum + Vanilla combined with an elderflower tonic water. They added appropriate berries and florals.
Then comes dessert: STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING SOUFFLÉ.
Does it need to be in all-caps? Oh, most definitely.
We ask the gentleman who drops it off to us how he suggests eating it (the ice cream and toffee sauce comes served on the side). He says sweetly that he isn’t sure if there is an absolute right way to eat it, but that most people spoon a hole in the middle of the pudding and drop the ice cream in. This isn’t your typical pudding. It’s a soufflé pudding. TJ whispers in complete and utter wonder, “It just falls away……”
It’s the most incredible texture of any sticky toffee pudding that I’ve ever eaten, and I’ll keep craving it on our nights here at home in California for a very, very long time.
We end the night at the Caley bar, which is the old ticket booth of the original railway station. The bartender strikes up a conversation with us and goes through her favorite whiskies and scotches. TJ chooses two based on her suggestions: one local and one Japanese. We find a seat in the large lounge attached to the bar and finally head back to our room around 11p.
I wake up around 6:30a and luck out with a stunning sunrise over Edinburgh Castle, the Princes Street Gardens, and St. John’s.
I head down to the spa, which is the UK’s only Guerlain Spa. It’s a beautiful space with, yet again, extremely friendly staff. The relaxation room is part spaceship part art deco dream. I manage a few minutes of quiet time for myself before I get back to shooting images.
Breakfast arrives in our room promptly at 9:30a via in-room dining. Our table is set for us by a smartly dressed team member (see below image of her lovely brooch…). The kitchen has been great to include gluten free options for us yet again. We’ve both ordered Eggs Benedict and lattes.
We only have a few hours left of our stay, so TJ relaxes and enjoys the (magical) TV while I bustle around getting all the images I want before we leave.
When it’s time to check-out at noon, Concierge offers to hold our car and bags for us for another few hours so I can poke around for more images of Peacock Alley and walk down to Victoria Street to do some shopping (TJ loves a good Walker Slater coat every time we come – which is also who outfits Concierge at The Caledonian, as we find out while saying our final goodbyes).
We can’t say thank you enough to the good people at Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh – The Caledonian. Everything exceeded any expectations we had and we hope to stay again when we’re back in Edinburgh. I definitely want to experience Afternoon Tea and their fine-dining restaurant Dean Banks at the Pompadour.
Suffice to say, I highly recommend choosing Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh – The Caledonian, no matter what room. There are so many lovely hotels in the world, but what we’ve come to really appreciate the most is any hotel whose beautiful details are matched by the utmost excellence of genuinely kind and passionate service, a combination that is difficult to come by these days, although rarely hard to find in Scotland.
*This stay was a gifted partnership in exchange for fair market value of photo assets.
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