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Issue 25 - Tasteful hedonism

Scotland Magazine Issue 25
February 2006


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Tasteful hedonism

Prestonfield in Edinburgh is a study in opulence. Sally Toms stayed there

Just a short taxi ride away from central Edinburgh’s clatter of traffic and tourism, lies Prestonfield; a five star oasis of luxury quite unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

To get there you pass through a sea of very ordinary suburban streets, which makes arriving all the more dramatic. A mature tree lined drive leads you to a white rendered mansion tucked away in 20 acres of lush green parkland.

There are no turrets or anything too grand. Well maybe a flag. And every hotel should have a few peacocks...

An attentive and kilted member of staff is there to greet you. The first thing to strike you as walk through the entrance is a huge black and white, Tim Burton-esque carpet. It is then you realise this is no ordinary hotel.

Everywhere you look there are gilt mirrors, gold candlesticks, velvet chairs, brocades, thick curtains, tapestries, ceiling frescos, leather upholstery, fragrant flowers and objet d’art.

If Elton John threw a Pride & Prejudice themed party, it would look like this.

You suddenly feel under-dressed. This is the sort of hotel that entitles you to swish around in feather boa. Even a tutu wouldn’t be out of place.

Prestonfield hasn’t always encouraged such flamboyance. It was built for a former Lord Provost of Edinburgh in 1687, and remained safe in the hands of the Dick-Cunyngham family until it was bought by celebrity restaurateur James Thompson.

Thompson achieved notoriety through his other creations (of equal splendour): the rooftop Tower Restaurant, and the famous The Witchery by the Castle.

When he purchased Prestonfield in 2003, Thompson said he wanted to create a hotel that was “an antidote to the bland uniformity of hotels, that would put back the fun and glamour into a hotel stay.”

After a multi-million pound restoration project, he’s succeeded.

It’s not just the décor that will impress; waiting for you in your room is a welcome bottle of Champagne and freshly prepared (and utterly delicious) chocolate pot. The room itself is as sumptuous as every other corner of Prestonfield. The centrepiece is an antique mahogany bed covered in velvet furnishings and cushions piled almost to the ceiling.

The walls are lined in velvets and silk brocades and a large dark gothic cabinet secrets a 30” flat screen television, DVD player, safe and a well stocked mini bar. There is also a comfortable chair or sofa and a writing desk with a view of the grounds.

Not to be outdone, the bathroom is finished in marble and glass mosaic, and the shower curtain looks like it could crush you with its weight.

Each of the 26 rooms is individually designed, and you may well get something different but no less luxurious: there are four poster beds or twin beds on offer, for example, and there are also a couple of two-roomed suites.

The hotel’s restaurant Rhubarb is fitted out in the same glamourous style: 18th and 19th century portraits of the Dick-Cunynghams line the walls and dining by flickering candlelight here is an experience not to be missed.

The rather curious name was inspired by the discovery that Prestonfield was the first estate in Scotland to propagate rhubarb. Thankfully there’s not too much of the vegetable on the menu, you’re more likely to enjoy pan-seared scallops on horseradish pomme puree with mustard oil, or roast cannon of Scottish Borders lamb with ecrasse potatoes and a black olive and garlic jus. But there is a selection of rhubarb desserts, should the whim take you.

There are also some fantastic wines on offer.

But what really sets this hotel apart is that it has personality. Oodles of it.

Thomson has added a wealth of grand and quirky curios from the auction rooms of Europe, which give it a personal touch.

There are black gilt desks, porcelain chickens, and a small stairwell filled with hundreds of pencil drawings of Edinburgh’s old town. The decoration is unique and expensive, but also slightly battered; there’s none of the ‘don’t touch that’ atmosphere some hotels can exude.

And it’s not typically ‘Scottish’ either; there are no tartan bedspreads or suites names after malt whiskies here, thank you very much.

Prestonfield is a great baroque extravaganza of a hotel. Or maybe it’s Rococo. Probably both. It’s a playground for the eccentric and seriously self-indulgent. It laughs in the face of simplicity and thwacks minimalism on both cheeks with a frilly glove.

Joan Collins herself, who (it has been said) knows a thing a two about extravagance, has labelled this hotel “fabulous.” And it truly is.

So much so, that once absorbed leaving is a bit of a shock. Everything outside seems, well… bland. And there’s only one cure: paint your living room red and buy a few peacocks.

Everyone should have a little bit of hedonism in their life.

Priestfield Road,
EH16 5UT
Reservations +44 (0) 131 225 7800