Travel: St Fillans, Perthshire

Four Seasons, St Fillans. Picture: TSPL
Four Seasons, St Fillans. Picture: TSPL
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THE night before arriving in the Perthshire village of St Fillans I dream our hotel room is a dormitory lined by two rows of small double beds.

While the occupants in my dream seem perfectly happy with this arrangement, I am hugely relieved when on arrival at the Four Seasons hotel, we are shown into a room where ordinarily the focal point would be the large four-poster bed with its crisp white covers and drapes.

However, my eyes are immediately drawn to the spectacular view through the window looking down the length of Loch Earn where a lone fishing boat is making its way back to shore.

As city-dwellers of a basement flat, this ever-changing panorama would more than suffice, but the hotel offers other delights which we find when we set out to explore.

The walls are lined with an eclectic mixture of artwork – both from the UK and owner Andrew Low’s visits to Asia – many of which are for sale. Beautiful pieces of carved wooden furniture are also dotted around the hotel, which outside of the two restaurants, resembles a large private home complete with wellies at the door.

Dog biscuits kept in jars in the bar and bistro are a sign of the hotel’s pet-friendly policy with animals welcomed in most of the rooms, except the eating areas. And Beatles posters and plaques at two of the six chalets in the woods behind the hotel are a reminder that the Fab Four stayed here in 1964 during a Scottish tour.

Having finished our own tour, we set out to explore the village with its enviable position on the edge of the loch and its backdrop of wooded hills. There are several local walks of varying degrees of difficulty, including a 2km (1.2 mile) river stroll and a 6km (3.75 mile) circular route which climbs up through the birch and conifer woods to a viewpoint looking over to Ben Vorlich.

For Munro-baggers, this 985m (3,232ft) mountain is a short distance from the village, with the setting-off point at the Ardvorlich Estate on the south side of the loch. With two less-than-enthusiastic pre-teens in tow, we instead walk along the old railway above the village before crossing the river to sit in the sun by the War Memorial.

We have arranged for the children to eat in the Tarken Bistro – the less formal of the hotel’s two restaurants – at 7pm, so we can enjoy a more relaxed meal in the Meall Reamhar Restaurant later on. While they eat fish and chips and fruit smoothies from the children’s menu, we enjoy a beer and the last of the sun on the deck outside.

When it’s our turn to eat we find ourselves faced with the Herculean task of choosing from chef Didier Nemesien’s impressive menu. I opt for parisienne of melon with melon consommé and fruit sorbet, while my partner has grilled sea bass, celery, walnut and red amaranth salad with a watercress and lemon dressing. This is followed by soup or iced fruit sorbet. For the main course we have grilled halibut with egg tagliatelli, broad beans, wild mushroom and seafood bisque and ballotine of rabbit with carrot and cumin mousseline, spring cabbage and caramelised apple puree. Bellies full, we decide to give dessert a miss and go straight to the trilogy of Scottish cheeses before coffee.

The next day, after a hearty breakfast, we head off to explore Crieff before visiting the gardens at Drummond Castle. Considered Scotland’s most important formal gardens, the main feature is the Saltire design of the box-hedge parterre with the sundial at its centre. Although it is too early to enjoy the colour of the flower beds, we entertain ourselves watching the peacocks strutting around the castle, taking photos of the crocodile statue by the pond and playing hide-and-seek amongst the topiary.

For garden-lovers, Drummond is one of several gardens within an easy drive of St Fillans. A scenic route along Loch Earn to Lochearnhead, up to Killin and then along the north side of Loch Tay, will bring you to Aberfeldy where you can visit Bolfracks Garden which is renowned for its collection of rhododendrons, azaleas, acers and roses and the woodland gardens at Cluny House where you can see Britain’s widest conifer tree with a girth of 11 metres.

We take this route after we check out the next day, following a repeat of our first night’s dinner arrangements and a second blow-out breakfast. However, instead of visiting more gardens we decide to get out onto the water. Having passed the hotel’s nearest watersports centre at Lochearnhead, we rent a three-person canoe from the Loch Tay Boating Centre at Kenmore, where I watch the family row off into the sun, while I settle down on the grass with my book, bringing the weekend to a perfect end.

• Stay at the Four Seasons Hotel from £87 (chalet) to £105 (hotel) per person sharing for each night. The hotel also offers specialist short breaks including romantic, golfing and wine-tasting weekends. For more information visit, tel: 01764 685333.