Travel: Palatial splendour in Pitlochry

TRUE to its roots as a spa resort, Atholl Palace Hotel in Pitlochry offers plenty of relaxation, discovers Pamela Moffat

Atholl Palace Hotel, Pitlochry. Picture: Contributed
Atholl Palace Hotel, Pitlochry. Picture: Contributed

As we leave the A9 on our approach into Pitlochry there’s a gasp from the back seat of the car when our daughter spots our destination, the Atholl Palace Hotel. It sits majestically atop a plateau looking palatial from all directions.

We make our way through the grounds to the entrance feeling more like the kooky characters from Blandings than sophisticated guests approaching Downton Abbey, however we receive a warm welcome, thanks in part to a dram of whisky.

Despite its slightly intimidating exterior, the interior is comfortable and welcoming. There’s a definite nod to bygone times and a well-dressed wedding party is enjoying champagne and canapés in the lounge, which feels an appropriate use of the space.

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    A jazz trio begin to play and we sit by the fire with a coffee and people-watch. We don’t feel out of place even though our attire consists of waterproofs and mucky boots.

    Due to the nature of the building every guest room is unique. Our room is clean and comfortable and the view, from the Tummel Valley to Ben Vrackie, is breathtaking.

    With 90 rooms in the hotel and a selection of self-catering properties on the estate, there is accommodation to suit all requirements, making it a perfect destination for a family break. Although we’re only visiting as a small family of three, this is definitely somewhere that would be suited to large get-togethers.

    Originally constructed in the 1870s as a hydropathic destination where water cures were offered, rest and recuperation are of interest to us, too, so we decide to make use of the Lavender Spa. With treatment rooms, a pool, steam room (which would benefit from modernisation), sauna, deep Jacuzzi and plunge pool, it’s not long before we shake off the stresses of city life. Urbanites should note that the water in the area is peaty and therefore has a slightly brown hue, before they start complaining.

    I manage to sneak off to the beauty rooms for a signature themed Lavender Lullaby with therapist Lisa and enjoy a 90 minute treatment which includes body exfoliation, a massage and a facial. I emerge from my metamorphosis with what feels like new skin and a new frame of mind.

    Dinner is served in the Verandah restaurant which by day has a glorious view over the Tummel Valley and by night is cosy thanks to sumptuous floor-length curtains. We choose from several fairly traditional options all produced using local ingredients by head chef Graeme Strachan who has been with Atholl Palace for around 30 years. Post-dinner coffee is served in the lounge where the sound of a piano and the scent of a wood-burning fire keep us company until bedtime.

    I find that more often than not breakfast can be used as an accurate gauge of a hotel stay and it lives up to my expectation here.

    We have previously visited several visitor hotspots nearby including Killicrankie, Queen’s View, the Scottish Crannog Centre, the Explorer’s Garden and – our favourite – Ossian’s Hall at the Hermitage, but there are plenty more to choose from.

    We decide to go to the Red Deer Centre at Highland Safaris near Aberfeldy where we hand-feed red deer at the new visitor centre and learn lots from our passionate guide, who also happens to be the managing director, Donald Riddell. We enjoy lunch and cakes in the cafe and chat about returning for a 4x4 adventure, some downhill mountain biking and maybe trying our luck at panning for gold.

    Although Pitlochry is a great base to explore the surrounding area and attractions there really is no need to leave the hotel estate. There are tennis courts, a putting area and a number of walks through the formal gardens and woodland, so when we return to Atholl Palace we head out to explore with a map from reception. After a short walk we reach Black Spout waterfall which, thanks to recent downpours, provides a spectacular display and the viewing platform offers a great location for some holiday snaps.

    The hotel building itself has a story to tell and we are taken down memory lane in the quirky museum situated in the basement. The timeline from construction of the Athole Hydropathic follows through two world wars to its present function as a four star hotel.

    The presentation film could be more dynamic but we enjoy the replica rooms which include a medical room (for hydropathic treatments), a Victorian bathroom, a laundry and sewing room, a servant’s bedroom, a dairy and a bakery. The memories of former staff and guests are a nice touch and we find ourselves reading them aloud.

    After finding out there’s an Art Deco building in the grounds called Highways, we go in search of the former garage and chauffeur’s accommodation. It has recently been converted into self-catering apartments and we also come across an exceptionally cute 1920s wooden bungalow, Garden Cottage, originally built for the hotel engineer.

    It must be easy for a hotel of this size to become impersonal and business-like, but the Atholl Palace is charming and packed with character, perhaps a touch eccentric but it maintains a dignified position.

    • Atholl Palace Hotel, Pitlcohry, 01796 472400,; from £139 per person, per night for dinner, bed and breakfast. Highland Safaris, Aberfeldy, 01887 820071,