IF YOU are always threatening to take a well-deserved break amid some of Scotland's most spectacular scenery, but never seem to find the time, this gorgeous hotel in the Trossachs could be just the ticket. It's only about an hour's drive from Glasgow or 90 minutes from Edinburgh, yet it feels a world away.
Set among 25 acres of mature land-scaped gardens, with burns and paths meandering through the grounds, the hotel occupies an elevated position with stunning views over Loch Ard. An 18m indoor pool, children's play area, tennis courts, putting and croquet on site, plus a plethora of aquatic activities nearby, make it popular with families, but it’s also a tranquil haven for more mature guests outwith peak periods.
WINING AND DINING? Rafters Bar and Bistro provides relaxed, family-friendly dining and our three children amuse themselves with games and videos in an area away from the bar while mum and dad enjoy drinks before dinner. In what may well be a first for our family of fussy eaters, the menu has something to suit everyone. The next night, we don what passes for glad-rags and try the Garden Restaurant, which holds two AA rosettes. Seasonal Scottish produce features on a menu of classic and contemporary dishes: oak-smoked Scottish salmon with caper berries, lemon and shallot dressing is fresh and tasty, pan-seared sirloin steak with béarnaise sauce well worth its £7.95 supplement, and the bitter chocolate tart dessert is naughty but very nice.
ROOM SERVICE? The hotel has 49 bedrooms, but we occupy one of 65 self-catering lodges. It’s clean and comfortable, with two bedrooms and two bathrooms, plus a rather indulgent and addictive sauna. The kitchen is modern and well-equipped, while the balcony is perfect for feeding bread to the ducks that appear below each morning. (Unfortunately we later witness one chubby little feathered friend being inadvertently despatched to the great duck pond in the sky, after waddling out in front of a pensioner parking her car. The children certainly follow the green cross code after seeing the results of that epic failure to stop, look and listen.)
WORTH GETTING OUT OF BED FOR? Sailing, kayaking, fishing and an outrageous offshore assault course are among the activities offered by the nearby Go Outdoors Forest Hills Water Sport Centre. We take a motorised boat out for two hours of fishing, predictably catch nothing but enjoy every minute of our scenic pootle around Loch Ard.
The village of Kinlochard, a couple of miles away, is home to the delightful Wee Blether Tearoom, while nearby Aberfoyle is a good base for walking, cycling and pony-trekking.
BUDGET OR BOUTIQUE? Somewhere in between. Rooms start at £98 per night, though the hotel offers numerous package deals.
LITTLE NIGGLES? Is comically grumpy receptionist Antoinette the least hospitable member of the entire global hospitality industry? Several guests suggest so – I couldn’t possibly comment.
LITTLE EXTRAS? The Vital Health Spa offers all manner of luxury pampering in the most relaxing environment. My wife chooses a Decléor classic aromatic facial (£58) and emerges radiant and refreshed. I opt for the Decléor intensive energising facial (£62), a much-needed detoxifying treatment that leaves me invigorated, rejuvenated – and asleep.
GUESTBOOK COMMENTS? A splendid hotel in a superb location, with something for everyone throughout the year.
• Macdonald Forest Hills Hotel & Spa, Aberfoyle 0844 879 9057, click here to visit www.macdonaldhotels.co.uk