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We went to Scotland and all we got was...£450m-worth of shiny new event space. Anna Longmore uncovers the latest from Glasgow and Edinburgh
We’re fresh off the plane from a recce of venues in Scotland, where both Glasgow and Edinburgh lifted their kilts to reveal some truly spectacular developments. First up on Glasgow was the Riverside Museum (tel: 0141 287 4350, pictured right), a £74m addition to the waterfront with a pull-no-punches design by Zaha Hadid and galleries bursting with transport-related exhibits (more appealing than they sound!). The outdoor space has been popular for public events since the museum opened in June – hard to imagine on a wet autumn afternoon, when the interior was much more appealing. We loved Main Street, a recreation of a 1930s street, for retro drinks receptions, and the stark, glass-walled café space for Clyde-side dining.
Next door, the much-loved Tall Ship Glenlee (tel: 0141 357 3699, pictured right), basking in the halo effect of the Riverside, has treated herself to a spruce up. Below deck, the freshly restored Captain’s Cabin and Engine Room join the main 100-capacity space for dining – sea shanties and naval rum optional.
Down the river sits the giant croissant of the city’s conference centre, the SECC (tel: 0141 275 6211, pictured above) which is looking forward to a new arrival next door. It might be opening in the spring of 2013, but the Scottish Hydro Arena is already a beast of a venue, second in size only to London’s O2 Arena, seating 12,000 in a towering amphitheatre-like structure. It’s business as usual at the SECC itself in the meantime.
The rain showed no sign of letting up as we rolled up the hill to Stirling Castle (tel: 01786 450 000) luckily, Stirling is nothing like those draughty old follies of childhood nightmares. Basking in the warmth of glowing fires and under-floor heating, we were able to appreciate the finer points of the painstakingly refurbished Royal Apartments, expertly guided by James V himself (complete with a rather distracting codpiece). Drinks here can be followed by a 300-person banquet in the centrepiece space, the 16th-century Great Hall, not long out of refurbishment itself.
Even more welcoming for a band of weary travellers was Edinburgh’s Hotel du Vin (tel: 0845 365 4438). Nothing new here, but we were more than happy to be enveloped by the high-end homeliness of the place – all roll-top baths and oak beams. Not what you’d expect from a former asylum. Other surprises included two smart private dining spaces as well as a Chef’s Table, a cosy snug and a terrace Cigar Bothy cute enough to tempt even non-smokers.
We kicked the following morning off in some style with a sneak preview of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (tel: 0131 624 6239), due to open in December. The £17.6m renovation fund has been spent bashing down walls and opening up 50% more space in the neo-gothic building to create a bright, inviting series of spaces decked with the works of Scotland’s finest artists. The Ramsay Room is an elegant space for high-end banqueting, but we particularly loved the painted entrance hall for receptions.
Larger and grander the spaces became, as we moved up the road to handsome George Street and donned hard hats for a look at the work on the 18th-century Assembly Rooms (tel: 0131 220 4348, pictured left), set for completion next summer. Jamie Oliver will be moving into the ground-floor space, along with some retail spaces at street level, but the real gems are upstairs, where the glorious Ballroom is upstaged by the cavernous Music Hall. Once finished – mammoth chandeliers reinstated – it’ll be a knockout for large dinner-dances.
A quick pitstop at the swish Sheraton Grand Hotel (tel: 0131 229 9131) gave us a chance to check out the current facilities, fresh from a refurb late last year, and hear about the new bedrooms and 14 meeting spaces which will launch in 2012. Hard hats back on, we moved on to the slightly less glamorous surrounds of a portakabin next door to the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (tel: 0131 300 3000, pictured right). Engineers are going gaga over the centre’s new multi-purpose hall, in which some seriously cutting-edge technology will enable the movement of the floor up, down, to a tiered auditorium or just plain old flat. It makes the impressive pair of rotating auditoria in the original part of the EICC look quite pedestrian. The £85m project will be completed in spring 2013.
And finally, we know it’s wrong to have favourites, but we couldn’t help but develop a bit of a soft spot for the freshly renovated National Museum of Scotland (tel: 0131 247 4113, pictured left). Not only because the gallery spaces – Animal World, with its T-Rex skeleton and life-size menagerie, in particular – brought out the inner child in all of us, but because the pavilion-style Grand Gallery provided a quite magnificent finale to our trip. Finished on time and under budget in September, the £46.4m refurbishment has produced sparkling results, with stand-out spaces ranging from the castle-view Bute boardroom to the brand new cellar-like entrance hall.