MOTORING across Scotland from East to West through the tail end of a major storm is perhaps not the most relaxing way to start the weekend.
Suffering from a severe case of flooding in the Trossachs and having negotiated endless detours, dusk had fallen by the time our battered jalopy limped into Kilchrenan. From there we began the last leg of our journey, a rain and wind-lashed excursion along a narrow, winding road which would have afforded splendid views of Loch Awe had we been able to see more than a few feet in front of us.
With civilisation little more than a distant memory and running several hours late, we finally made it to our destination. So it was with an overwhelming feeling of relief we were able to disembark from our sodden car and slip into a dry gin and tonic at the Ardanaiseig Hotel. As the storm rattled the elegant Scottish baronial manor, we relaxed by the fire in the Library Bar and the stresses of our journey began to ebb away.
BUDGET OR BOUTIQUE?
Boutique. With its beautifully decorated interior and the fine dining we were about to sample, this hotel is all about the experience of staying in a traditional Scottish country hotel in a remote and magical location. With guests paying £298 for bed and breakfast in a master bedroom with a marvellous view of Loch Awe, the price range is beyond the “budget” category. However, there is plenty of bang for your buck.
Treated to the Master Loch View Bedroom, we luxuriated in a super king size bed. The spacious en suite bathroom was dominated by a claw-footed, roll-top bath. And once the storm had abated, we woke up to a view of the loch, which was, for want of a better phrase, quite awe-inspiring.
WINING AND DINING
Eschewing the lavish, nine-course tasting menu, we decided to go à la carte. Our choice may have lacked the sheer variety of the former option, but it still made for a memorable gourmet experience. Keen to banish the chilling memory of the weather outside, my dining companion warmed herself up with the tasty onion soup. I tucked into an appetising paté complete with quail’s egg. Washing it down with a very palatable red wine, I moved on to a delicious steak while my wife sampled some very appetising monkfish. A selection of French and Scottish cheeses were accompanied by a glass of port to aid the digestion.
The following morning, a first class cooked breakfast made the perfect start to the day. With the light streaming in from Loch Awe, we were able to feast our eyes on an unusual feature dominating one wall of the rather grand dining room. A gigantic Victorian masterpiece depicting a group of men conducting a meeting around a table. It is a picture with a difference, however. We were intrigued to learn that it was acquired by a Mafia gangster who opened a London restaurant in the 1960s. The then owner disliked the fact that he did not recognise the painting’s subjects so he arranged for their faces to be painted over by likenesses of his favourite celebrities. Among those looking out over diners were: Ringo Starr, Rod Stewart, Frank Sinatra, Mick Jagger and Bryan Ferry. The picture then disappeared after the restaurant went into liquidation, but it was recently discovered and bought at an auction by Bennie Gray, an art dealer, and the owner of Ardanaiseig.
WORTH GETTING OUT OF BED FOR
The spectacular countryside means there is plenty of scope for fishing and hill-walking. Some of Scotland’s most famous peaks are within range, as is Oban, the gateway to the islands.
The deliciously toasty hot water bottles warming the bed when it was time to retire were particularly welcome. While the Molton Brown smellies provided in the bathroom were another luxurious touch.
A wonderfully relaxing stay in an unforgettable hotel, which was enhanced by the attentive and enthusiastic staff. Ardanaiseig is the perfect place to de-stress and just a few hours there was enough to make the most difficult journey very worthwhile.
• Double bedrooms from £185, with breakfast £218. Ardanaiseig Hotel, Kilchrenan by Taynuilt, Argyll PA35 1HE (01866 833 333, www.ardanaiseig.com)