Small hotel in a big world: Nira Caledonia – High Growth Scotland with Kim McAllister


Mauritius, St Moritz, Edinburgh….

Nira Caledonia has literally just opened (they still had the Brasso out) on Edinburgh’s Gloucester Place, the third in the portfolio of this independent hotel group. It is also only the third Scottish hotel to be a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World group.

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The renovation is the closest manager Chris Lynch is likely to get to childbirth, having presided over a nine month transformation of the Grade A listed building. It started with a fire and subsequent water damage and ended with a bagpiper and Champagne.

“Would I do it again? Not in a hurry!” he joked, shortly before grabbing the comedy gold scissors and cutting the yellow ribbon, together with the chief executive of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, Filip Boyen.

Mr Boyen had flown in for the occasion sporting an enviable suntan and an immaculate suit.

“Scotland is magnificent,” he told me, standing in the sunshine on the cobbled street, while the rest of the guests explored the 14 bedroom hotel.

“We have 525 hotels in 82 countries, in all shapes and sizes, but what matters is how you feel when you walk in… Do the staff really want you to be there?” he said.

It’s a story which will resonate with the majority of SBNN readers – how do the little guys compete with the big guns? What tools do we have in our arsenal when the budgets have fewer zeros and disruptors like Air BnB are hoovering up market share?

“It’s all about the staff,” Mr Boyen stated. “If you’re a business traveler away 100 nights of the year, you probably want predictable standards, but when you’re a leisure guest you want the experience. You want to make discoveries, you want staff who can tell you ‘Nobody knows this but…’ 65% of hotels is service.”

He believes Scotland has the advantage in this respect. The country can often sell itself, with its culture, history and landscapes, but the people make it extra special. Mr Boyen believes they are genuine and hospitable. He should know, he’s been in the industry for decades and has travelled to just about every destination.

(He’s a packing pro “I always carry Bose headphones and Biotherm moisturizer for flights” and well-versed in the cultural quirks of major cities. “You keep a very low profile in Moscow,” he warned me, regaling me with a cautionary tale of the Texan fish-out-of-water whose body mysteriously turned up full of Kalashnikov bullet holes.)

I could have chatted to him all day; I even offered to write his book – but I was keen to explore the hotel.

It’s clear a lot of money has been spent on the refurb – £1.4m to be exact. I spoke to the designer Georgina from Jeffrey’s Interiors – who confided that the yellow wallpaper in the garden room makes her happiest and that she sourced some of the cushions from Timorous Beasties – one of my favourite Glasgow interiors shops.

The bathrooms feature L’Occitane products, the views over north Edinburgh are spectacular and the overall feel is of visiting a wealthy friend’s Georgian townhouse for a luxury weekend.

For just now it has been awarded four stars from Visit Scotland, and if I were visiting the capital in August, looking for city centre but quiet, chic and with a garden (should the budget stretch) I’d be booking in and ordering the Chateaubriand.

I’m keen to include more stories from outside Edinburgh – drop me a line with your tips:

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