The Witchery, Home of Gothic Luxury
If the phrase ‘Gothic luxury’ ignites a sense of curiosity and intrigue rather than a feeling of distress, read on. A veritable haven to be found in the realm of hospitality that Edgar Allen Poe would be proud of, The Witchery is a period-style small hotel with an accompanying restaurant that evokes a feeling of grandeur, albeit supported by always impeccable service (for instance the bell boys will walk to wherever you have parked your car to retrieve your luggage). The Witchery can fittingly be called spell-bindingly beautiful, that is because its décor is in tune with a sense of the mystical, with history and with an age of romantic opulence that has since departed. The establishment is situated in the middle of the famous Royal Mile in the heart of Edinburgh and so finds itself in close proximity to a wealth of culture and the best of local amenities. The Witchery is abundant in an atmosphere all of its own, a magnification of the sense of archaic beauty Edinburgh does so well. That is, the Witchery has a wealth of culture all to itself, evoking a feeling of regal theatricality and a noble luxury of a European palace from aeons ago. What’s more is that the name ‘Witchery’ reflects an aesthetic that is in touch with the ornate world of Gothic town houses that were once prevalent not only in Edinburgh but throughout the continent.
You shouldn’t expect cheap fancy dress and Halloween-y décor but an abode that would satisfy the exacting tastes of someone such as the Gothic Count Dracula himself. Succinctly, there can never be too much velvet or gilding at the Witchery… and shouldn’t there be!
The Witchery was established primary as a single-floor establishment in the basement of an Old Town Building in Edinburgh’s Boswell’s Court. In fact, the basement was derelict and almost beyond repair but it was through the endeavours of James Thompson in 1979 that the period property began to resemble its former glory. Thompson since acquired further parts of the building, including the adjacent property, and worked to restore them before uniting them in the Witchery we see today. The hotel that is now open to the public is strikingly reminiscent to the original incarnation of the building that was built in 1595 for the Edinburgh-based merchant, Thomas Lowthian. A vestige of Lowthian’s former ownership of the Witchery can in fact be seen in a carving that is placed on the original carved door that depicts his initials and reads the phrase, ‘O lord in thee is all my traist’. A further memory of the sixteenth century is apparent in the presence of features such as the original winding turret staircase and the use of an authentic historical garden. Known as the ‘Secret Garden’, and created primarily as a playground for a local school, the enclosed courtyard has been absorbed by the Witchery and has now been incarnated as a charming restaurant. The very entry through a pulpit reception and descent down stone stairs is a ritual that prepares you for the old-world elegance you are about to indulge in. Dining in the Secret Garden is one of the best ways to experience open-air dining in Edinburgh, as it still manages to maintain stunning furnishings; there is a mural painted on the ceiling and an ornate terrace.
The Secret Garden is not the only dining experience offered at the Witchery however, its alternative I dare-say is even more impressive. Located in a baroque sixteenth century merchant’s house, the Witchery Restaurant is not only world-renowned but emits opulence from every single one of its fine pores. What to expect in the candlelit restaurant is red leather seating, magnificent tapestries and period oak panelling covering the walls. The Witchery Restaurant is undoubtedly a beacon of refinement, attracting much local and international attention. This refinement is one that carries to the menu and tableware where linen tablecloths, fine silver and lavish roses are a certified feast for the eyes, even before the actual feast arrives. The cuisine available focuses of fresh Scottish seafood, sumptuous red meats and game, prepared with an equal adherence to fine-dining and local Scottish ingredients. Personal highlights on the menu include the poached halibut served with rock samphire, curried mussels and saffron potatoes, and the breast of the regional Gartmorn farm duck.
The Witchery truly triumphs in being able to provide a varied menu yet executing each dish in an equally high manner. It is certainly no shock that the restaurant flies high on many critics’ rankings and is a hotspot for many celebrity visitors.
What mustn’t be forgotten is the most fundamental element to a small hotel: the suites. The Witchery has 9 and if you are able to secure a stay there, you really are rewarded with the most unforgettable of experiences.
Unashamedly theatrical and darkly romantic, the rooms are seductive, Gothic and resemble the creation found in some unheard steampunk utopia.
Names of suites include the Rectory, the Vestry and the Heriot, and I feel are demonstrative of the type of atmosphere to be expected. The vestry for instance, is layered with tapestry-inspired wallpaper and houses features such as a four-poster bed with crimson silk furnishings and gilded French period furniture. To expect such period-inspired décor to hint at an old-fashioned bathroom would be erroneous, the ensuite is in fact equipped with marble floors and a voluminous roll-top bath. This level of luxury continues throughout the other rooms, wherein a ubiquitous devotion to luxury and extravagance ensure your stay is veritably papal.
The fantasy-like opulence is further enhanced by the attentive service, you simply will feel regal when served a breakfast warm croissants and charcuterie cheeses and meats in your remarkable abode.
A stay at the Witchery is a trip that works on two levels: firstly it is a physical visit to an élite establishment; one that facilitates any time spent in the wonderful city by ensuring a sense of exorbitance unique to Edinburgh is felt throughout. Secondly it is a metaphorical trip to a time gone by, wherein tastes and considerations of luxury are imbued with a set of sensibilities that cannot be encountered in modern day.