Old Town Chambers

Old Town Chambers, Edinburgh

Stepping back in time

To mark Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage & Archaeology, Peter Ranscombe checks into Old Town Chambers, a set of serviced apartments that includes one of Edinburgh’s oldest inhabited buildings.

Hats off to VisitScotland – the tourism marketing agency has come up with some cracking ideas for its “themed years”. We’ve had the Year of Creative Scotland, the Year of Food & Drink and the all-encompassing Year of Innovation, Architecture & Design.

This year is no exception – 2017 marks the Year of History, Heritage & Archaeology, celebrating everything from Scotland’s battle sites and castles through to our traditional music and tartan. And what better place to mark the occasion than Old Town Chambers in Edinburgh?

The set of 50 serviced apartments is centred around a 15th-century townhouse, one of the oldest inhabited buildings in Scotland’s capital. Once owned by Lord Advocate Sir James Stewart of Goodtrees (1635-1713) – a political and religious reformer whose adventures would fill a history book on their own – the four-person venue is really special, with its vaulted ceilings, giant stone blocks, massive fireplace and spiral staircase.

ChambersEach room sits on a different level, from the master bedroom with its free-standing bath leading up to the open-plan family bathroom and then on again to the living room and kitchen. The townhouse sits in part of the wider 16th-century Advocate’s Close and Roxburgh’s Court development, with the other apartments spread across a mixture of older and newer buildings.

Old Town Chambers’ operator, Lateral City Apartments, is part of Chris Stewart Group, the property development company that spent £46m revamping the closes in 2013, which the firm’s eponymous owner told Kenny Kemp all about back in issue 12 of BQ Scotland. Next on Stewart’s hit list is the Edinburgh Grand, a former Royal Bank of Scotland office, on St Andrew Square, that’s due to open in the autumn after being transformed into a development that includes 50 apartments, a 200-seat restaurant and shops. After that, he has Glasgow in his sights, having snapped up some former council offices around George Square.

Back to Old Town Chambers and, with the townhouse already booked, I instead checked-in to apartment number 48, one of the single-bed “signature” apartments that mix the ancient with the modern. It boasts the same exposed stonework as the older unit, but instead of sitting along one of the Old Town’s narrow “closes” or streets, the view from the windows looks north out over the New Town, taking in the towers and spires of the Balmoral Hotel and the Scott Monument, along with the Forsyth Sphere sitting on top of Arcadia’s Top Shop building.

It’s a superb view. Plus, it’s unusual to look from the Old Town to the New Town in this position, adding to the magic. The apartment consists of a dining kitchen, with the table and two booth seats built into one of the windows. The open-plan layout then leads through to a work area with a desk – although with a view like that it would be hard to get any writing done – that then leads down two steps to a seating area with a sofa, two chairs and a coffee table, plus a massive bed tucked around the corner, with two singles joined together to create a massive super-king.

The only part of the flat that isn’t open plan is the bathroom, which has entrances from the kitchen-diner and the work area, both sealed off using sliding barn-style doors on runners. Inside, there’s a standalone bath and a separate walk-in shower, complete with Cowshed toiletries, such as the amusingly-named “Dirty Cow” hand wash and “Moody Cow” shower gel. It would have been nice to see a Scottish brand in the bathroom, but I must salute Cowshed’s ethos on ingredients, which include no petrochemicals, no animal ingredients and no animal testing.

ChambersIf guests don’t fancy making the most of the well-equipped kitchen then Old Town Chambers has teamed up with another historic name, Valvona & Crolla, established in 1934 and billed as Scotland’s oldest food and wine specialist. The royal warrant holder offers breakfast boxes consisting of cheese, cured Italian meats, fruit juice, bread, fruit and muesli, or a “quiet night in” box made up of cheese, more meats, olives and a bottle of wine.

Even the surrounding eateries are steeped in history. While for those looking to stretch their legs a bit – but only a bit – there’s a Zizzi’s Italian chain restaurant on site, for those prepared to venture a tiny wee bit further down Advocate’s Close there sits The Devil’s Advocate, a bar and restaurant in a former Victorian pump house run by those clever people behind the Bon Vivant restaurant and its companion wine shop.

I really rate the wines in The Devil’s Advocate – from Spanish Albarino, Italian Grillo and German Riesling through to Australian Grenache, Alsatian Pinot Noir and Barossa Valley Shiraz – and the food has never let me down. There are also some 200 whiskies behind the bar for those who haven’t been indoctrinated into the wonderful world of Scotch.

Visitors don’t have to venture far from the apartments to get a further taste of history. On the Royal Mile, there are the obvious contenders – like Edinburgh Castle, St Giles’ Cathedral and the Palace of Holyroodhouse – and then there are the sometimes-overlooked options, such as Gladstone’s Land, hailed by owner the National Trust for Scotland as “Edinburgh’s oldest house”, which offers an insight into what life would have once been like in the capital’s tenements.

Yet my favourite historic destination in the city centre is still the National Museum of Scotland on nearby Chambers Street. It’s just got better and better since the £47m redevelopment that was completed in 2011 – although I still miss the goldfish that used to swim in the pools beneath the wrought-iron grandeur of the main hall.

Apartments at Old Town Chambers start from £145. Find out more at www.lateralcity.com/property/old-town-chambers or by calling 0131 510 5499