Staycation season is in full swing and back with a vengeance. Travel restrictions have caused holidaymakers to limit their scope, temper their wanderlust and pay closer attention to the experiences awaiting them just beyond their doorstep. And with the deadline for full lockdown easing across the UK extended by another month, Brits have more time to take in the sights and plan a trip closer to home.
In October 2020, days ahead of a nationwide lockdown, we made hasty plans for a weekend citybreak in Edinburgh – a ‘hit and hope’ move by any stretch, with restrictions rapidly returning after the summer.
Finding our feet
Our first 24 hours in Edinburgh drove home the true meaning of ‘lockdown’. Before witnessing the empty streets of the Royal Mile and the windy carpark of Edinburgh Castle, there had been a naïve assumption that yes, some pubs, some restaurants, will be closed. But not all? Surely?
As the situation dawned that the city really was closed down, our accommodation became a haven. The Cheval Edinburgh Grand is as centrally located as you can get in New Town, a short walk to the Royal Mile and overlooking historic St Andrew’s Square. The building itself is a converted bank, owned in 1825 by the Bank of Scotland, with each apartment sporting the original art deco features from their time as offices and meeting rooms, including some amazing original floors.
Our apartment acted as our base of operations for the trip. From here we plotted our way through closures, ordered food, and briefly fretted about the availability of wine. The apartment itself, a Deluxe One Bedroom apartment – once a banker’s office – provided an impressive and open living space, fully-featured kitchen, and bathroom and bedroom with luxury fittings. For the traveller looking to flee the confines of their homes after an extended period of isolation, the Cheval Edinburgh Grand provides a welcome respite, but the size of the spaces, the comprehensive facilities and the location make it a great spot for families or groups, too.
Out and about
Edinburgh is a famously bustling city and centre of culture, but in the stillness of lockdown a new side of the city shows itself. Walking the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle, the weight of its history can be fully felt, and the views, unobstructed by tourists, are breath-taking.
In our hunt for sustenance every spot we discovered felt like a hidden gem. We stopped in at Bowls vegan cafe for some soup, bread and smoothies to fortify us for our ascent up Arthur’s Seat – a looming dormant volcano standing guard on the fringe (sorry) of the city. In our windswept walk to pay tribute to the statue of Greyfriar’s Bobby – quite possibly man’s bestest best friend – we stopped in at Black Moon Botanica to indulge in Edinburgh’s macabre and magical scene, and came away with a candle smelling of ‘Wild Abundance’. We also made a note to stop in at the Witchery By The Castle, dressed at the time in its spookiest Halloween garb and beset with plump pumpkins.
The stroll from Edinburgh Castle, down past the Scottish National Gallery, (part-closed at the time due to lockdown) and the Scottish Parliament Building (hosting a small group of lockdown protestors as we passed by) to the foot of Arthur’s Seat is a walk in itself, providing stunning views of the city’s architecture. Situated perhaps half an hour’s walk from Edinburgh New Town, Arthur’s Seat is a now-verdant, thankfully-dormant volcano, and is the main peak of the expansive Holyrood Park. If this hill sounds a bit daunting, don’t worry: a range of hiking routes catering to all abilities have been plotted, and most can be completed in an hour or two.
Craggy, blustery and rugged, our Arthur’s Seat hike delivered myth and mud in equal measure. We watched magpies fritter across the ruins of St Anthony’s Chapel, which dates back beyond the 1400s, while reading about the legend of Arthur’s Seat; not a volcano, not a hill, but a sleeping dragon, reclaimed by the land, resting on the outskirts of the royal hunting grounds.
As a weekend away in a swanky apartment in a beautiful city, we were kept busy enough by the sights not to dwell too much on the subdued vibe of lockdown Edinburgh. Though a return visit to see the city at its lively best is essential.
As lockdown eases, the services of the Cheval Edinburgh Grand’s in-house restaurants – the Hawksmoor, the Register Club and Lady Libertine – have opened for business, too. Even with the buzz of the streets and crowds diminished, Edinburgh still had so much to offer us as unprepared travellers plotting our way through the pandemic. For the UK staycationer, Edinburgh offers a welcoming, visually stunning option, especially for those willing to get out, see the sights and explore this historic place.
Open plan studio apartments from £209 per night at Cheval The Edinburgh Grand. For further information about Cheval, visit www.chevalcollection.com
Grant was a guest at the Cheval Edinburgh Grand.