Ardoe House Hotel is just a few miles out of Aberdeen but on that short journey, which follows the course of the River Dee, you can feel the pressure fall away as the houses thin out, the trees stretch up and the views open out. Turn up the drive and into the mature grounds of the imposing granite, baronial and utterly Aberdonian building and you start to feel seriously removed from the everyday.
Budget or boutique?
Ardoe House mixes its imposing Victorian character with lighter contemporary touches. Deep wood panelling, a sweeping staircase and grand open fireplace were originally built to welcome and impress. These choices still work. Ardoe used to feel a lot more traditional – I recall lots of tartan carpet – but today it’s been chintzed up a notch or two to make a more modern impact.
What remains, however, is that certain twinkle you find in a really good hotel. That could just be from the real fire but probably it also radiates from the warm hospitality offered in these handsome surroundings.
Owner Mercure has just launched a Fireside Stories package for the autumn where guests are invited to hunker down and soak up the atmosphere as the temperature drops.
Ghost hunters have recently visited to check for happenings in the night. You may want to put another log on the fire and come a little closer.
Wining and dining
The kitchen at Blair’s Restaurant was cooking up a storm the night we visited. It was just before Halloween and the chef had obviously been embracing his dark side given the main was really an ensemble of body parts – albeit from a cow. From the glorious rump to the Jacob’s Ladder short rib and the breaded oxtail bon bon, this was a plate far more than a sum of its parts.
Each piece of beef was wickedly different in taste and texture with further interest added by blood-red roasted beetroot and a side of onion tatin.
The main was served with a glass of Élevé Malbec, a suitably moody, spicy companion.
The starter too was memorable. Hand-dived scallops were served with a clean, crisp strip of Ayrshire pork belly and a black pudding crumb with the dish perfectly in balance. Accompanied by a Whispering Hills Chardonnay, which unusually had a tropical blast, it was a gorgeous medley to enjoy before the drama of the main event.
We finished with the richest of chocolate orange tarts – dark, devilish and sticky.
You might want to wrap up your night in the whisky bar or in the sumptuous Soapie’s lounge, which is named after the family of northeast soap tycoons who built Ardoe House. In this room, the real fire burns into the small hours.
Worth getting out of bed for
The rooms at Ardoe are spacious, restful and extremely comfortable with good beds and crisp white cotton bedding. Many of the rooms are in the modern wing where the traditional touches of the main entrance are left behind for more neutral, contemporary surrounds.
Once breakfast is done, you might want to head to the pool and spa or wander around the 120 acres of woodland and garden. If you want to break the Ardoe spell, Aberdeen is a short drive away to the east. Alternatively, head west to find Drum Castle, Crathes Castle or Banchory, which is set off beautifully at this time of year by Deeside’s autumn colour.
To mark the Fireside Stories event, the hotel has worked with Aberdeen historian Dr Fiona-Jane Brown, of Hidden Aberdeen Tours, to produce a ghost and history walk for the Granite City. Guests will be encouraged to explore the city’s long, dark history and return with a tale or two to tell. A complimentary Fireside Tipple cocktail, mixed from Edinburgh rhubarb and ginger gin, apricot brandy, clementine juice and bitters is offered to guests in the dining room as part of the package.
A perfect retreat for an autumn getaway where the hospitality, dining and atmosphere make Ardoe House hard to leave.
The Fireside Stories package is available until 30 November and starts at £139 Sun-Thu, £149 Fri-Sat per night, and includes a three-course dinner, seasonal cocktail and breakfast.
Mercure Aberdeen Ardoe House Hotel & Spa, South Deeside Road, Blairs, Aberdeen AB12 5YP. Tel: 01224 860600 during office hours. www.accorhotels.com