Good Friday was our first day off this year so we decided to venture into the highlands for a relaxed weekend away. I found a deal for a small hotel on the banks of Loch Awe through Secret Escapes (my favourite website – I can easily waste hours looking through holidays I know I will never go on!) which seemed too good to be true and booked it quickly before the prices hiked back up. The drive from Aberdeen to Loch Awe took around four and a half hours, including a stop for lunch in the cute town of Crieff. I love driving around Scotland, just minutes out of town you get some of the most stunning scenery and the views only get better as you reach Loch Lomond National Park and the highlands, no matter what the weather is doing.
Half hour from the hotel, we stopped at the Ben Cruachan hydroelectric power station for a mosey around the visitor centre and a quick tour. The power is generated by letting water flow from a reservoir on top of the mountain, through a series of tunnels and turbines down into Loch Awe. The actual machine room and tunnels are all built inside the mountain, hence its nickname the “hollow mountain”. It was amazing to see the massive scale of the equipment inside Ben Cruachan when there is barely any trace of the power station from the outside.
We continued our journey on to the Ardanaiseig Hotel, driving along single lane tracks, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. When we had just about convinced ourselves we were going the wrong way, we came upon the hotel gates with much relief and excitement. The house is impressive to say the least, perched on the edge of the loch at the end of a long driveway and covered in ivy. It looks old but looked after and wonderfully cosy on a drizzly afternoon. Check-in was seamless and we were quickly shown around the hotel and then taken to our room “Etive”, a Master Garden View room to which we had been upgraded from a Double Garden View. The room was beautiful. Spotlessly clean with the perfect blend of old and modern leading to a homely, lived-in feel. One tiny negative on the room was that the bed was two singles pushed together. Not a massive deal but definitely not as comfy as having a normal double bed. No starfishing or spooning allowed!
We had a couple of hours until dinner so set off to explore the gardens. On leaving through reception we were given a map of the gardens and offered wellies and umbrellas to protect us from the Scottish weather. Our walk took us along the shore of the loch, past the “Boathouse” which you can stay in (and has the most amazing view of the water), through the trees and into the walled garden. It was the perfect walk to whet our appetites before dinner.
Since booking the hotel, we had been looking forwards to dinner. We both love food and always seem to plan our holidays around eating. We headed to the bar for a drink before our meal, sat down in front of the roaring fire and were handed the menu to browse. The restaurant holds 2 AA rosettes and is known for using fresh Scottish ingredients. The menu is small but changes every night. You can choose either meat or fish for your starter and main and finish with a choice of two desserts or a cheeseboard. I much prefer a small menu as it can take me much too long to make a decision if there are too many options! We placed our order while still in the bar and were taken to our table in the restaurant a little while later. When it arrived, the food was even better than we’d hoped for. Even though the food is pretty traditional, there are little surprises on each plate and so many bursts of flavour. Even the bread rolls were amazing with hints of curry spices and apricot. After dinner, we retired to the drawing room which was lit by dozens of candles to finish off our wine, feeling fancy and more relaxed then we had done in months.
Next morning, we managed to nab one of the tables in front of the window at breakfast and the view was spectacular, even though it was still cloudy and drizzly. We lingered over breakfast for longer than necessary, just looking out at the view. Again, the food was perfect and set us up nicely for the day ahead.
We popped into Oban for a wander after breakfast. It was raining quite heavily but, armed with a big hotel umbrella, we climbed up to the top of the town to explore McCaig’s tower where we were treated to views of the town and harbour. Back down at the pier we picked up some freshly caught scallops cooked in hot garlic butter and watched the boats coming in and out of the harbour. After warming up with a hot chocolate in a local café, we wound our way back to the car and set off back to the hotel for a cuppa and a read of our books (I’m reading “The Pearl That Broke Its Shell” by Nadia Hashimi and would highly recommend it).
Feeling our stomachs starting to rumble, we followed our noses to the bar for a sandwich. We ate looking out at the view and contemplated another walk. By that point it was tipping it down so we ended up just chatting and looking at the loch from the window for a couple of hours instead! Lazy I know but it was very wet and the bar was just too cosy!
Dinner on the Saturday night was every bit as good as the night before. This time we got the window seat so had the added bonus of the view until darkness fell over the loch. No matter how many times you see the view, I don’t imagine it would ever get old.
Ardanaiseig was everything we were looking for from our weekend away. The staff were all lovely which really makes a difference. They were helpful and friendly without being in-your-face with too many questions. The setting is breath-taking, our room was gorgeous and, of course, the food is to die for. As it is so remote, it really felt like we were getting away from the everyday stresses of work (although fear not, they do have wifi). There are lots of things to do nearby if you are looking for a more action-packed holiday – hiking, horse riding, archery, castles and boat trips to name a few.
I realise that this has been a really long post so thanks for sticking with it if you’ve got this far! Here’s a cheat sheet list of my favourite things about Ardanaiseig:
• Room names instead of numbers;
• Amazing views from the dining room, bar and drawing room;
• Lovely walks around the loch and gardens;
• Fabulous food;
• Helpful, friendly staff;
• Quirky mini greenhouses dotted around inside;
• Wellies and umbrellas available.
Rooms at the Ardanaiseig Hotel are pricy but look out for deals like the one I found on Secret Escapes or similar websites. Normal prices range from £185 per night for the Double Garden View rooms up to £330 per night for The Boatshed. I’m eyeing up the beautiful boatshed for another trip, will have to start saving!