For years Scotland has been trying to figure out how to market Edinburgh. Should it stick with the shortbread and "Mary, Queen of Scots slept here" strategy? Or is it time to show off the city's modern marvels (Enric Miralles's abstract Parliament building, for one)? It's a debate bound to rage on, but Edinburgh's renaissance is undeniable. The stunning though starchy Scottish capital has lately refashioned itself into a buzzing hub of sophisticated culture, cuisine, and shopping.
The old and new are everywhere. Take The Glasshouse, the city's latest boutique hotel. You enter through the façade of the 150-year-old Lady Glenorchy Church to discover that all is ultra modern. The 65 minimalist rooms have Frette sheets and flat-screen TVs; on the roof is a two-acre garden oasis, a bit of calm high above the bustling streets. And the artwork: There are no standard-issue floral prints here. The walls are hung with black-and-white photos of nude and seminude women by Trevor and Faye Yerbury. Art also gets the spotlight at The Bonham, in the residential West End. The 48-room gem occupying three restored Victorian townhouses displays its own permanent collection of paintings by such young Edinburghians as Daniel Hume.
Shopping, too, has been turned on its tartan-topped head. Scotland's cashmere queen, Belinda Robertson, whose flagship store is in London, has opened a colorful boutique on Dundas Street (check the lower level for year-round sales). And the chic cobblestoned George Street, lined with shops like Karen Millen, Jo Malone, and Hugo Boss, has met its match in Multrees Walk, a pedestrian lane luring fashionistas with Louis Vuitton and Emporio Armani. Multrees sits in the shadow of Harvey Nichols, the London-based style temple that landed here a few years ago, giving city dwellers their first taste of Jimmy Choo. The bright top-floor restaurant and brasserie with fabulous views attracts serious food lovers and weary shoppers. Skip the Caesar salad, though; the Scots seldom get it right.
Everything is right, however, at the sleek VinCaffè, a coffee and wine bar from Valvona & Crolla, Edinburgh's famous Italian delicatessen. So, too, at Oloroso, a glass-walled roof top spot presenting sensational views of Edinburgh Castle (don't be put off by the drab elevator ride to reach it). On the grill menu are four kinds of Highland beef; the main menu, which changes twice a day, offers updates on traditional Scottish dishes such as rabbit with Gruyère and asparagus and venison with cabbage confit.
While Scotland may not immediately bring to mind the idea of pampering, the new Cowshed spa in the Scotsman Hotel is irresistible. Yes, the name is odd; the original Cowshed, at the Babington House in Somerset, England, was named for its former occupants. (A third location is in New York, at the Soho House hotel.) The whole place envelopes you in a cloud of scent emanating from jasmine, neroli, and rose candles—you feel as if you're in an other world. The 80-minute Stoned Cow massage uses hot and cold stones, and the Salt Lick body exfoliation entails a slathering of house-blended organic flower and plant oils. There's also the Holy Cow (reflexology and head massage), the Cowboy (a facial for men), and a dozen other ways to chill out. Udder bliss.
THE BONHAM From $345 to $620. 35 Drumsheugh Gardens; 44-131/274-7400; www.thebonham.com
THE GLASSHOUSE From $400 to $800. 2 Greenside Pl.; 44-131/525-8200; www.glasshouse-hotel.co.uk
OLOROSO Dinner, $125. 33 Castle St.; 44-131/226-7614; www.oloroso.co.uk
VINCAFFE 11 Multrees Walk; 44-131/557-0088
BELINDA ROBERTSON 13A Dundas St.; 44-131/557-8118; www.belindarobertson.com
HARVEY NICHOLS 30–34 St. Andrew Sq.; 44-131/524-8388; www.harveynichols.com
THE COWSHED AT THE SCOTSMAN HOTEL Spa treatments, from $55 to $290. 1 Market St.; 44-131/622-3800