Highlands’ own little piece of Eden

WELCOME to the super glen. It boasts butlers, French chefs, is modelled on an £86,000-a-week Caribbean villa and can be found about 30 miles from Inverness.

The Glen Affric Estate, a Victorian hunting lodge in Inverness-shire, has been taken over by the famous Eden Rock hotel – in the French West Indies – and will open its doors in April as an extreme-luxury lodge catering to every whim of the super-rich.

The lodge is aimed at the “ultra-luxe” market, just like the Eden Rock at St Barths in the Caribbean, which is one of the world’s top hotels and attracts guests such as Steven Spielberg, Penelope Cruz, Sir Paul McCartney and Daniel Craig.

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The Glen Affric Estate will aim to provide guests with a luxury “Highlands” experience, including deer stalking, whisky tasting, helicopter rides and meals cooked by a team of French chefs flown in for the occasion.

The lodge will join a portfolio that includes two villas, Nina and Rockstar in the grounds of Eden Rock in St Barths. At the appropriately named Villa Rockstar prices start at around £12,400-a-night and guests enjoy a dedicated butler service, a circular bathroom finished in handmade, pure white gold tiles and access to their own cinema, gym, a garage full of luxury cars and a recording studio which contains the console used by John Lennon to record the song Imagine. Villa Nina, at a slightly more moderate £5,780-a-night, has its own art gallery, two swimming pools and a whisky bar.

Although Glen Affric is several thousand miles away from its fellow villas, booking and “customer care” for the lodge will be run from St Barths. The company has yet to put a price on its forthcoming rental of Glen Affric but the estate lodge has eight bedrooms, restricting numbers to private groups of 16, and it will only be available to guests on an exclusive basis.

David Matthews, the Yorkshire businessman who owns Eden Rock and whose son Spencer stars in the Channel 4 reality TV show Made In Chelsea, told Scotland on Sunday: “We are just at the point of concluding three years of work to sensitively refurbish Glen Affric. What we are attempting is something a bit different. I love the place and I am delighted to be involved in it in this way.”

The estate covers 10,000 acres of land, has its own trout loch, and is set within Glen Affric, often described as “the most beautiful glen in Scotland” and a favourite on TV commercials and shortbread tins. The building itself was originally constructed as a hunting lodge by Sir Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks, the first Lord Tweedmouth, a Liberal MP, reputed to have bred the first golden retrievers there. It was bought by the Matthews family in 2008 and has been fully restored since.

The property also hopes to offer pursuits such as fly-fishing on its own loch and several rods on a nearby salmon river, quad biking, cooking demonstrations and an artist’s studio.

A spokesman for Eden Rock said: “The Glen Affric Estate will be for the ultra-luxe market. There will be a wonderful wine cellar, a great whisky selection, and fantastic cuisine. We are hoping to bring our French chefs from St Barths and make it a really exclusive experience for our guests.

“Our unique selling point at Glen Affric will be nature, and we want to protect the space. People want to come for a wonderful experience and it’s a place that’s so beautiful it can force you to become quiet and appreciate the scenery. If people want to go on a helicopter trip, however, that’s what we’ll arrange. We will adapt to all our guests’ requests.”

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The top end of the tourism market has proved resilient, even during the recession. The super-rich enclave model in Scotland was pioneered by Skibo Castle, the exclusive five-star property near Dornoch where Madonna married Guy Ritchie. Opened by entrepreneur Peter De Savary but later bought by a Wall Street consortium, it is run as a private members’ club.

Membership will not be required at Glen Affric. “It’s not restrictive but it is exclusive,” the spokesman said. “The Matthews family like interesting people, and not all interesting people have money, so it’s not all about who can afford it. Everyone will be welcomed but we are limited to how many we can accommodate.”

Eden Rock, recently named the top hotel in the Caribbean, is the most exclusive hideaway on St Barths, a known playground for the rich and famous. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was a regular haunt for Hollywood A-listers such as Greta Garbo and Brigitte Bardot, as well as tycoon Howard Hughes and the Rothschild and Rockefeller families. It later fell into disrepair and was bought in 1995 by Matthews and his wife Jane, who restored the hotel to its former glory.

The island is now a haven for the super-wealthy.

Russian oligarch and Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich hosted a Hogmanay party at his home there last weekend, which was rumoured to have cost £5 million and featured a private concert by rock band, the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Mike Cantlay, chairman of VisitScotland, said: “Investment in Scotland’s tourism industry is key to Scotland’s future. There are almost £2 billion worth of projects under way to improve tourism infrastructure across the country and this new development is another welcome addition to this. The Highlands continue to be one of the jewels in the crown for Scottish tourism and the opening of another luxury hotel is testament to the area’s eternal appeal.”