Hotel Review: Gleneagles Hotel, Perthshire in Scotland
Google ‘Gleneagles’ and the resort’s advert descriptor defines it as ‘a world class resort offering the ultimate in luxury.’ Quite a claim, but perhaps not so immodest for a hotel which has played host to one of the most significant of political gatherings, as well as one of the most famous sporting events in the world.
In 2005, it was the venue for the G8 Summit, selected as a resort fit to entertain eight of the most powerful leaders in the world, including US President George W Bush. In 2014, it staged the Ryder Cup on the PGA Centenary Course, one of its three magnificent and famous courses, which help to make Gleneagles a global golfing mecca.
It contains the only restaurant in Scotland with two Michelin stars. It is the home of the British School of Falconry. In addition, it has a gundog school, archery, shooting, tennis, riding and off road driving. All of which leads to its advertising slogan as Scotland’s ‘glorious playground’.
With this as the backdrop, expectations are set high ahead of a stay at the hotel, described when it opened in 1924 as the ‘Riviera of the Highlands’ and the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World.’ Nestled in 850 acres of Scottish countryside, this ‘Palace in the Glens’ soon became an established part of the annual calendar for high society. Yachting at Cowes, polo at Deauville and grouse shooting at Gleneagles became firm fixtures for the wealthy elite as the hotel forged its place as one of the leading luxury hotels of the world.
The inspiration for the hotel can be traced back to 1910, when Donald Matheson, General Manager of the Caledonian Railway Company, having fallen in love with the area through which the railway line ran, had the idea of a grand hotel with a focus on the ever increasingly popular sport of golf. In 1913, Gleneagles Ltd was established to operate the proposed hotel and golf courses.
The First World War halted the development in the main, although some work commenced on the design of the golf courses. Celebrated Scottish professional golfer and five times Open Championship winner, James Braid, was employed to design the courses and both the King’s and Queen’s courses opened in 1919, starting their journey to become some of the most sought-after fairways in the world.
The hotel finally opened in 1924 when the ‘avowed intention of the management was to create happiness’. The hotel gained popularity and renown in the following decade. During the Second World War, it became a military hospital and then a miners’ rehabilitation centre, eventually re-opening as a hotel in 1947. It started to become a venue for conferences, many high profile, such as the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference in 1977 and gained continued publicity from involvement in events such as the BBC’s Pro Celebrity Golf series.
In 1982, the hotel opened all year round for the first time, having previously only been open in the summer months. Continuous investment was made by different hotel owners to maintain the resort’s luxury appeal. That investment included the addition of the PGA Centenary Golf Course, opened in 1993, and like the original courses, it was designed by another multiple Open Champion, Jack Nicklaus.
The hotel has enjoyed a plethora of famous guests. In addition to the 8 leaders of the richest nations in the world, including President George W Bush, guests over the years have included Sir Sean Connery, John Travolta, Sir Andy Murray, Sir Bruce Forsyth and Ronnie Corbett. Back in 2014, celebrating its 90th anniversary, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, or the Duke and Duchess of Strathearn, as they are known in Scotland, stayed a night in the hotel.
I have a confession to make. This isn’t my first visit to Gleneagles. It’s one of my favourite hotels and I have had the pleasure of staying at it on a number of occasions. It is however, my first time at Gleneagles under its new ownership – in 2015, the resort was acquired by Ennismore, an investment fund which specialises in the luxury hospitality industry. It is already looking to capitalise on the fame and renown of Gleneagles with a sister hotel in listed buildings in Edinburgh’s St Andrew’s Square. Significant investment is being made into the hotel and resort by Ennismore.
On this visit, my wife and I were arriving by car from Edinburgh, but the hotel has its own station, two minutes away from the hotel and five hours from London’s King’s Cross. The car park is like a luxury car garage. Range Rovers dominate, but on our arrival, a bright yellow Lamborghini Urus stood out, together with a stunning Aston Martin DB11 and a couple of Bentleys. Arriving early and parking our more modest Land Rover Discovery Sport, we debated whether to leave our luggage in the car and go for a walk as it was still early morning, hours ahead of our 3pm check-in time.
Despite our pre 10am arrival, we decided to chance our luck and headed on in to reception to see if could check-in early. We walked the short distance to the hotel entrance, passing the manicured croquet lawn. The hotel is unusually attractive, mainly because it is striking in terms of its grandeur and scale, but almost drab in its appearance with a grey pebble dash like exterior. Friendly doormen greet you with genuine warmth as you arrive and walk on in to the reception desk.
On our last visit to the hotel, we had stayed in what they describe as a ‘Classic Room’ and it had been a disappointment – very small, views over a roof area covered in extractor fans and other such pipework and overnight, almost like sleeping in a sauna. We commented on how hot the room had been at check-out. Rather than any apology, we were fired a curt and pointed question back about why we hadn’t called for someone in the middle of the night to fix the heating. Not the service attitude expected of a world class resort offering the ultimate in luxury.
