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An odd inn in Old Town Edinburgh

Part of Edinburgh’s appeal is its mix of the whimsical and the macabre. Its attractions include a storybook castle, the tombstone of a dog, and the buried street Mary King’s Close, where a stack of Barbie dolls supposedly brings solace to the spirit of a girl abandoned during an epidemic. It is all good fun, and tourists lap it up.

This boutique property, which opened in December, fits in perfectly. It’s housed partly in Bedlam, a former lunatic asylum. And its main meeting room is named after Burke and Hare, serial murderers who sold the bodies of their victims for medical research. But as in its 14 sister hotels across England and Scotland – all in historic buildings – there is an emphasis on informal luxury, food and wine. Naturally, Scotch is also part of the mix.

LOCATION In the heart of Old Town, a short walk from the historic Royal Mile and steps from the National Museum of Scotland.

AMBIENCE Playful. The lobby is illuminated by a chandelier of inverted wine glasses, and the rooms have no numbers – instead each room is named after a type of wine, with a hand-painted wall illustration of its namesake.

CLIENTELE Business travellers on weekdays and vacationing couples on weekends.

DESIGN The hotel, a historic building with additions, has a rambling feel. Exposed walls exude a sense of history, but modern furnishings and bright artwork give a contemporary feel. There are framed wine labels on the walls along with Scottish tweeds and tartans.

ROOMS Standard rooms are comfortable for one, but could be cramped for a couple. They have limited shelf and closet space, a single chair each and no space to store a suitcase. Suites and superior rooms, however, are big enough to toss a haggis. Each has a large bathtub, prominently placed in the bedroom. All rooms come with hand-sprung mattresses, Egyptian cotton sheets, plasma TVs and DVD players. Bathrooms have heated floors and monsoon showers, and the Arran Aromatics toiletries are made on a Scottish island.

SERVICE Friendly and helpful, but front-desk staff seemed a little befuddled. They often had trouble locating room keys, which are supposed to be surrendered by guests whenever they leave. Wake-up calls – live and automated – were consistently late.

AMENITIES Wi-Fi is free, and there is a cigar shack in the open-air cobblestone courtyard. But there is no spa, pool or fitness centre. Off-site parking costs $23 for 24 hours.

FOOD AND DRINK The bistro is casual, but the French and Scottish dishes are memorable. Dinner might consist of chicken-liver pâté, haggis with neeps and tatties, pollock with spinach, and pear tart with blue-cheese ice cream. As well, guests in suites receive a complimentary whisky tasting.

THINGS TO DO Edinburgh is at the heart of Scottish Homecoming festivities throughout 2009. Nearby, the Scotch Whisky Experience ( offers tutored tastings and an amusement-park-style ride through the whisky-making process.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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Hotel vitals

The location, the cheery bistro and the sense of fun.

Partying in the courtyard makes it hard to sleep in nearby rooms.

Quirky, stylish and unpretentious.

The author was a guest of the hotel.

11 Bristo Place, Edinburgh; 44 (131) 247 4900;

41 rooms from $227; 6 suites from $445.

Douglas McArthur

From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail

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