If you're an avid golfer, Gleneagles is probably already on your radar. Since this 5-star hotel opened in 1924 in Auchterarder, Scotland, it's been THE place to play golf which was reinforced when it hosted the Ryder Cup in 2014. But, what about the rest of us? Is it as glorious of a playground that its brand promises?
Gleneagles is a palatial country-house and it's formal approach with manicured lawns and a 1950s Rolls-Royce decorating the drive, oozed luxury.
A cordial older gentleman in a kilt opened my car door and whisked our luggage into our spacious well-appointed Sovereign double room (containing both a living and dining area). The room was decorated beautifully and exactly what you would expect from a luxury UK country house--plush furnishings with eclectic Victorian art. Our marble bathroom was a bit small and mismatched with such a spacious room. However, the lovely smelling Asprey toiletries and thick bathrobes helped me see past it.
As soon as the porter left, my husband and I got into our swimming costumes and proceeded directly to the health club to relax. We collected a rubber wristband from the front desk to use the lockers and eased in to the steaming outdoor hot tub (enter through the family pool). If there are too many kids in there for your taste, then head to the romantically lit adults only section that has loungers, a long pool for laps, hot tub, dry sauna and a dark, eucalyptus-smelling steam room with a ceiling resembling the night sky with twinkling stars. Thirsty? There's a little nook with orange and elderflower cordials to flavour your water.
After feeling like a pair of wet noodles, we went back to the room to change for dinner. We chose to go to Auchtarder 70, the craft beer bar overlooking the golf course. It's the perfect choice if you want to share nibbles and enjoy local brews. On Saturday nights, they also have live acoustic music which was the only night the place was buzzing. We didn't mind the quiet and chatted with Dara, a young and charismatic barkeep while enjoying beers over a game of cards.
If you want something more refined, there's no shortage of dining options from the formal Strathern restaurant (jacket required for men) to the smart casual Birnam Brassiere. We chose to eat locally in Crieff after splurging at the 2 Michelin star restaurant (inside of, but not owned by the hotel), Andrew Fairlie, which I will always remember as the most disappointing and expensive Michelin-starred meal I've ever eaten.
The best meal of our stay was breakfast in the Strathern which was a daily limitless buffet plus cooked-to-order dishes of everything a glutton could want available until 10am on weekdays and 10:30am on weekends. After stuffing ourselves filled with egg and waffle-based treats we enjoyed the resort's pursuits.
For people like me who can barely manage a hole in 8 strokes, there's a 9-hole pitch and put. It's complimentary to play in addition to other lawn games such as croquet. When we tired of club-based sports, we also played tennis on their well-kept grass courts (there's an outdoor hard court as well). If it's raining, you can book into an indoor court, but it will cost over £40 between the court time, balls and racquet rental. If money is no object, there's golf school, falconry, off-road driving lessons, archery and shooting.
Since we've done all these activities on past holidays (except golf school), we decided to go on a beautiful hike on a well-marked trail in Glendevon instead.
We also walked the path around the golf course which was scenic, but far from serene between dodging balls and stepping out of the way for the numerous ATV-based mini maintenance trucks whizzing past. I was surprised there wasn't more places to walk with such a large estate. You'll need to drive about 5 miles or more to a trail head if you want a country walk.
Also, within a 20-30 minute drive are other interesting things to do:
A beautiful estate with a stunning maze and grounds where 42 kings of Scotland were crowned on the Stone of Destiny. It's best to visit when it's dry and to allocate an hour to visit the palace and another hour or two wander the grounds. Check the website for opening hours and admission prices.
In 1528, James V pushed the boat out building himself a palace at Stirling Castle decorated with 250 stone sculptures on its exterior and many more timber carved portraits lined the ceilings to reinforce his power and right to rule. You have to love a natural publicist! Check the website for opening hours and admission prices.
Even if you're not a Scotch fan, it would be blasphemy to not try this whiskey from the source. Most people probably head to the Famous Grouse for a distillery tour, but we preferred to go to a smaller single-malt brand for a more personal experience. It's £7.50 for a tour with a tasting of two Scotch whiskies. Call for tour times.
If that wasn't enough Scotch for you, there's a couple bars within Gleneagles. I popped my head in, but they seemed to be fairly empty. I really liked the speak-easy vibe of The American Bar, but I wasn't willing to part with £20-25 for a cocktail (men, remember to wear a collared shirt and shoes if you want to go).
In conclusion, we got a good deal to stay for a week in such an upmarket resort in the middle of the summer with the 'Stay on Seven' deal that included breakfast. The property offered a lot with the rate and had lovely touches with fine tea and biscuits left in the room daily and bottled water left bedside with turndown service. Overall, we had a great time, but I'm sure it's that much more glorious if you're willing to spend with reckless abandon.
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