Review of Hotel Missoni, Edinburgh

From Irish Times 15/08/09:

‘I’D WORK here just for that jacket,” my girlfriend declared after we finished checking in. As I’m a man who shops twice a year, and even then does it under duress, the receptionist’s sartorial style had passed me by. “Yes, it was very, eh, nice,” I lied, badly. “You didn’t notice it at all,” she said, guessing correctly. “It had some of most lovely, elegant patterns I’ve ever seen.”

This may be the Missoni fashion house’s debut foray into hotels, but it has not abandoned its trademark brightly coloured and patterned designs.

The first of a planned 30 luxury hotels across the globe, the striking Edinburgh Missoni opened in June, on the corner of George IV Bridge and the Royal Mile, in the heart of the city’s picturesque Old Town.

Fashioned out of curvaceous gold stone with wavy black-and-white patterns, the hotel’s exterior reflects the brand, but the full flamboyant effect has been saved for its customers. The entrance opens on to a coruscating cocktail bar that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Studio 54’s disco heyday, all glittery floors, revolving chairs and blues and purples so bright they should have come with a UV warning.

If the dark, functional foyer was somewhat understated, the long corridor that led to our room, on the fourth of the hotel’s six storeys, was anything but: a combination

of black-and-white striped carpet and alternating pink and red walls was so overpowering that I felt rather disorientated by time we reached the end.

There is certainly a love-it- or-hate-it quality to Hotel Missoni’s decor. So far I was ambivalent, but our wooden- floored and air-conditioned double room left me in no doubt.

Luscious floral motifs on the bed, cushions and chairs, and pleasingly muted green and blue walls, gave the room a clean, contemporary feel.

A heavy glass door slid across to reveal a spacious bathroom with a tiled sit-in shower and matching dressing gowns.

The Jacob Jensen telephone, Bang Olufsen TV – with free films on demand – and De’Longhi coffee machine cast aside any lingering question marks about the hotel’s five-star pretensions.

“You’re a man, so you won’t notice these things, but the fabric is immense,” my girlfriend purred, petting an upholstered chair as I attempted to connect to the free wireless.

Thankfully, no such gender bias prevented me from appreciating the room’s best feature: the view of the city’s cobbled streets and the majestic Arthur’s Seat from the full-length windows.

Despite its city-centre location, only the sound of a lone piper ever got past the room’s excellent insulation.

We skipped the hotel restaurant in favour of a pre-theatre menu around the corner on Victoria Street.

After a drink in the nearby Bowery Bar, an edgy homage to the Lower East Side complete with Brooklyn Lager and shelves stacked with biographies of Nixon, Reagan and Ford, we returned to our room, which had been freshly made up and its free minibar restocked with Peroni beer and Lurisia water. Delectable shortbread had also been left by our bedside.

Breakfast was first rate, cooked to order and served by a phalanx of brown-robed waiters among yet more amazing textiles and patterns in the bright, airy first-floor restaurant. The menu was pleasingly varied, and the eggs Benedict – perfectly poached yokes in the lightest of hollandaise sauces – were the finest I have eaten, though anyone looking for a full Scottish would not have been disappointed, either.

An elaborately laid-out buffet offered fresh fruit, cereal, nuts and, for those who like to kick-start their morning with a sugar rush, an assortment of pastries and cakes.

Staff were extremely friendly, obliging and pretty much ubiquitous, which was to be expected given how quiet the hotel was. These are difficult times for hotels, new and established, but I’m sure Hotel Missoni’s owners – the chain belongs to the Rezidor group, which has licensed the Missoni name, and also owns the Radisson and Regent brands – would have hoped to attract more than the solitary couple I spotted during our stay.

Given its splendid location, it is ideal for a luxurious break in this most charming of cities, and should prove particularly popular with this month’s festival-goers.

According to a brochure in our room, the entire hotel was scented with a unique Missoni fragrance. My less than sensitive nose failed to notice this nuance. I think I’ll have to go back next time I’m in Edinburgh, just to make sure.

Where Hotel Missoni, 1 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, Scotland, 00-44-131-2206666, www.hotelmissoni.com.

What Fashion-conscious five-star hotel in the centre of the city.

Rooms 136.

Best rates Rooms start at £135 (€160) per night, excluding breakfast. Bed and breakfast from £210 (€250). Dinner, bed and breakfast from £280 (€330).

Restaurants and bars La Cucina restaurant serves Italian-influenced dishes. Bar Missoni.

Access Two wheelchair- accessible rooms on each floor.

Amenities Car parking, gym, express check-out.

Racist attacks on Roma are latest low in North’s intolerant history

ANALYSIS: Can recent violence towards immigrants in Belfast be linked to the BNP’s success in European elections, writes PETER GEOGHEGAN. (The Irish Times 18/06/09)

WITH ITS new, purpose-built Chinese centre, popular Asian supermarket and plethora of speciality shops, the Ormeau Road is Belfast’s most visibly diverse and multi-ethnic neighbourhood.

roma1On sunny days, nearby Ormeau Park resonates with a myriad of accents and languages, but yesterday summer revellers were nowhere to be seen. Instead, as the rain poured down, the air was filled with the sound of children crying and car boots slamming as the O-Zone leisure complex became impromptu home to more than 100 beleaguered Romanians, members of that country’s Roma minority. These are the latest victims of racist violence in Belfast, living proof that while Northern Ireland may be “post-conflict” it is not yet post-intolerance.

