Shockingly, on descending through the clouds into Edinburgh airport, it’s raining. Danny looks close to furious at having taken annual leave with no sunshine in site and as this is a route I regularly fly with work, my brain is not convinced we are here on holiday.
Morale does not improve as our hire car collection takes longer than our flight and our “VW Golf or equivalent” is a Citroën C3 Aircross with all of the engine power of a motorised scooter. Luckily, the wind is behind us which helps push us up the motorway at a just reasonable 64mph.
Half an hour later we blow off the M9 into the tiny town of Auchterarder nestled at the foot of the Ochil Hills in South Perthshire. Auchterarder is a lovely little town, but is most famous as the location of our destination for the next few days; the renowned hotel Gleneagles in Scotland.
Gleneagles in Scotland
We sweep into the long drive; its been almost two decades since I was last here but is still instantly recognisable. In part this is due to it being the location of the 2014 Ryder Cup golf tournament that took place over the weekend Danny and I moved into our new house together. Consequently, it was playing on every television in both the the house we were moving from and the one we were moving into.
As the hotel comes into view it is slightly dreary and foreboding from the outside, made worse by the excessive rain. We pull up outside the entrance, our Citroën C3 fitting right in between the Range Rovers, Porsches and Bentleys. The valet looks fleetingly surprised and then completely baffled as he tries to use the accelerator to gracefully move the car and is rewarded with a sharp jerk and a complete stop. We advise him to floor it which does the trick, pretty sure he reached 20mph on entry to the car park.
History of Gleneagles
Gleneagles in Scotland is one of the most well known historic hotels in the UK. The idea was first formed by the General Manager of the Caledonian Rail Company while he was on holiday in nearby Strathearn in 1910. The concept was a grand country hotel in the beautiful Scottish hills with a strong focus on golf, Danny would have liked this guy! In 1913 the construction of the hotel began, but the commencement of the First World War meant it was quickly put on hold and not restarted until 1922.
Nestled in 850 acres, Gleneagles opened in 1924 and quickly became a popular luxury destination, often described as the “Riveria of the Highlands”. It was one of the grand railway hotels that were popular in this era and still has its own train station a couple of minutes from the hotel. Let the hotel know when you arrive and they offer complimentary transfers from the station.
The hotel switched function to become a military hospital during the Second World War, before reopening in 1947. The following year the railways were nationalised and British Rail took over Gleneagles, whose ownership it remained in until it was sold to a consortium in 1981, before being shortly sold on again to a local distillery, Arthur Bells & Sons. The distillery was purchased by Guiness the following year, which then merged with Grand Metropolitan in 1997 to become Diageo, the giant spirits company.
In 2015, capitalising from the publicity of the Ryder Cup the previous year, Diageo sold Gleneagles to the private investment group Ennismore in order to focus on its core business. Created in 2011, Ennismore owns the boutique Hoxton hotels which have an expanding portfolio across Europe and the USA. Purchasing Gleneagles in Scotland was therefore an interesting move!
I find that traditional country style hotels have a fine line to walk in order to retain the décor and ambience they are renowned for without tipping over into stuffy and I find that most don’t walk that balance. Looking back through the photos from my last visit there, Gleneagles would have definitely been wide of this mark had it not had several periods of refurbishment under the previous and new owners and I think they have done remarkably well.
There are 232 rooms, including 27 suites, at Gleneagles, 3 different types of room and 5 categories of suites. However, there appeared to be different tiers within these categories; we booked a Sovereign room, but thanks to our Virtuoso affiliated agent, were upgraded to a Large Sovereign Family room that had the addition of a separate living room.
Our room was on the second floor in the main hotel and newly refurbished. While I appreciate a traditionally styled hotel, it isn’t generally my preference, however I did really like the room, most definitely classy but not stuffy or old fashioned in the slightest.
