Travel: Be the queen of Pitlochry’s Fonab Castle
You know those good-looking people who wear dowdy clothing to detract from their gorgeousness? There are a few grand Scottish buildings like that. They seem to keep their windows small and shrink from the landscape, as if it’s all too embarrassing. Perhaps, like the human hotties, they want to be taken seriously and not judged solely on their attractiveness. Fonab Castle in Pitlochry isn’t like that.
After a multi-million pound, three-year-long restoration job, completed in 2013, this syrup-coloured baronial castle is sexy and it knows it.
It luxuriates in its surroundings with an upstairs lounge that features floor to ceiling windows that frame a view over Loch Faskally and a backdrop of feathery looking forest.
The flow between indoors to outdoors (they must use endless bottles worth of Windolene to keep the glass that clean) is such that an over-enthusiastic housemartin dive-bombed the window on our visit. (Shortly afterwards, we saw this hotel’s smart doorman saunter across the lawn and discreetly pick up something – presumably a tiny feathery body).
On the ground floor, Fonab Brasserie has a similarly bucolic outlook, with French windows that open out onto a patio. As well as serving breakfast, this relaxed space offers crowd-pleasing lunch and dinner treats, such as scallops, steak and sticky toffee pudding, all rendered in an upmarket style.
In contrast, their three AA rosette fine dining restaurant, Sandeman’s, which is named after the port and sherry family who were the original owners of Fonab Castle, is in the older part of the building. It’s cosy and intimate, with a thick tartan carpet that’s as springy as a moss-infested lawn and curved banquettes pour deux. You might pine for the views in here, but not so much when you’re munching on poached and roasted squab pigeon with seared foie gras, girolles, pickled raspberries and a quail egg; or East Coast lobster with saffron potato, truffle and heritage tomato dressing.
Although you can team your food with drinks by going for the wine pairing menu, or do the traditional Scottish hotel thing and choose from their selection of malts, they’ve also jumped on the bandwagon carrying gin, of which there are endless Scottish varieties. I had my first try of Rock Rose, made in Caithness. It was the perfect alternative nightcap before I headed back to my understatedly swanky room. According to the hotel manager, the current owners of Fonab Castle, the Clarks, travel a lot and, thus, are big on ergonomics. Indeed, there’s plenty of hanging room, good lighting and the spaces flow. You won’t stub your toe on anything if you get up in the middle of the night. Our Castle room was part of the original building, though you can also stay in one of their modern Woodland rooms, which are in an unobtrusive and Scandi style extension. (We’re guessing their heated dog kennels, for the luckiest pups, are around here.)
Opposite the main building, you’ll find the spa, which features a 15-metre swimming pool, bubbly spa pool, steam room, sauna and aroma relax room. We both enjoyed one of their MatiSpa Relaxing Body Massages in their couples V-shaped treatment room. This therapy featured a full body rub down using this French brand’s balm, which contains something called inca inchi oil (apparently, it’s pressed from the fruits of an Amazonian plant called pracaxi) and omega oils. The beauty therapists here, like all the staff in the hotel, are lovely. They gave us loads of tips on things to do nearby. We wrote down some of their suggestions, then took a casual stroll in Fonab Castle’s own gardens which, it transpired, lead onto pretty much every top attraction in Pitlochry. Doh. Just at the bottom of the hill is Pitlochry Dam and Fish Ladder Walk. We didn’t spot any jumpy salmon, but we were hypnotised by the swirling water and the buzz of the hydro-electrics.
It’s then probably around another ten-minute stroll to Pitlochry Festival Theatre and the Explorers Garden.
However, we took a longer, circuitous route over Port-na-Craig bridge, which is covered in padlocks like the Parisian Pont des Arts bridge was (before they were all sliced off). I thought about adding one to Pitlochry’s version of this famous French landmark. I’d write something like “Gaby 4 Fonab Castle” on it. That might sound a bit sad, but I’m feeling rather romantic about my night in this hotel.
• Fonab Castle, Foss Road, Pitlochry (01796 470 140, www.fonabcastlehotel.com). Double rooms start from £185. MatiSpa; Relaxing Body Massage, £65pp for 60 minutes