We’d love to invite you to Edinburgh. To stay in the most beautiful hotel, eat delicious food, take part in a gin tasting, experience something utterly magical and extraordinary that takes place underground, at night, that will give you goosebumps. With more gin. And eat a delicious breakfast while overlooking one of the best views of the city. Oh and there will also be cake.
You couldn’t get me on the train fast enough.
The prospect of a night away in a big bed with no 7am Isabelle wakeup call (or 1am, 2am, 3am etc…) was just so exciting, that if the sole purpose of the trip had been to stare at a blade of grass, I’m pretty sure I’d have still leapt aboard the train with glee.
I arrived at the Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh and was greeted with goodies and a very special new friend for Isabelle, (whom she loves). The hotel itself is absolutely GORGEOUS. Built in 1903, Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh – the Caledonian is an historic icon in the heart of Edinburgh’s Princes Street and has the largest number of rooms with views of Edinburgh Castle in the city… and my bathroom had the best view of them all!
It’s a wonderful example of a British grand railway hotel, formerly called The Caledonian Hotel, and nicknamed ‘The Caley’. It’s beautifully grand with the perfect Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers staircase to tap-dance down on your way to breakfast… (Just me?)
We headed off for afternoon tea at The Old Curiosity Distillery – a short taxi ride from the hotel and a very magical place indeed, situated at the Secret Herb Garden, where they produce their very own (exceptional) gin, completely naturally, using their own hand-harvested botanicals.
Scotland’s love affair with gin actually started in Leith, Edinburgh. It all began way back in the 1700s when the first bottles of fiery Dutch Jenever were traded into the Port of Leith.
Leith’s dockside location allowed for easy access to raw materials and exotic spices, as the Scots traded with the Dutch in exchange for wool and other supplies. And now, Scottish gin accounts for 70% of the UK’s overall gin production – this I did not know.
They grow over 600 different types of herbs and flowers, so are constantly experimenting with different flavours and combinations and creating new magical gins!
“Hamish, a wine merchant, began to pursue his lifelong passion for plants by gaining a Herbology Diploma. Alongside Liberty’s passion for all things vintage the overgrown lowlands became an award-winning herb nursery, local arts centre, shop and café.”
We sat with Hamish (the owner) and his daughter and enjoyed a delicious afternoon tea at a large rustic farm table, while we tasted their amazing gin, found out all about the process, the colour changing magic-ness (this is top secret – you’re going to have to go to find out) and heard the story of how Old Curiosity came to be.
“Beginning with Apothecary Rose, an ancient ingredient in tinctures and tonics, Hamish discovered a natural reaction that can only be explained by the magic of nature: a natural colour change, the magical beginning of Secret Garden Gin.”
We were then let loose into their incredible herb garden, where we wandered around drinking in the incredible aromas of the hundreds of flowers and herbs they have growing on site. I felt a little like Alice in Wonderland , with my cake, my magical potions and scampering around the stunning rose gardens… (although if the Queen of Hearts had appeared to chop off my head I’d have been in trouble – my legs weren’t working as fast as when I’d first arrived…#gin)
Then it was time to head back to the hotel to get showered and changed, ready for dinner at The Pompadour in the hotel.
We met for cocktails in the bar first, where we were also treated to some champagne… which was made all the more special as the staff at Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh are trained in Sabrage!
And then it was time for dinner…
Dinner was absolutely stunning – the restaurant itself is apparently the hot spot for engagements in the city! They even have a table reserved for such occasions, with the perfect view…
After teas and coffees, we were back in the taxi again and on our way to the Real Mary King’s Close, for the most extraordinary experience and a very special gin tour… with our new favourite gin, Old Curiosity.
The Real Mary King’s Close is Edinburgh’s only preserved 17thcentury street, now buried deep underground and hidden beneath the Royal Mile.
Shrouded in myths and mysteries, the Close (named after a woman (!) Mary King) and its warren of streets, homes, and passageways are still there to be discovered, and that is what we did, late at night, sipping gin and being led through by a girl in full costume and character… we wandered through a labyrinth of Old Town alleyways, learned about the cry of gardyloo, the stories of the people who lived, worked, and died here… and of course, the great plague that took so many of their lives.
We were on the Old Curiosity Gin Tour which is running throughout August and September. The botanically inspired gin tour explored the life and times of Edinburgh’s first plague doctor – Joannes Paulitius and we learnt why herbs were thought to protect the doctor from the deadly plague epidemic…
The tour, which lasted an hour and a half, was exceptional and I’ve since told everyone I know in Edinburgh, or going to Edinburgh, to book the tour immediately. I was extremely impressed and the history is so exciting… to be able to walk these 400 year old streets, and see the homes of people who lived and worked in that time, was a huge privilege. In between the various twists and turns of the tour, we’d stop and be introduced to another gin – we were introduced to four: Apothecary Rose, Lemon Verbena, Chamomile & Cornflower and the colour changing Pink Elderflower and Jasmine Gin and Tonic. We tasted them all and experienced them underground in the quiet, beneath the hustle and bustle of the city.
We got back to the hotel late, full of tales to tell (and gin) and I flopped into bed.. and Isabelle did not wake me up at 3am. Instead, I awoke at a very respectable hour of 7:30am, showered and packed and headed off for breakfast at The Lookout by Gardener’s Cottage.
Breakfast was delicious and we gobbled eggs and drank coffee and talked about all the wonderful things we’d seen and done the day before.
Then it was a quick hop back in the taxi (a huge thank you to Central Taxis for ferrying us all over the city!) to the station and back on the train, where I made a few friends and told them all to go back to Edinburgh and do all the things that I had done.
Thank you Edinburgh, for being wonderful, for transporting me back in time and for sharing your secrets.
I will be back soon! And I can’t wait…
I was a guest of each of these amazing places in Edinburgh,
and all thoughts and opinions are my own