Having spoken to a few people staying at the hotel, the style can differ dependent on which wing of Gleneagles you are in, so have a chat with the hotel if you are looking to book and would like a specific kind of room. The floor below us was actually in the final stages of refurbishment and I was nosy and had a little look around (all of the doors were propped open, no breaking and entering). All were very similar to the décor of our room, but with slightly different variations; some had twin sinks, some with roll top baths and others with stunning views over the Scottish countryside.
Large Sovereign Family Room
We had a generous sized living area with a sofa bed, coffee table and writing desk which had some beautifully presented chocolate truffles on it (they lasted all of 5 seconds) and a hand written note from one of the hotel managers welcoming us to the hotel. Danny plonked himself down and immediately located Sky Sports, a golf tournament was on which kept him busy for a while. Delicate china was on a marble topped sideboard next to my absolute hotel room must have, a Nespresso machine!
The separate bedroom was also a very decent size, there was a weird pillar in the middle of it that meant I had to do a slight zig zag shape in order to throw myself on the bed. I managed it though and it was unbelievably comfortable, a bit like a silky, smooth, firm cloud (I obviously know how clouds feel). Every time I lay down I struggled to get back up again, total bliss! There is another TV in here as well which actually doesn’t get switched on for the entire stay but I’m sure would be excellent for watching a movie in bed with room service (wish we had got round to this now!). There is also ample room for me to unpack our scary amount of luggage which I take great pleasure in doing.
Our bathroom is bright, airy and spacious, no twin sinks though so we had a daily sink fight (we have stressful problems). Also, the shower over the bath was either broken or wasn’t fitted properly so the ceiling got wetter than you did.
The only couple of things I would have liked in the room is a full length mirror as the one on the back of the wardrobe door just didn’t cut it and some fresh milk in the mini bar fridge rather than the UHT. However, room service are exceptionally speedy in bringing some to you (or anything else for that matter) when requested. The view was also nondescript as it was over looking the inner hotel rather than the grounds, so if this is important to you, request it.
Glenmor Village is part of the Gleneagles estate (about a 5 minute walk from the hotel) that opened in 2012. It offers 2 to 4 bedroomed houses for rent or sale as part of a timeshare. You get all the same privileges and access as if you were a guest of the hotel but with the added bonus of the Tryst Café and Bar located in the village and a dedicated concierge. My family have a timeshare for a week here in May every year, however Danny and I stayed in the hotel. The set up is great though, you can have a food shop delivered if you want to do self catered, we even had a Chinese takeaway and movie night!
Restaurants and Bars
With no less than 6 restaurants and 3 bars, you won’t struggle for choice! Gleneagles is home to the one and only Andrew Fairlie, the only Scottish restaurant to hold 2 Michelin stars. I could be here all day if I gave an overview of each one, so I will just talk about the the ones we went to during our visit.
The Century Bar is located on the right as soon as you walk through the entrance. With high ceilings, dark wood accents and rich furnishings, it is prevented from being too dark and stuffy by floor to ceiling windows on two sides, an ever trendy marble bar and a brightly lit pillar in the middle of it all showcasing the 120+ whiskies to chose from for a post dinner aperitif. Or lunchtime in some cases!
The cocktail list is pretty damn good and highly original, my favourite was the Glen Tiki, a combination of cachaça, maraschino, lime, condensed milk and sea buckthorn (no idea what this is).
The American Bar
So, if I ever make it to New Orleans, this is how I expect every bar to look. Everyone also needs to be dressed like they just stepped out of the 1920s. I broke my cream ostrich feather bag out; The American Bar has a strict glamour only dress code.
To really treat yourself, order from the champagne and caviar menu, served via bar cart. I went budget though and opted for a Mary Pickford cocktail of rum, maraschino and pineapple juice and just enjoyed the speak-easy atmosphere.
The Strathearn had been only reopened a week previously after a refurbishment, so we were among the first in to their new dining room. The room is nothing short of stunning, classic and opulent all the way, but beautiful and light with some absolutely stunning floral displays.
