You can find baronial splendour, gourmet delights and rock’n’roll décor during a highland fling in Argyll
Forget Paris and its hiked-up prices - if you want a romantic break this year, you could do a lot worse than Ardanaiseig Hotel. Three miles down a bumpy one-track road, this grand Scottish hotel looks out on to Loch Awe, surrounded by forests, roe deer and 19th-century gardens in perfect seclusion, with staggering views, lots to do and not a snooty waiter in sight. You might not have the Eiffel Tower, but with views of the mountains, fixtures and fittings worthy of a roisesaeeeck star, and decadent food, it more than makes up for it.
Ardanaiseig Hotel is a retreat with a difference. Snapping it up on the spot the first time he saw it, art dealer-owner Bennie Gray recognised the chance to create something that went beyond the classic Scottish baronial home hotel. And with exquisite design touches, fantastic service and an incredible chef, he’s certainly done that. Stella McCartney is said to be a fan and regular visitor.
Inside the hotel, you’re welcomed into a hall where green wellies line up along the walls – there’s a size to fit everybody, so you’ve got no excuse to avoid an afternoon wander around the estate. The grand wooden staircase leads up to the bedrooms, sumptuously done out, and some with four-poster beds. In one of the downstairs rooms, they’ve thoughtfully arranged it so that you can bring your dog too – he gets his own area, and there’s a door to the garden. Antiques and interesting pieces of art line the walls; one room has a Gothic-style cast-iron bed that used to belong to Spice Girl Emma Bunton. Gray brought in a set designer from the Scottish opera to create decor with a bit of drama, and he’s succeeded, with rooms decorated in oxblood red and lime green, lavish gold and crimson, though nothing upstages the view.
If you’re more into clean lines than heavy brocade curtains and stone walls, don’t despair. On the edge of the lake, a converted boatshed has been turned into the most exquisite modern one-bed suite, with 60s-style fixtures and fittings, including an Arco lamp. It’s the ultimate in seclusion – you even get a golf buggy to get you from the lake to the house without getting wet. This is Scotland, remember, and the rain has been known to spoil even the most passionate ardour.
Back in the main house, the corridor leading to the dining room has reworked oil paintings featuring Bianca Jagger and Lauren Bacall, all taken from a private members' club in London that closed down in the 1980s. There’s no end of things to do if it is raining: the bar has an open fire and plenty of board games and there’s a snooker room in the basement. The drawing room has a wide view of Loch Awe and if you’re lucky you might see one of the three pairs of osprey that breed here.
After a brisk walk around the lake, an afternoon tea of crumpets, tea cakes and sandwiches is just what you need, served in the bar, in a leather armchair by a fire. But don’t eat too much. Dinner is the real highlight – you’re advised to work up an appetite during the day so that you can fully appreciate it. Gary Goldie serves up delicious individually-created menus – and thank goodness. Oban, the nearest big town, is an hour’s drive away along some very slow roads. Goldie creates a different menu daily and likes to tailor his specials to his guests on an individual basis. We ate six well-sized courses plus a pre-starter and pre-dessert, including smoked trout with quail egg and caviar, wild mushroom ravioli and duck with a delicious berry jus. The ripe brie with walnut bread was stunning too.
The best time to visit is in the spring, when the azaleas, bluebells, daffodils and rhododendrons light up the estate, but the hotel is appealing at all times. In the summer, boat trips and swimming in the lake are not unheard of, and you can tie in a visit to the local Highland Games, taking place on weekends from June to August.
‘We’ll always have Ardanaiseig’ might not roll off the tongue as easily as ‘we’ll always have Paris’ - but it’s sure to be just as memorable.
- Ryanair flies to Glasgow from London, Bournemouth, Belfast and Derry
- Avis has branches at Glasgow Prestwick and Glasgow International airports, where you can hire a car to drive to Ardanaiseig, 22 miles from Oban on Loch Awe.