Where to stay: Ardanaiseig, Scottish Highlands
Images Rachel Louise Brown/courtesy of Ardanaiseig
Nestled on the banks of magical Loch Awe, where fresh waters gently lap against the myth-soaked pebbled shores, and the air is so crisp and clean that you feel renewed with each breath; down a winding country road where you’re more likely to spot a runaway peacock than another car, lies Ardanaiseig – a majestic manor house known as Scotland’s most romantic hotel.
I defy any guest of Ardanaiseig not to feel as though this charming estate, with its 120 acres of fairy-tale landscape, is theirs and theirs alone. After a day out exploring the grounds, following deer and wandering along the impressive local trails (my favourite being a relatively modest hour-long hike around Moon Loch), retire to the drawing-room with a wee dram, put up your feet in front of the exquisite view and get out the backgammon set. The incredible staff will discreetly appear as if out of nowhere to tend to your every need; you’ll find whisky connoisseurs, butlers, chefs and fishing experts at your disposal.
Built in 1834, the Grade II-listed house is currently owned by a London antiques dealer, hence the wonderfully eccentric décor found throughout the hotel, including the 16 divine bedrooms, which come with roll-top baths in the en-suite bathrooms. For further privacy, opt for the Boatshed, the hotel’s private cottage situated on the edge of the loch, a mere two-minute stroll away from the main house. Available to hire exclusively, it’s the perfect place to watch a glorious sunset over Loch Awe’s remote, picture-perfect paradise.
The Ardanaiseig restaurant serves up a gourmet dream courtesy of its Scottish head chef David Allen, whose previous experience includes stints at Inverlochy Castle near Fort William and the Three Chimneys on Skye. Fresh, masterfully crafted local produce is served with flair in front of an eclectic range of Old Master paintings with a stunning view out over the loch. I opted for scallops on a bed of sweetcorn, grapefruit and tarragon twinned with the most tender of chicken wings, followed by a medley of lamb, anchovy, pea and samphire accompanied by melt-in-the-mouth Jersey Royals. For dessert, I chose an avocado dish seasoned with cucumber, buttermilk, lime and coriander – on paper, it shouldn’t work, but I would travel back to the Highlands just to try it again.
Order a perfectly packed picnic from reception and head out for the day to traverse Loch Awe (Scotland’s third largest freshwater loch) in one of the hotel’s motorboats, which are free for guests. For a £5 deposit, you can also hire a fishing rod and fish off your boat or from Ardanaiseig’s private island a short sail away. If you are lucky enough to make a catch (very probable, as the Loch is famous for its abundance of large brown trout), the hotel will serve it up for you at dinner.
Bed and breakfast from £218 for two people at Ardanaiseig. For Hogmanay stays, please ring 01866 833 333 or email email@example.com.
Where to stay: Ballyfin, Ireland
Where to stay: Domaine de Verchant, Castelnau-le-Lez
Where to go for a winter adventure