In one motion, the reception staff of the Schlössle Hotel in Tallinn, rise from their chairs and step back to welcome arriving guests. As smoothly choreographed as a professional dance routine, the move is reminiscent of the deference shown in the television show Downton Abbey and indicative of the overall service at the hotel. If coming from a more modest background, it can be arresting. But to the vast majority of the clientele at this super luxury hotel, such visions are no doubt reassuring.
It’s only when being led to your room that the building begins to assert itself on the consciousness. From the outside, the Schlössle is distinguished little from the surrounding buildings at the end of the Pühavaimu Street, apart from a row of international flags. But that’s more a testament to the gloriously preserved old town of Tallinn, where handsome medieval structures abound.
Inside, the 14th-century character remains in the bulged and bent rough-hewn stone walls, portals, and stout wood beams and posts supporting the ceiling of the reception and restaurant. However, the current space owes more to extensive renovations in the mid-1700s, which replaced and vaulted the floors and ceilings and installed baroque windows on the façade. Happily, history remains ever-present at the Schlössle owing to the careful restorations, including in the rooms, where irregular corners and wall niches are common. In fact, in room 19, many believe history finds an afterlife in the ghost said to haunt it.
From the hotel restaurant, Marbella Club Grill, stairs lead upstairs past plaques honoring the impressive pedigree of hotel guests including the Prince Charles, the prime minister of Lithuania, and Whitesnake. It certainly does feel somewhat royal proceeding up the red-carpeted staircase to the 18 rooms above in four classes—superior, deluxe, junior suite, and suite. The swankiest rooms are on the top floor, including number 30, a suite ($550 per night), where I stayed.
The door opens into a small lounge area that pitches up to a peaked ceiling, where a skylight allows the sun to fall on the sofa and armchair surrounding the coffee table. All and all, it’s a charming little nook but perhaps better suited to getting a bit of work done or playing around with the room’s iPad rather than entertaining guests. Left of the door, the L-shaped room opens to the bedroom area, capped by triangular window, that, at the right time of day, casts shadowy ceiling designs through the lantern-esque light fixture hanging over the bed.
The attached bathroom, stocked with L’Occitane product, is not the Schlössle’s only means of bathing and bodily refreshment. Indeed, no hotel in Estonia is worth its salt without a good sauna, and the hotel follows suit. It’s located in the back building (along with five more rooms) on the other side of the small, but charming courtyard, which hosts diners with live music accompaniment in warm weather.
Entertainment at the hotel happens above and below ground. The hotel restaurant, the Marbella Club Grill, offers some of the best fine dining in town, thanks to the efforts of Chef Heimar Kuuskler, who’s been working at his craft since the age of 15 and hosts his own cooking show on Estonian television. The delicious homemade bread and three types of butter, including squid ink, served at the start of each meal is a good harbinger. Served on plates of stone and glass, the dishes draw much from the ongoing renaissance in Baltic cuisine, with the best examples including fried whitefish fillet with sea-buckthorn Beurre Blanc sauce, and grilled venison fillet in rosemary-beetroot cream and wild mushroom ragout.
Downstairs, the ambiance gets decidedly groovier in the purple-tinged Suite Lounge. Although somewhat cramped by the once more exposed stone walls and ceilings (tall folks watch your heads), the former salt cellar offers lots of soft sofas and arm chairs that sink well below head bump levels. As the black-and-white montage of celebrities covering portions of the walls imply, the lounge has a certain star quality that must serve privacy-minded celebrity guests well. Cigar aficionados can retire to an attached room to puff on a supply of Cubans over glasses cognac.
It’s perhaps the best place to reflect on the full Schlössle experience. In terms of quality for value, guests easily get what they pay for and there really seems nothing in the service or accommodation that any reasonable person could fault. The method, however, may be the only caveat. The solid, well-practiced script remains hard and fast, and no amount of nudging can deviate the well-trained staff from it, which can create a sense of stuffiness. But I’m equally sure that’s of very little concern to the caliber of guests, who probably count on it. Perhaps a looser approach can be found on a return visit, which I’d do in a heartbeat.
All photos by Mike Dunphy
Mike Dunphy was a guest of the Schlössle Hotel