Edinburgh: Enhancing the old and embracing the new
Embrace the old and discover the new in Scotland's capital city.
By Claire Walker
With a medicine ball balanced precariously above my head, I stole a sneaky peek around the hotel gym.
"We had Oasis in here last week," said the fitness instructor.
Let's hope the Gallagher boys had a peaceful day when they called, although Edinburgh's The Scotsman is hardly the kind of place where you'd throw a TV out of the window.
Back in the relaxing surroundings of my room, it was easy to see why the five-star hotel is so popular with celebrities stopping off in Scotland's capital city.
The Scotsman is a short walk from Waverley Station, barely four-and-a-half hours by train from London, and close to the many landmarks of The Royal Mile. All the big names in fashion have a base here, including grand Harvey Nichols in St Andrew Square.
The Scotsman has followed Edinburgh's ethos: enhance the old and embrace the new by teaming traditional elegance with contemporary class to create an exclusive yet rather warm and welcoming environment.
The city is famed for its dramatic beauty, and our spacious suite afforded a captivating 180-degree view to the east, taking in the imposing outline of Calton Hill and the blue waters of the Firth of Forth in the distance.
I first visited the hotel in its former incarnation, as the offices of The Scotsman newspaper, as a fresh-faced 16-year-old on a fortnight's work experience. My strongest memory was disappointment that an impressive Victorian facade with romantic turrets and thistle-clad signage had windowless corridors and monochrome offices inside.
Those days are long gone. Since its conversion in 2001, the building has been voted one of the best small hotels in the world.
In what was once the newspaper's imposing reception hall, the North Bridge Brasserie and Bar serves a modern Scottish menu using finest locally-sourced produce.
Down in the basement, thundering presses made way for the gentle sound of the gym treadmill, and the calm of the Thalgo urban spa.
After a morning in the city, including an energetic hike up the miniature mountain of Arthur's Seat, I visited the spa for some well-deserved pampering.
The spa, like the hotel, is exclusive but not intimidating. I chose the Indoceane body treatment, and despite sporting little more than paper pants, felt entirely relaxed in the warm and comforting treatment room.
The promise of 'ultimate relaxation' was fulfilled, because I nearly nodded off during the Ayurvedic-inspired massage, while the Purity Ritual facial left my skin feeling truly indulged.
Leaving the luxury lifestyle of the hotel might be a chore, but there are too many world-famous landmarks nearby to ignore.
The best-known attractions are situated around the city centre, including the joint UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the Georgian New Town and the Medieval Old Town.
Just a stone's throw away from the hotel is The Royal Mile, with Edinburgh Castle at the western end and the amazing Scottish Parliament building in the opposite direction, at the top end of Canongate.
Having stormed the Castle on countless occasions as a child, I instead paid my first visit to the High Street's second-most famous structure, St Giles Cathedral.
With its stunning architecture and famed crown spire, it's an impressive sight even for non-believers.
In 2004, Edinburgh was named the first UNESCO City of Literature, marking its rich literary history.
As I wandered through narrow closes and hidden courtyards I could imagine myself living in the days of legendary poet Robert Burns, infamous businessman/burglar Deacon Brodie and the tragically faithful Skye Terrier Greyfriars Bobby.
It wasn't long before the dreich Scottish weather prevailed of course, cue a dash over the inner-city valley-like oasis of Princes Street Gardens, which lie where the drained Nor Loch once was, to the elegance of the New Town.
My sanctuary from the rain, for another memorable vista of Auld Reekie's iconic skyline, was the cocktail bar on the fourth floor of the city's Harvey Nichols store.
The summer months may be primetime for festival-goers, but for a luxury break with plenty to do, Edinburgh has year-round appeal.
With children in tow, you must explore the Castle, for a unique insight into Scotland's history.
Free guided tours are recommended for first-time visitors, or you simply wander around, losing yourself in the many winding corridors and turrets and taking in the spectacular views of the Firth of Forth as you stand atop the castle ramparts.
The walk up to the Castle crosses the medieval Old Town, but the whole city is full of quirky little streets, jam-packed with independent shops and galleries.
Stroll along Victoria Street for antique bookshops, trendy boutiques and stores selling everything from cheese and whisky to lacework and broom handles.
The Red Door Gallery is a fantastic place to find original works, often by local artists, and to find interesting gifts, from jewellery to tea towels.
At the foot of Victoria Street is the famous Grassmarket. It's a busy strip of bars and cafes, and something of a magnet for weekend stag and hen parties. It's also a mecca for vintage fashion fans thanks to secondhand clothing store Armstrongs, and Godiva boutique.
Edinburgh also has The National Galleries of Scotland, an obvious choice for visiting art lovers, while fans of modern art find The Fruitmarket Gallery a big highlight.
A few minutes away from Waverley Station, this publicly-funded exhibition space houses world-class art by international artists and homegrown talent, in an easily-accessible and welcoming atmosphere - free of charge.
Those short on time explore the city by open-top bus, but by far the best way to see it is on foot.
A hike up Arthur's Seat blows the cobwebs away, and the views from the top of this extinct volcano make the effort worthwhile.
Start your walk from beside Holyrood Palace and take the route over the Salisbury Crags before rewarding yourself with a well-earned rest at The Sheep's Heid Inn - famed for bar lunches, and its skittle alley.
In the well-to-do West End, search out Falko Konditorei, a German bakery which uses traditional handcrafted methods to create some of the best cakes in the city.
With a bit more time, leave the centre for the quaint village atmosphere of South Queensferry. With cobbled streets and fishermen's cottages, this picturesque place is just 20 minutes - but a world away - from the bustling city on its doorstep.
From Orocco Pier Hotel, you enjoy freshly-caught seafood while taking in captivating views across the Forth Estuary to the iconic Forth Railway Bridge.
After a first taste of Edinburgh, you'll be back to discover more.
Key facts - Edinburgh
:: Best for: A culture-packed weekend break.
:: Time to go: Avoid festival months of August and September, when the city's population doubles, and prices and queues rocket.
:: Don't miss: A visit to the city's most iconic landmark - Edinburgh Castle.
:: Need to know: The Grassmarket area attracts a lively crowd in the evenings, not the best place for a quiet drink.
:: Don't forget: Comfortable shoes for exploring cobbled streets.
Claire Walker was a guest of The Scotsman Hotel, which offers B&B from Â£140 per night.
Reservations: 0131 556 5565 and email@example.com. See www.theetoncollection.com for more details.
Visit Scotland is promoting Edinburgh short breaks until November 30, starting at three nights for Â£99 per person. Full details on www.visitscotland.com/autumn. Enquiries: 0845 225 5121 and firstname.lastname@example.org.