Travel: Gleneagles Hotel, Auchterarder

Gleneagles Hotel. Picture: Contributed
Gleneagles Hotel. Picture: Contributed
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NO one can be in any doubt that 2014 is a big year for Gleneagles Hotel. The jewel in Scotland’s tourist crown celebrated its 90th birthday yesterday, and, as golf fans around the world know, it also plays host to the Ryder Cup in September.

We visited in early May when the rhododendron bushes lining the drive leading towards the imposing main building were showcasing gorgeous blooms from the palest pink to the most vibrant fuchsia. By the time the blossoms have faded and the glorious colours of autumn arrive to cloak the Perthshire countryside in orange and russet, Paul McGinley and Tom Watson will lead their teams out to the first tee of the PGA Centenary Course, and Gleneagles will be ready.

There is no denying that that with four months to go there is a palpable buzz of energy to be found striding along the endless furniture polish-scented corridors of perhaps Scotland’s grandest railway hotel.

The night we arrive a Ryder Cup charity fund-raiser is in full swing. One of the competition’s sponsorship partners Adidas is preparing for a global sales event the following week.

In the midst of such excitement however Gleneagles must continue to deliver for its weekend visitors, summer wedding bookings and loyal dinner guests.

And there’s certainly no sign of neglect. On the contrary, dinner in the Strathearn restaurant is like taking part in a piece of theatre. A silver-plated domed trolley like something out of Downton Abbey is wheeled around the dining room bearing the night’s special, Beef Wellington, attracting attention wherever it goes; two kinds of smoked salmon are sliced and served at the table; chateaubriand is expertly finished in flames to the delight of a party of hungry golfers.

Chocaholics are advised to leave room for dessert as to miss the valrhona carandila marquise with salt toffee popcorn and beurre noisette ice cream would be unthinkable.

At the fabulously art deco bar you can order from the Ryder Cup Cocktail Collection, whose concoctions are mixed with Johnnie Walker whisky. The 1921 is described as a cocktail redolent of the Jazz Age, marking the year the first transatlantic golf match was played at Gleneagles which led to the creation of the Ryder Cup in 1927.

Our room was in what is still known as the modern extension, despite the fact that it’s now 19 years old. From our balcony we had lovely views of the main building and to the Ochil Hills beyond. There’s a large roll top bath and the double-sized shower provides a reassuringly forceful jet with generous-sized Asprey products on hand for an extra touch of luxury.

So what will the Ryder Cup golfing widows do when their husbands are battling for glory on the fairways? It’s a four day long competition, which might give just about enough time to get through the extensive treatment list at The Spa by Espa. Pushed to pick just one highlight I’d select the Hydration Facial from the personalised facials menu. This is 55 minutes of essential oil-scented bliss. You’ll emerge with glowing skin and an ability to suffer the minor irritations of life with benevolent grace. For a couple of hours anyway. Another massive plus is that unlike many hotels, they don’t cram them in here at weekends. The relaxation area was actually relaxing.

The recently redeveloped main leisure pool area took 11 months to get right and the spacious layout allows families to have a splashing time, while those looking for a more laid-back experience have access to a separate pool with low lighting. The addition of an outdoor Onsen pool is also popular – you can make like a Japanese snow monkey and bask in the warm water, never minding about the drizzle.

Of course there’s plenty more for the Ryder Cup wives and girlfriends (GWAGS?), or anyone else for that matter, to do than to gently steam in an aroma-filled sanctuary. There is gun-dog training, clay pigeon shooting, off roading and falconry. You can borrow bikes and tennis racquets and non golfers can get a sense of what all the fuss is about by exploring the three mile orange jogging route which gives views of both the King’s and Queen’s Course and finishes at the always bustling Dormy Clubhouse, which was opened by Colin Montgomerie in 2011. If you’re lucky you might even catch sight of a roe deer sprinting off into the distance.

The Ryder Cup hasn’t been played in Scotland for 41 years, and in fact in its 87 year history the competition has only been contested north of the Border once, when Muirfield played host in 1973.

The official merchandise is on sale throughout the resort, the waiting staff have received their security clearance, the greenkeepers know what they have to do.

Roll on September. Never mind the football, golf is coming home.

• The Gleneagles Hotel, Auchterarder, Perthshire PH3 1NF, tel: 0800 704 705; The starting price for dinner, bed and breakfast in June is £455 (double occupancy). The Hydration Facial (55 minutes) is £95.

• The Not Just for Sundays package is available for selected dates in June and includes B&B, a round of golf or a spa treatment for each person, and costs from £360 per room, per night,