Dinner is a formal silver service affair and the whole experience is just excellent. It’s a French restaurant but with some heavy Scottish influence that works well. My favourite bit was the various trollies that will come to your table throughout your meal; the bread one was just enormous, I didn’t know there were so many kinds of bread! A selection of smoked salmon is displayed on another cart which is then carved before you and if you choose the prawns they are wheeled over to be flambéed in front of you. The most spectacular of them all though is the roast dinner cart…enough said!
To start, I made Danny split the Orkney scallops with pea purée and bacon jam and the lobster ravioli with braised fennel, lobster bisque and cumin oil. The lobster was good, the scallops just phenomenal. For main I had the wild venison with Savoy cabbage, cherry, truffle granola, chocolate (yep!) and red wine jus which was just as divine. To finish was honey mousse, shortbread, apricots and lavender (I have a major obsession with lavender flavoured anything). We all loved the meal; my dad and uncles can quite hilariously get a bit concerned about the “tiny portions” they associate with high end restaurants, but this was not an issue here (nor were they so big we couldn’t finish them).
We also need to talk about breakfast which is served here. There was a major problem, the buffet was so expansive and of such high quality that there are only two results; an inability to choose anything or eat way to much and declare you are never eating again. It was just unbelievable, the room the buffet is housed in just off the restaurant is like a Hansel and Gretel house for breakfast obsessed adults. There were 5 different types of honey!!!!! The á la carte breakfasts were just as delicious but almost unnecessary, not something I say lightly as buffets aren’t usually my thing. Opt for a table in the orangery, airy and light no matter what the weather.
A decidedly less formal affair than the Strathearn, the Birnam Brasserie has a french bistro feel and an amazing “garden” area that has (fake) greenery climbing the walls to meet a glass ceiling. We opted to sit here and enjoyed oysters and wine for an hour before being joined by some of my family. The menu is light and fresh with a Mediterranean vibe and lots of seafood options (my favourite!).
I went all out and had the Plateau de Fruits de Mer which took me a very enjoyable hour and a half to finish. This is relaxed, informal dining at its finest and I could have easily been in the Southern French seaside rather than a grey and foreboding Scotland!
Honestly? We could have been at a very busy Pizza Express. The menu literally does everything; pizzas, Italian food, pasta, grill, sandwiches, roasts, salads and classics (think bangers and mash). My smoked mackerel and spinach salad with horseradish and pink grapefruit was average and my main course of orecchiette pasta with mussels, broccoli and chilli was just plain poor. Polling the table, the Indian options seemed to be the best. The restaurant was extremely busy and noisy, tables were very close together and right next to the open kitchen, it was hard work having a conversation with the person next to you.
Quick lunch, fine, relaxed dinner, not for me.
Afternoon Tea in the Glendevon Room
I love afternoon tea. Danny hates it and now refuses to partake so I took my aunt instead. Few things feel like such a luxury as spending an afternoon eating tiny sandwiches and drinking champagne. If doing afternoon tea, I do like to go all out and Gleneagles clearly agree, it was spectacular!
Firstly, the Glendevon Room is beautiful, just the kind of grand country house room you imagine for a superb afternoon tea. The views don’t hurt either, the Glendevon Room looks out over the very best of the Scottish countryside, rolling hills and volatile weather.
We have the best spot in the house though, a cosy booth at the back so we can do equal parts weather and people watching. The afternoon tea itself can only be described as superb, original with some twists in the form of a variety of savoury options rather than just sandwiches.
The amuse-bouche come first though, a delicious soup, with the savoury course quickly following. As expected, the sandwiches were excellent, but they consist of only about a third of the course overall. Mainly Scottish themed bites made up the remainder; the asparagus spears wrapped in bacon and haggis bon bon with whisky mayonnaise have stuck in my mind as completely delicious.
Whisky soaked scones follow before an array of beautiful desserts are presented. We are already discussing which ones to eat and which to box up and put in our fridge for later when our lovely waitress comes over with 3 different kinds of cake….this is no light afternoon snack!
