Head to the Highlands for fun, glamour and adventure in the newly revamped Scottish wonderland – it’s the ultimate mini break
Golf has always been the first thing that springs to mind when I think of Gleneagles, but there is so much more to enjoy and discover at this historic hotel. Following a multi-million pound update, Scotland’s iconic ‘glorious playground’ for the rich and famous is like stepping into a Gatsby-esque dream. The wood paneled entrance, glamorous bars, grand dining room and sweeping staircase hark back to the resort’s 1920s hey days, but the addition of an Ivy-style brasserie and state of the art spa add a dash of contemporary luxe too. And then there’s the location. At the foot of the Scottish highlands, the views from the lawn across to Glendevon are spectacular, and watching the sun cast green, gold and purple shadows on the hills is just mesmerising. All of which comes with a fairly hefty price tag as you might expect, but for a honeymoon, anniversary or special celebration it doesn’t get much better than this.
And that’s why I’m here with my husband Neil, to celebrate our wedding anniversary. We’ve left the kids at home, but as the hotel is dog friendly we’ve brought our Labrador Bridie (there are definitely three of us in this marriage). We arrive in the middle of an unexpected heat wave and the tweed and tartan clad staff who greet us must be suffering, yet are still relaxed, friendly and super helpful none-the-less. One of the reasons (budget aside) I generally avoid posh hotels is they can often come with an air of stuffiness and formality, but there is none of that at Gleneagles. Instead, it’s all about excellent service, matched with just the right amount of chit chat. We instantly know this is going to be a fabulous few days.
There are 27 suites and three categories of rooms to choose from, the main difference being a view across the grounds in an Estate room or the inner facing Sovereign or smaller Classic rooms. All are beautifully decorated and furnished in a modern classic style with touches of tartan and art deco flourishes, as well as roll top baths in the squeaky clean bathrooms filled with Asprey Purple Water toiletries. The bed is huge and super comfy, and for Bridie (or McBridie as we decide to call her during our stay), a tartan dog bed is the perfect finishing touch. Well that and the cocktail tray that arrives in the afternoon with cut crystal glasses, gin and bitters with instructions on how to make the perfect Negroni. Bottoms up…
You really must
Get your glad rags on and head to the Century Bar to start working your way through the cocktail list – the House Gin Fizz and Smoking Gun are our favourites. The new American Bar is a smaller more intimate affair for serious romantics, with a champagne cocktail trolley and a menu featuring classics from the roaring twenties and clever new creations like the divine Plummet – a mix of Ketel One vodka, plum sake and plum bitters.
You’ll want to keep a fairly clear head though to make the most of the long list of fun and games to be had on the estate, from falconry and gun dog training, to archery and fishing. Golfers have the choice of three world class courses, and novices can also get in on the action with a round on the nine hole Wee Course, or have a lesson with a pro at the PGA golf academy.
Being LandRover fans, we opt for off road driving and are escorted by our instructor Steve through technical challenges across streams and mud ruts, all with a spectacular Highland back drop. Exhilariting stuff, and there’s more adrenalin pumping when we have a go at clay pigeon shooting that afternoon. Shooting coach Willie fits me with a 410 shotgun and talks me through the flight paths of the types of game the clays are replicating. Neil is blasting each one out of the sky but I’m a complete novice so it takes me a while to get the hang of things, and when I finally hit the target, the ever patient Willie gives a delighted little chuckle.
Our final adventure on the last day is a beautiful hill walk and picnic by a stunning loch. We’re joined by Henry, the hotel’s new Labrador puppy and owner Colin from the Gleneagles team. Bridie and Henry have a field day, and alternate splashing in the lake with cute begging for picnic scraps. When we get back to the hotel we hit The Spa, which offers every kind of treatment and therapy, and has a fabulous plunge pool, steam and sauna, plus mango and peppermint scented showers no less. Espa products are everywhere, so everything smells divine.
The Strathearn, the hotel’s fine dining restaurant serves the best ever Scottish smoked salmon (carved at the table), Orkeny scallops, Ayrshire pork and Highland Venison. If you’re not in the mood for fancy schmancy, the Birnam Brasserie is the place for a plate of Steak frites, tuna nicoise or mac and cheese. Afternoon tea is served in the new Glendevon Room or for a quick coffee and slice of cake the Garden Café is the place to head.
Something from the hotel’s very own shopping arcade that joins the old hotel with the new spa and brasserie. Ranging from serious watches and diamonds to cashmere and Barbour’s best, there is serious shopping to be had. We opted for a pair pretty white china mugs with thistle illustrations and some Scottish fayre from Gleneagles & Co, the hotel’s fine foods range. Rhubarb and apple chutney, shortbread and a slab of pine chocolate made their way into our luggage to make the incredible Gleneagles experience linger a little while longer when we sadly returned home.
The Gleneagles Hotel, Auchterarder, Perthshire, Scotland PH3 1NF. Rates start from £390 per night based on two people sharing on a bed and breakfast basis. Travel by train to Gleneagles station (a direct train from London takes five hours) or fly into Glasgow or Edinburgh airport, followed by a 45 minute transfer).