The best winter hotel breaks in Scotland
The nights are drawing in, you’ve dug out your thermal underwear, and are mentally preparing yourself to face months of bone-chilling winds. Sian Hickson suggests you treat yourself to a stay in one of Scotland’s many cosy winter retreats. After all, ‘tis (almost) the season to be jolly
The Lovat, Loch Ness
This beautifully restored hotel has been inspiring excellent reviews since refurbishment was finished in 2007. The Victorian main building is supplemented by studio annexes, with rooms done out in a hybrid of classic 19th century grandeur and contemporary chic, including walk-in showers and enormous squashy beds to complement glorious vistas over the loch and the Caledonian Canal. The restaurant is not to be missed, featuring over 100 whiskies to sample (possibly not in one evening) and a sparkly cocktail menu. They’re all about going the extra mile at the Lovat, with diligent attention to detail throughout and home made biscuits proffered on departure. ‘We want our guests to be able to kick back and enjoy spontaneous natural hospitality,’ says owner Caroline Gregory. The hotel takes its green credentials very seriously – it’s run on rigorous ecological principles, and Gregory not only offsets all her guests’ carbon emissions, she also offers a discount to those who take public transport to the hotel. During November and December Gregory is running a cracking offer: three nights for the price of two. See website for details.
Perfect for: Monster-spotters and eco-loving romantics seeking a short break with a difference.
Rooms: From £48 per person per night, including breakfast. The Lovat is offering List readers a complimentary upgrade on all bookings made before the end of the year. For telephone bookings quote ‘The List’; for online bookings enter ‘The List’ as the promotional code.
The Lovat, Loch Ness, Fort Augustus, PH32 4DU 0845 450 1100
The Glenelg Inn, Kyle of Lochalsh
This former coaching-inn is a unique, quirky place to stop off while waiting to go over the sea to Skye. The Glenelg is a haven of comfort and warmth after the breathtaking slalom journey down past the Iron Age brochs from the village, with its six bedrooms combining bright, cosy, quaint prettiness with views of the wild grandeur of the Kyle outside. The showpiece master bedroom is kitted out with sailor-stripes, a rattan chaise longue, opulent bathtub and a telescope through which you can spy on the descendants of the otters who inspired Gavin Maxwell’s Ring of Bright Water as they frolick in the rockpools. There’s a brasserie serving great food from the local farms and fisheries – the venison is highly recommended – and super-cosy armchairs in which to curl up with a selection from the Inn’s stash of old books, plus obligatory crackling log fire. The hotel bar is popular with hikers and locals alike, with a convivial atmosphere, real ales and frequent spontaneous outbursts of reeling and merriment from live musicians. A grand place to get a genuine slice of West Highland winter life.
Perfect for: Lone travellers, local culture, fireside frolics.
Rooms: From £40 per person per night including breakfast
The Glenelg Inn, Glenelg, Kyle of Lochalsh, Ross-shire, IV40 8JR 01599 522273
Cringletie House, Peebles
Twenty miles south of Edinburgh lies the baronial sandstone splendour of Cringletie House, with its enormous armchairs, sumptuous rugs, and people who know the proper way to fold a napkin. This is the place for a traditional country-house experience; it features all the gorgeous, old-fashioned touches you would expect: Chesterfields, gold-leaf and floral arrangements abound, the staff are wonderfully attentive, the formal restaurant serves fresh produce from the walled garden and, most thrillingly, there’s giant chess, putting and croquet in the grounds. There’s a lovely old reading room, where you can hide away with a book in comfort and tranquility, strike some languid laird-of-the-manor poses in the hotel bar, or take a warming bath with accompanying yummy toiletries courtesy of Molton Brown. Check out the ornate baroque ceilings in the drawing room (they’re splendid) or just retire to your boudoir with a complimentary decanter of whisky or sherry for those in the deluxe and junior suites.
Perfect for: Splashing out on country-house chic, anniversaries.
Rooms: From £150 per night including breakfast
Cringletie House Hotel, Edinburgh Road, Peebles EH45 8PL 01721 725750
Alladale Wilderness Lodge
Alladale is a long way from anywhere, on top of a heather-covered hill, which provides awe-inspiring panoramas of the Sutherland wilds. It’s a renovated stalking-lodge that caters for parties of up to 14, as well as being just the thing for smaller weekend getaways. Couples seeking a romantic retreat can perch in either the Eagle’s Crag or Ghillie’s Rest bothies, which are tucked away in their own corner of the glen. Guests bed down in celeb-styled luxury, with interior furnishings designed by Laura Ashley and the bathrooms done out by Fired Earth. Alladale also runs a fitness retreat package that includes hiking and professional massage. There’s a gym, but if that sounds too energetic for you, snuggle down in front of the fire swaddled in one of the natural lambswool blankets and do nothing at all. The lodge is ideal for spotting the seasonal wild beasties of the Highlands: capercaillie, pine martens and red deer can all be seen doing their thing in the 23,000-acre surroundings.