I imagine you could hole up here for a week and even with kids there is enough variety to keep everyone fully occupied without having to leave the Gleneagles estate, there is no shortage of things to do.
It would take you a while to get through all the activities they offer at Gleneagles and luckily if you visit the Playground they can help you choose, as well as assist in kitting you out. Virtually everything on offer is available for children as well and even the most Xbox obsessed should find something that interests them.
Last time I came we did falconry, off road driving in mini land rovers and horse riding. This time, golf was a big focus for the guys and with 3 renowned courses they were pretty content. I have zero interest in golf but love a good view, so went on some of the hiking trails around the courses instead. My aunt and I also tried the 9 hole pitch and putt with some fairly hilarious results, golf is most definitely not our gift in life!
We didn’t have any children in our group so it isn’t something that featured on our trip, but Gleneagles is seriously geared up for kids. There is a supervised crèche that is complimentary for the first two hours! There is also the Den for older kids which has a cinema and every games console imaginable, Danny did look a little envious.
The health club has a large gym as well as a decent range of fitness classes, both complimentary for hotel guests. The latter is definitely my preference when exercising, as when left to my own devices I just tend to walk on the treadmill and then wander around doing the odd bicep curl with a 1kg weight.
There are also two pool areas; the large one has a jacuzzi and is connected to a small outdoor pool as well. A blacked out glass wall separates the adult pool which is more spa like in vibe. There is also a sauna and steam room with another small jacuzzi in thee middle.
I stayed in the adults only bit as there were lots of screaming children in the main area that wasn’t conducive to my relaxation strategy! It was lovely, the only issue was it was quite small and really overcrowded with what seemed to be people mostly on a day spa. It was a bit of a shame as it took me a while to get a lounger which I then didn’t want to move from in case I lost it! I was there on a Monday, so not a day I would expect for it to be so busy.
The changing areas were superb with a great range of complimentary toiletries and large enough to not feel busy.
Oh, the spa, the cornerstone of any great hotel. If I am being completely honest, I generally only like paying for spa treatments at hotels if the facilities and relaxation areas are truly excellent. This is a bit of a controversial view, but I generally just don’t find the treatments outstanding enough to warrant the massive step up in cost from my local salon. There has been only been one exception to this so far in my experience, Bovey Castle, where I has such an amazing massage that I didn’t care that their post and pre treatment facilities were a bit lacking.
Gleneagles falls into the former bracket, my stress buster massage was good, but no more so that the one I have for less than half the price at my local salon, but the facilities are excellent. The lounge for relaxing in beforehand is very tranquil but it’s afterwards where the real treat is. There are separate areas for men and women; a sauna, pool with jets, 2 steam rooms and experience showers. The stand out is the relaxation area, an aromatherapy filled room with beds, snacks, a headset to select different calming music to play and BEDS. AND BLANKETS. Such bliss, I fell asleep!
Bob & Cloche
Bob & Cloche is a separate building within the estate, a couple of minutes walk from the spa. They provide a range of treatments from hair, make-up, manicures and pedicures. I had a superb blow dry here before our dinner at the Strathearn. My hairdresser took her time discussing with me what to do and figuring out my hair type to work out the best way to get a wave in it, an almost impossible task!
The environment is great as well, they have tried to go for a stylish living room vibe with a lounge area, velvet sofas and a relaxed atmosphere.
Gleneagles in Scotland is an iconic, grande dame of a hotel that feels like stepping back in time, but with all the modern luxuries we all love. I really enjoyed my stay there, partly because it is somewhere I visited as a child but also because it is a great place to stay to experience Scotland. Scottish influence is everywhere from the décor to the food and the extensive whisky selection, you are never left in any doubt about where you are in the world! There are a couple of extremely minor niggles, but there is no doubt that this is a truly superb hotel and I would stay there again in a heartbeat.
The Gleneagles Hotel
01764 662 231