I’m pleased to say, the service on this occasion was exemplary. Victoria at reception was absolutely delightful and despite our early arrival, sorted us a magnificent ‘Estate Room’ in Braid House, the modern addition to the back of the hotel. Victoria accompanied us to our room, lit the fire and checked we knew where everything was before leaving us to settle in. Our Estate Room, a distinct step up from the Gleneagles ‘Classic’, was a corner room, with floor to ceiling windows offering a view back to the main hotel and the surrounding countryside, as well as having a small balcony.
The Estate Rooms are more spacious, providing a seating area with sofa and coffee table. The décor has a low key sophistication, neutral colours, touches of Scottishness in a contemporary rather than twee fashion. There’s plenty of wardrobe and storage space, a large bathroom and a well stocked mini bar, including bars of my all time favourite chocolate, the delicious Montezuma’s.
Gleneagles has four magnificent restaurants. The most acclaimed is the late Andrew Fairlie’s two Michelin starred restaurant, there’s the Parisian inspired French-American Birnam Brasserie, The Dormy Restaurant, more laid back in style and approach, situated within the golf clubhouse and finally, the Strathearn, a traditional fine dining experience in the elegant grandeur of one of the hotel’s main reception areas.
The Strathearn is our usual choice within Gleneagles, but it was closed for refurbishment during our stay, with a renovation that Gleneagles says is ‘taking inspiration from the golden age of railway travel when glamorous socialites would travel in style to Gleneagles. The new look will pay homage to that elegant spirit, through a setting that celebrates the theatre of the outdoors, the beautiful flora and fauna of Scotland, and the fine dining experiences of the 1920s and 30s.’
We ate therefore in the Glendevon, another of the hotel’s magnificent reception rooms which has views over the manicured lawns and stunning Highland countryside, usually reserved for private parties in the evening and where traditional afternoon tea is served during the day. My hand carved salmon, two different varieties, wasn’t as soft as I would have liked, potentially having sat out for too long, and the whisky barrel smoked variety was so slight in flavour as to be almost undetectable. The main of beef and fondant potatoes were however melt in the mouth.
A pigeon breast starter and wild halibut main were enjoyed by my wife. The accompanying Sancerre and Pinot Noir were exquisite. The service was wonderfully attentive, without being overbearing, water glasses were re-filled as soon as they were empty, wine menus were swiftly delivered when it looked like more may be desired and we were moving between courses and the bill for signature delivered promptly when it was clear that we were looking to depart. The ambience was enhanced with a pianist and we even enjoyed an impromptu fireworks display to rival Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations, courtesy of a wedding in the hotel that evening.
For a post dinner drink, visit The American Bar, an opulent and intimate bar, inspired by American cocktail bars of the 1920s and 1930s. Stepping into it is to step back in time, to an era of glamour and intrigue – it is a fitting location to end an evening.
Breakfast is certainly something to look forward to at Gleneagles as well. Again, usually served in the Strathearn, on this occasion, it was hosted in the Birnam Brasserie and involves every conceivable breakfast treat. A great and relaxed way to start a fresh Gleneagles day.
On a short stay, there’s no need to leave the hotel and its surrounds, with the plethora of activities to engage with. For those after fitness or relaxation, the health club has a satisfactory gym and the swimming pool area benefits from an ‘adults only’ indoor pool with sauna and steam room area, as well as a general indoor swimming pool for families and a small outdoor pool.
The only criticism would be a lack of loungers around the pools – at busy times, you are hard placed to find a spare one, let alone two together. That, and the robes and slippers provided in the room fall short. Mandarin Oriental provides gowns that are like wrapping yourself in a warm cloud, Gleneagles offers slightly tired and slightly scratchy gowns and cheap slippers. There’s a spa offering the usual array of treatments and a hair and beauty ‘lodge’ just across from the health club.
Where Gleneagles excels however, is with its offering with regards outdoor pursuits. You don’t have to take a falconry lesson to have the chance to view some magnificent birds of prey, housed at the British School of Falconry. However, if you wish to understand this ancient sport more, expert falconers provide introductory lessons and hawking days. With my wife an absolute dog lover, we’ve previously enjoyed an introductory gundog lesson, learning to control two magnificent labradors. Our two young children took their first ever riding lesson at the Gleneagles equestrian centre, leaving with beaming smiles and rosettes.
On all occasions, the Gleneagles hosts have been delightful company – both informative and friendly, and clearly experts in their field. The 3 golf courses are all a joy to play, however, in winter, the King’s and Queen’s courses are often unplayable due to the weather conditions, so to guarantee your round, they are best played in the summer months. All combined, it certainly makes for a ‘glorious playground’ and a place where you can return again and again and never tire of its allure.
No wonder it retained the crown of ‘Best Golf Resort in the World’ at The Telegraph and Ultratravel Magazine’s ULTRAs 2018 awards for the 7th year in a row. It was yet another award added to a long list, also being recognized in 2018 by the likes of National Geographic Traveller and Conde Nast Traveller. From my recent experience, all justly deserved.
Address: Auchterarder PH3 1NF
Phone: 01764 662231