Sometimes travel is like time travel. One spot that recently allowed me to inhabit a long-vanished era was Prestonfield House, an extraordinarily lavish boutique property housed within a late-17th-century mansion, situated 3 miles southeast of Edinburgh’s city center. Set in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat, the extinct 800-foot volcano whose imposing bulk looms over the city, Prestonfield was converted to a 23-room hotel in the 1960s and is now owned by well-known local restaurateur James Thomson.
The surrounding 20-acre gardens still endow the property with the feel of the country estate it long was, as do the immaculately maintained croquet lawn and putting green, across which peacocks occasionally strut. The ruins of nearby Craigmillar Castle provide a romantic backdrop.
At the porte-cochère in front of the hotel entrance, a bellman in a kilt greeted me cheerfully before hauling my luggage from the car and leading me down a carpeted hallway to reception. Despite a group of six travelers having arrived just moments before, my check-in was friendly and efficient. The hotel’s interior design is operatic and defiantly over-the-top, especially in the Leather Room, where panels of 17th-century leather from Córdoba grace the walls, and the Tapestry Room, which is decorated with grand English Mortlake tapestries. Impressive antique furniture is arranged throughout the building, while the structure’s rich history is highlighted by depressions in its stone floors caused by centuries of passing feet.
Prestonfield is a peaceful retreat surprisingly close to the center of Edinburgh.
Within 10 minutes, my luggage had arrived in my suite. Named after Benjamin Franklin, who stayed at Prestonfield in the mid-1700s, its décor is so divorced from the contemporary world that I half expected to see the great man walk through the door. The bedroom features a silver-leaf sleigh bed, antique bed steps upholstered with a leopard-patterned fabric, walls covered with black and pewter brocades, marble-topped bedside tables, mirrors gilded in silver and gold, and a chaise longue overlooking the gardens. The separate sitting room is just as opulent, with dramatic trompe l’oeil drapery, classical furniture and a leopard-print carpet. This is not a design scheme that will appeal to everyone, but, undeniably, it does not lack for self-confidence.
Feeling peckish after my morning’s journey, I headed down to the second-floor terrace, where I was seated at a table next to a stone balustrade shaded from the sun by an umbrella. I ordered from the bar menu, which is available each day from noon to 10 p.m., and opted for the lobster after my waiter informed me that it came from local waters.
Unsurprisingly, given that the hotel is owned by a restaurateur, food forms a major part of the Prestonfield experience. I had heard great things about afternoon tea and was enthralled by the menu, which includes a “haggis bonbon” as well as more-traditional smoked-salmon sandwiches. But being sated from lunch, I decided to pass in favor of dinner at Rhubarb, the in-house gourmet restaurant.
Rhubarb is so named because in the 18th century, Prestonfield became the first place in Scotland to cultivate the plant after the owners imported it from China. It grows on the estate to this day and was featured in a very satisfying apple-and-rhubarb crumble that formed a conclusion to dinner. I had begun with a rich chicken velouté, with a confit egg yolk and Southern fried cauliflower. My main course of slow-cooked blade of Scottish beef served en croûte was exceptional. The following morning, I opted to take breakfast in my suite, ordering a Scottish version of eggs Benedict, with Ayrshire ham as opposed to Canadian bacon and potato scones instead of an English muffin.
Overall, Prestonfield is a peaceful retreat surprisingly close to the center of Edinburgh. The interior design may be idiosyncratic, but staff are extremely hospitable, and the food is consistently excellent. We have long recommended The Balmoral, the city’s 187-room Edwardian grand hotel at the heart of Scotland’s capital, but for those in search of a hideaway atmosphere, Prestonfield House provides an appealing alternative.
The tranquil public spaces; the excellent food; the verdant estate gardens.
The interior design is imaginative and flamboyant but, to my taste, too overwhelming for an extended stay.
Prestonfield has four private dining rooms, the most charming of which is the Salon Privée, an intimate space with a table for two set by a window overlooking the gardens.