DRIVING past Pitlochry on the A9 heading north, I was always impressed by the grand outline of the Atholl Palace Hotel with its turrets and flags poking out high from a mantle of trees.
This time the hotel, which stands sentinel at the entrance to the Perthshire town, was my destination and after turning into the driveway which sweeps past giant redwoods and a Japanese garden to deposit us in front of an imposing example of Scots baronial architecture, I was even more impressed. Dating from 1878, the former Victorian health hydro has 100 bedrooms in the hotel as well as 14 self-catering lodges in 48 acres of secluded gardens. Stay in a lodge and you have the informality and convenience of self-catering, but with the grandeur and comfort of a hotel, which has its own swimming pools, a short stroll away.
BUDGET OR BOUTIQUE?
It’s high end whether or not you cater for yourself. The hotel is all old school blazing log fires, wood panels, Highland landscapes, vast sofas, antique furniture and everywhere those amazing views, while the lodges are more boutique, with modern clean lines and a contemporary palette.
Our Resort Collection lodge, Moulin, was one of a row of two-storey new build apartments in the former walled garden, and slept six. Others will accommodate parties from six to eight. Moulin is spacious and well appointed, with each of the three double bedrooms having an en suite bathroom – a boon with teenagers. Upstairs is an open plan lounge, sitting, dining and kitchen area on the first floor with views of the tree-lined hills beyond through french doors on to the balcony that made an ideal platform for star gazing on cold winter nights. Another two bedrooms downstairs have french doors on to decking with a well-placed bench, and there’s a handy children’s play park, and barbecue facilities.
WINING AND DINING
The kitchen has everything needed to prepare simple family meals, and there’s a washing machine too. The teenagers loved the comfy sofas for watching the huge TV in the lounge area of the large open plan room. It’s a convivial space for eating, drinking and chatting, with more formal dining on hand at the hotel if you choose, plus the Stag’s head bar if you can escape for a beer.
WORTH GETTING OUT OF BED FOR
In the basement of the hotel there’s the Lavender Spa which comprises a swimming pool, sauna, steam room, plunge pool and Jacuzzi. Originally a health spa to which tourists flocked from all over Europe to take the waters, the plunge pools are still filled from natural spring water from nearby Ben-y-Vrackie. There is a range of treatments on hand and in summer there’s an outdoor pool too.
Take time to look at the fascinating mini museum of the hotel’s history with its reconstructed original rooms, while outside there are walks through trees that include Douglas firs and giant redwoods, and courts for tennis and pitch and putt.
A gentle stroll to see the fish ladder, through which 5,000 salmon migrate upstream each year, was on my agenda, but my teenage companions had loftier ambitions which saw us at the top of 841-metre Ben-y-Vrackie instead. A four-hour climb rewarded us with views back over the town and a sea of peaks in each direction. Spectacular. Back at ground level, Faskally Wood is beautiful at the best of times, but in October when it metamorphoses into the Enchanted Forest it’s a hugely popular elemental light and sound experience which children in particular will enjoy (www.enchantedforest.org.uk). The town itself is full of tea rooms and gift shops that make for a pleasant meander and the Festival Theatre hosts a Burns Night next Saturday and the Winter Words Festival (13 to 21 February, see www.pitlochryfestivaltheatre.com for details).
Stay at the Atholl Palace Hotel during October and package prices include entry to the Enchanted Forest. The helipad could also come in handy.
Lack of wi-fi and patchy mobile reception made the lodge a dream holiday destination for me, but if you really must log on, the hotel is connected to the modern world. The whole experience was a tonic.
Atholl Palace Hotel, Pitlochry, Perthshire (01796 472400, www.athollpalace.com)
B&B in the hotel starts from £115 a night per double room; Resort Collection three-bedroomed lodges from £350 for two nights in February (rates change in March), one-bedroom lodge, from around £220. (Minimum of two night stays in lodges). See website for rates