Before being forced to flee their homes, the Romanians, some 20 families in all, had lived in the affluent (and reasonably mixed) Lisburn Road area of south Belfast. It was here that police received their first report of an attack on one of their properties last Thursday, with further racist incidents the following night making local news bulletins.

Sympathetic residents responded by organising an anti-racist rally on Monday night, but this show of solidarity was met by local youths throwing bottles and chanting slogans in support of the British far-right group Combat 18. Less than 24 hours later, the Romanian families were sheltering in a church hall near Queen’s University, having spent the previous night all huddled together in one house, genuinely fearful for their lives.

Shocking as these events are – and even British prime minister Gordon Brown has weighed in with condemnation – where pernicious racism is concerned, Belfast has a record.

In the winter of 2003, Chinese homes in the Loyalist Donegall Road area of south Belfast suffered a sustained series of attacks. This grizzly episode, which included the circulation of a leaflet to schools and homes warning of the dangers of “the yellow peril”, led to many leaving their homes and to the BBC bestowing on Belfast the unwanted sobriquet of “race hate capital of Europe”.

Far from being isolated incidents, these attacks set the tone for a sustained rise in racist violence. The PSNI recorded a two-fold increase in manifestations of racism between 2003 and 2007, with south Belfast recording the worst reported levels in Northern Ireland (over 125 racist incidents in 2006-2007 alone). Although figures for racist violence have continued to climb, in the last two years the increase has been markedly less steep. The issue of racism has, until now, been out of both the local and national press for some time.

The lack of any substantial far-right presence has been held up as proof that, far from being the most racist city in Europe, Belfast is now an accepting, welcoming place for migrants. Events of the last few days have shattered this myth. Only a few weeks after the success of the British National Party (BNP) in the European elections, youths on Belfast streets are shouting fascist slogans and attacking immigrants.

Coincidence? Seems unlikely.

In targeting the Roma, these latest attacks have also hit at an easily identifiable and particularly vulnerable group in Northern Irish society, and one which is currently suffering increased persecution throughout Europe.

While there is no evidence of the involvement of neo-Nazi groups such as the National Front or Combat 18 in the latest attacks, that pages from Mein Kampf preceded the bottles through the Roma homes suggests that far-right ideology is gaining a foothold in the minds of disaffected white youth.

Links between the far right and loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland have often been overstated, and the veracity of denials of involvement issued by both the UVF and UDA have been widely accepted. Nevertheless, Jackie McDonald, de facto head of the UDA, was refused entry to the O-Zone complex yesterday and was forced to issue his condemnation from the rain-sodden car park.

McDonald would have been better speaking directly to the perpetrators of the attacks, youths from the nearby Village area, a run-down network of loyalist terraces where unemployment is high, union flags limp from lampposts and faded red, white and blue paint adorns every kerbstone. With an abundance of rental accommodation (a byproduct of the Northern Ireland Office rolling out Margaret Thatcher’s “right to buy” policy in the 1980s), the Village has been very popular with new migrants coming to Belfast, particularly those from eastern Europe.

In recent years, racist incidents and protests against “drug-dealing” eastern Europeans have not been uncommon in the Village. However, tensions ratcheted up further earlier this year following bloody exchanges between local gangs and Polish hooligans before and after a World Cup qualifier between Northern Ireland and Poland.

In the wake of this violence, many Poles were forced to leave the area.

That youths from such areas are turning on a nearby Roma population is both shameful and all too predictable in a society where violence still plays a major role in some sections.

If there are nuggets of comfort to be taken, it is the unanimous condemnation that has quickly followed and the decision by Minister for Social Development Margaret Ritchie to rehouse the displaced Roma.

Many have said they would rather return home, an understandable reaction under the circumstances

My Starring Role in the Mourne Supremacy

A piece on an exhilarating weekend in the Mournes, first published in The Irish Times:

‘I’VE BEEN CLIMBING since I was six,” says Ian, our amiable instructor at Tollymore Mountain Centre, as my girlfriend takes her first, tentative steps on the climbing wall. “My dad rented a climbing frame for my birthday, I loved it and here I am 25 years later.”

Then he asks about my outdoor experience, and the conversation ends. A lone school trip to a local adventure centre – abiding memory: almost drowning in the Shannon when my canoe capsized – the odd game of five-a-side, the occasional jog . . . and that’s it. But, surely, if anything is going to make me rethink my sedentary ways, it’s an activity-filled weekend in the beautiful Mourne Mountains.

Less than two hours’ drive from Dublin, and only one from Belfast, the Mournes offer a spectacular combination of wild upland, rolling countryside and coast.

Dominated by the majestic Slieve Donard, Northern Ireland’s highest mountain, the area around the seaside town of Newcastle is renowned for its walks but also has excellent facilities for everything from horse-riding and canoeing to orienteering, bouldering and, as we are discovering, climbing.

First off, Ian teaches us the ropes. Literally. Initially, the complex climbing knots bamboozle me (and remind me why my first scout meeting was my last), but soon both Ealasaid and I are scaling the 10m indoor climbing wall with surprising ease.

Click here to read the rest of this feature on the wonderful Mournes.