In the past, I’ve stayed at a couple of Hotels du Vin, which I’d have to say were very pleasant indeed. Not cheap, but delightfully quirky boutique hotels to lay your head and relax, being allegedly “elegant yet unpretentious, informal yet luxurious, and always quintessentially British” – in spite of the French name.
That brand (picture my indignation at having to use that word) is part of the Frasers Hospitality Chain, which in turn also owns the Malmaison brand. What constitutes a Malmaison hotel, I hear you ask? Take it from the Frasers website:
“From their iconic buildings to their inspired brasserie menus, Malmaison is an exciting group of hotels that dares to be different. Malmaison exists to cater for those who demand something different. People who are looking for a stylish stay, daring dining or a truly impressive events venue with impeccable service and a rich, relaxed atmosphere. Each location is designed with flair and imagination, with sumptuous accommodation, energetic bars and brasseries that look good enough to eat. With a range of unique buildings in city centre locations, you may find yourself checking into a converted castle prison, a hospital or even a Royal Mail sorting office.”
The last time I stayed in this fair city, it was Halloween 2010, when I stayed in another boutique hotel, now defunct, but to my mind any hotel that offers niche luxury breaks needs to embrace and embody the city in which it appears rather than putting up anonymous new build blocks – and thankfully Frasers have taken this on board.
The Glasgow Malmaison hotel “dares to be different” by occupying a former Greek Orthodox Church. Compare this to HDV’s Edinburgh offering and you get the picture of how important character buildings are to Fraser’s market offering: “From poorhouse to asylum to science lab to boutique hotel, the building’s lived through many guises since 1743.”
On this occasion we took advantage of the weekend break deal (two nights B&B, one dinner) to visit one of my favourite British cities, Glasgow being, in contrast to its reputation, a place of lovely people, great art (Kelvingrove, Burrell Collection in Pollok Park, Mackintosh school and trail etc.), beautiful buildings, fantastic bars and great whisky – plus shipyards and a couple of football teams, apparently. More to the point, the hotel is situated a short walk from downtown Glasgow, accessible to most areas but still in a relatively quiet commercial district, surrounded by grand and elegant buildings. No doubt about it, this is just where you would choose to establish a slightly quirky boutique hotel in a city like Glasgow.
You’ll see from the photos above that the hotel is idiosyncratic and gaudier than most tastes would permit, maybe taking a hint or two from the art and architecture of Glasgow and running freestyle. It’s not unpleasant and makes good use of the architectural features and high ceilings of the erstwhile church, which is what you would expect of any sympathetic conversion.
The first good signs came with staff service, which succeeded in being warm, friendly and helpful throughout – the sort where the advice goes beyond what the company manual tells them to say, much as Apple Stores succeed in providing. Our arrival was before check in time, so they took our bags; the pleasing bit was that the bags later materialised, unasked, in our room, and the keys were immediately waiting for us when we returned. The little things count for so much – and while I didn’t see a concierge as such, directions and bus routes were readily available, for example.
Of our deluxe club room, the website says this:
“Located in the historic Church Quarter of the hotel, our Deluxe Club rooms are spacious and unique. Built for comfort and designed for the absolute Malmaison experience, these rooms have a certain charm. Relax in your robe and slippers with a little something from the well-equipped mini-bar, catch up on your emails using the whizzy Wi-Fi or take a long soak in the tub.”
In all honesty I can’t argue with the marketing blurb on this occasion, other than to say that battleship grey is not the coolest of decor for me, and the black and charcoal grey theme (including lacquered furniture vaguely in the Japanese style) contrives to make the room look gloomier than it might otherwise have done, even if it is leavened by esoteric art works and half a wall of local map, which bizarrely fades into marble trompe l’oeil. Others may disagree but the “absolute maximum Malmaison experience” would not necessarily appeal to all tastes.
That aside, the room certainly passed the comfort and attention to detail test. The bed was possessed of a delightfully forgiving mattress and offered unusually excellent linen. The little touches were there, including a better than average coffee machine, a decent TV big enough to enjoy from the bed, all the equipment we could need and nothing tinny. Creaking floorboards slightly disturbed our sleep, though that’s what you get in an old building.
Our bathroom had a good solid feel to it, surprisingly excellent “fig and olive” shampoo (I didn’t eat it) and shower gel in toothpaste-style tubes labelled “the best you will ever steal” (we didn’t but the sense of humour was appreciated.) The shower, allowing for the fact that the design meant you had to plunge your hand through water when you turned it on, exceed your average hotel chain by a considerable margin. I could be picky and say that there was a crack in bathroom ceiling by the extractor fan, and the hook in the door had fallen out, but everything else worked a treat.
Our weekend package included a free cocktail each, though the fact that we were going for an anniversary meant that they threw in (not literally) a glass of prosecco each too. The latter was drunk in Honours restaurant but the cocktails were partaken on Sunday evening in the basement bar, less crowded and much quieter in order to enjoy a quiet conversation. The barman clearly knew his trade, thus delivered a pina colada and a negroni in short order.
The bar area is long and relatively narrow, marked by a stack of beer kegs at one end, and decorated throughout by what appear to be Roy Lichtenstein prints or near-copies. Like the rest of the hotel, it has presence and ambience.
Minor points notwithstanding, this was a good place to stay and probably fair value for our weekend package (£364 plus extras.) But then, in accordance with the diktats of brand marketing, you will get a very similar experience in quirky buildings whichever city you choose to try Malmaison. Enjoy!