Atmospheric lakeside opulence

2010-11-05 13:13

 The miserable truth is that a great many people associate hotels with work.
Sure, once or twice a year they’ll maybe stay somewhere like the Westin in Paris, which sits between Place Vendome and Place de la Concorde, for the simple reason of its perfect location.
It’s a decent enough place, the Westin, but its expensive and busy. You don’t really feel much love. You don’t feel special.
The very wealthy aren’t too keen on not feeling special. Their money makes them special, so that’s why bored concierges, harassed
reception staff and sulky waiters don’t cut the mustard with those for whom five stars are not really enough.
Even the most boutiquey, small, intimate hotels are, for a great many visitors, a place to rest your head and not much more, a space in which to sleep between doing the things that the days bring along.
That’s why, quietly, places like
Aldourie Castle near Inverness in Scotland have flourished.
Aldourie is a restored country house, and for those with the means, it can serve the purpose of being an intimate conference
centre for high-powered executives, a perfect product launch location for luxury brands and, perhaps most significantly, a hugely impressive country house from where to host your friends and family in unmatched Scottish style.
Aldourie sits on the banks of Loch Ness, just 20 minutes from Inverness airport, which is served by daily flights from London and Manchester.
Its location lends itself strongly to sport, be it stalking and shooting expeditions, as well as some of the world’s best fishing, of course.
The staff at Aldourie can
arrange pretty much anything you like. Adventurous souls can learn to strip the willow and watch
other Scottish reels late into the night. You might want hacks on the windswept highlands or boat trips up and down the Loch, with attendant visits to the impossibly eerie Urquhart Castle, ruined in the Jacobite rebellion.
On a cloudy, murky day, there’s a sense that the ancient walls have witnessed terrible things, and they seem unable to forget it. On a day like that, it’s not hard to see why English and lowland Scots dared not venture north too much. It’s an intense place full of forboding.
But the real joy of Aldourie is the house itself, a place so ­suffused with a calm sense of ­bespoke luxury that leaving – even with a gillie and a salmon rod – is quite a wrench. The house is exquisitely refurbished, to the point, almost, of camp. It is distinctly ­unstarchy, and notions of formality fall away quickly with the stresses of city life.
The castle comes with 13 suites, each en suite and stunningly decorated in an individual style. Bathrooms are enormous, and guests are invited to enjoy long baths in Victorian tubs. All the bathrooms have views, either of the nearby highlands, or of Loch Ness. There’s WiFi throughout.
While residents are more than welcome to bring their own staff, the house comes with a complete staff of drivers, gillies, cooks, chefs and chambermaids, all of whom are capable of providing the most charming of Scottish hospitality – the chef especially. The kitchen churns out modern, accessible ­versions of Scottish classics such as haggis and black pudding.
It goes without saying that there is a hugely impressive ­collection of single malt scotches to ­enjoy over the full-sized snooker table.
If that doesn’t take your fancy, you can retire to the red drawing room, an impossibly lush and ­relaxing space, to read a book by the open fire. When the inevitable Scottish weather closes in, there is no better place to be.
Marvellous as the house is, I’d recommend a drive west towards Wester Ross. On a good day the scenery is stark and beautiful. Drive to the banks of Loch Ewe and have lunch at the Poolhouse, a quirky, deeply romantic hotel ­also decorated not quite to the point of kitsch. Indeed, if Aldourie is yours for a month or two, stay a couple of nights here. The silence rings in your ears until you get used to it.
For those whose budgets are less stratospheric, there are old gillies cottages, ideal for self-catering, on the Aldourie estate, also restored to high standards, that are far less dear. For those with the means, this place offers surely the ultimate house party in the countryside­, a holiday you and yours will remember in perpetuity. Take the castle for a month or two and invite your friends, family and colleagues. Truly, Aldourie is unforgettable­.

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