Gleneagles is the place so many go for a milestone celebration and luckier guests make an annual trip to this recently-refurbished sporting playground. It’s a place for pleasure, and leisure, and we were lucky enough to spend a weekend enjoying Gleneagles’ laid-back luxury
As a building, it’s perhaps not the prettiest from the outside, but what it lacks in finesse externally, the hotel more than makes up with its modern, contemporary interiors, faultless service and an impeccable sporting pedigree. It’s hard to know where to start with this hotel. From the moment we arrived, to the time we very sadly had to say goodbye to this slice of Scottish paradise, we loved every minute.
The recent multi-million-pound refurbishment has seen the hotel return to its Art Deco roots. Much of what has always made Gleneagles so special remains, but new, contemporary touches somehow make it feel incredibly homely. The rooms are a clever mix of classic and quirky. Restful shades and traditional-looking furniture sit easily alongside whimsical knick-knacks and beautiful contemporary artwork, meaning the rooms each have their own personality. The beds are big, the bathrooms bigger, and as you would expect in such a hotel, those special little touches (goodies in the bathroom, complimentary mini-carafes of gin and whisky, and piles of books) all contrive to add to the boutique feel of the bedrooms. Our lofty room had a window seat, resplendent with mountains of cushions, from which to enjoy the panoramic (and dramatically ever-changing) view across the golf course to the Ochil Hills beyond.
As beautiful and as comfortable as our bedroom was, with so much to do here I fear we hardly did it justice in terms of time spent there. We tried lunch in the Century Bar, a sunny lounge with astounding views, supper in the bright and airy, Parisian café-style Birnam Brasserie and dinner in the two Rosette Strathearn restaurant which has more of a formal feel (apron-clad waiters still flambé your crepe suzettes at the table). It’s here breakfast is served, and it would be remiss not to give it a special mention. In fact I think it is probably the best hotel breakfast we’ve had – but all the food we tried was delicious. On both evenings we enjoyed cocktails in The American Bar, a clever take on a 1920s speakeasy. Dark and intimate, it’s worth dressing up for. We were treated to some special cocktails, hand mixed with all the drama they deserved in such surroundings, and served from a golden, gleaming Art Deco trolley. Here, as throughout the hotel, the service was faultless.
Although we were determined to make the most of all the sporting pursuits, we did make time for a trip to the hotel’s spa. With indoor pools and saunas, an outdoor heated pool and cocooning relaxation areas there’s loads of opportunities to de-stress and sort those aching muscles. It’s a soothing environment and the spa’s café focusses on revitalising superfoods, whilst the ESPA treatment menu includes all manner of indulgent face and body treatments.
Famous for many things, Gleneagles is of course synonymous with golf. There are three championship courses here, plus a PGA Academy which has its own nine hole, par three course perfect for beginners and families who are getting into the game. There’s also a pitch and putt course below the hotel to potter around. We head to the Academy for a lesson (the bit I’d been dreading) but amazingly it was far better than I could have hoped – clearly despite not having played for a long time, some of those long-ago parental lessons had paid off. Despite an (almost) creditable performance, we avoided showing ourselves up on the challenging championship courses, choosing instead to walk them, to get a feel of what they were like – plus it meant we could enjoy the spectacular views from nearly every hole.
The afternoon saw us at the British School of Falconry, which is based at Gleaneagles and we eagerly (sorry) headed over for our first ever introduction at close quarters to some of the most magnificent birds of prey who call it home. We are each given a Harris Hawk to fly – apparently they are the easiest birds of prey to work with as they are relatively sociable. We are shown how to hold our arms out with our hands clenched so the birds can perch comfortably, (the left hand of course – leaving our right free for any ensuing sword battles), how to swing forward to allow the hawk to fly, and how to encourage him to return with lumps of fresh meat. We took a hawk for a walk, and watched mesmerised as he (Hamish) chased and caught a fake decoy rabbit. We only had an hour with our hawks but there are opportunities to take the birds, including a golden eagle, out hunting on the surrounding moorland.
The following morning we headed up to the Shooting School for some clay target shooting. Luckily (I read) many guests at Gleneagles come to clays as novices (that’s me) but tuition here is second to none. After our initial introduction which included just getting used to the weight and feel of the gun (and the headgear) we soon headed up to the stands. Surrounded by nature, the hills in the distance and the sun breaking through, I would have been happy just watching – the setting was memorable enough – but after a few (near) misses we did get our eye in – and the thrill of hitting the target was exhilarating. John, our instructor, couldn’t have been more helpful (or entertaining) and we soon moved across the range to try shooting from various different stands. We were just beginners but this is a world-class facility where even the most experienced shooters can test their skill and iron out any foibles. The school’s home is a wooden lodge on the edge of the estate – all wooden clad with stags heads and a massive open fire. There are rows and rows of wellies, waxed jackets, archery bows and rods and reels. It really is the most incredible place.
It is worth emphasising that Gleneagles is very much geared to families and children are as well catered for as the adult guests. The Den – a hangout area for tweens – does have PS4s, Xboxes and a cinema space with chill-out bean bags to lounge on and books and DVDs aplenty, but there’s plenty of old-fashioned fun too for younger ones in Little Glen, a fully supervised creche with an indoor tree house, sandpit, dressing up boxes and a craft corner for creatives. If that’s not enough, the kids can join in with the sport too and they can even drive a mini Land Rover, try their hand at gundog training and falconry, plus of course make use of the Equestrian School and Golf Academy.
We packed as much as we could in to our short time here and would like to think we did try and do Gleneagles the justice it deserves. Its reputation as an iconic hotel made me think it might be stuffy, or possibly a bit pretentious. It’s neither of those things. The exceptional service always came with a smile – the staff seem to love the hotel as much as the guests and much of that came through. The impeccable attention to detail, the delicious food and the amazing variety of activities available all in stunning surroundings mean that whether you are celebrating something, or simply want a fabulous family break, this is where you need to be.
The Gleneagles Hotel
Auchterarder, Perthshire PH3 1NF