Perfect for: Wilderness luxury, the likelihood of snow, and the moon peeping through the gloamin’.
Rooms: Lodge from £2300 per night, Eagle’s Crag from £700 (sleeps 4), Ghillie’s Rest from £400 (sleeps 2 + 2), all full board in January.
Alladale Lodge, Ardgay, Sutherland, IV24 3BS Tel: 01863 755 338
The Albannach, Baddidarroch, Sutherland
The Albannach is owned by friendly couple Colin Craig and Lesley Crosfield, who are currently celebrating 20 successful years as restaurateurs. ‘Our ethos is to be informal without losing any quality,’ says Crosfield. ‘We don’t want people to worry about dressing for dinner. And when it comes to dining, we were using fresh, local, seasonal produce long before they were buzz-words!’ As the pair have recently been awarded a Michelin star, their approach certainly seems to have paid off. The rooms are gorgeously cosy, lamp-lit affairs with their own private sitting rooms, and the showpiece Byre suite also offers its own private terrace, which includes a hot tub. Enjoy some stargazing through the steam, while snacking on tasty home-baking and sipping a glass of wine from Craig’s well stocked cellar. The Albannach is closed throughout January and most of February, but the winter deals run all the way to Easter, and there are various offers on stays longer than one night.
Perfect for: Fine dining, lochside strolls and log-fired cheeriness
Rooms: From £125 per person per night (including dinner and breakfast)
The Albannach Hotel, Baddidarroch, Lochinver, Sutherland, IV27 4LP 01571 844407
The Tontine Hotel, Peebles
Built by French prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars, the Tontine still retains a certain Gallic flavour. The family that runs this 36-bedroom hotel has striven to create a home-from-home within the stone-clad environs of Peebles High Street, fostering a convivial, friendly approach with the bar frequented by locals as well as guests. It’s well worth having a flick through their selection of newly-introduced Lazy Days packages, themed itineries which include a book lover’s trail taking you to nearby places associated with James Hogg, Sir Walter Scott and John Buchan, as well as advised cycling and country walking routes. Guests can dine on hearty winter fare in the ruby-walled Georgian splendour of the Adam Room and stay in en-suite rooms with lovely views over the River Tweed, or enjoy the bustle of nearby Peebles, all romantic castles and locally-made craft shops.
Perfect for: Town breaks, literati, exploring the Scottish Borders.
Rooms: From £55 bed and breakfast, £77 including dinner – or look out for the New Year Winter Warmer rates: £105 pppn for three nights’ bed and breakfast, £99 pppn for two nights’ dinner, bed and breakfast, January–March.
The Tontine Hotel, 39 High Street, Peebles, EH45 8AJ 01721 720892
The Mill O’Cara, Orkney
On the shores of Scapa Flow sits this remote Orcadian gem – a self-catering cottage close to Kirkwall and a short walk from an unspoilt beach. The Mill can cater for six, with one double bedroom and one twin plus a hidden sleeping area, and comes with a wonderfully airy mezzanine living space, a balcony kitchen, and a burn running through the garden. It’s a peaceful haven of light, tranquility and seriously spectacular views, plus a wood-burning stove and under-floor heating to keep you toasty during the long winter nights and a cosy attic where you can curl up with a book in a comfy leather chair. If you fancy sampling some of the local delights, the award-winning Creel restaurant is a mile and a half away in St Margaret’s Hope, along with local shops and a host of pubs that are well known for their convivial musical gatherings.
Perfect for: Families, seaside solitude, superlative stargazing.
Rooms: From £625 per week. Sleeps six.
The Mill O’Cara, South Ronaldsay, Orkney, KW17 2TQ 01856 781376
Changue House, Barr, South Ayrshire
With enough bed space to cater for the whole clan (it sleeps 12) this luxury 4 star self-catering country house would be just the ticket for a Hogmanay gathering in grand style. Situated in three-and-a-half acres at the edge of Changue Forest, Galloway Country Park and a mile’s wander along a forestry road from the unspoilt conservation village of Barr, the 18th-century former home of the Laird of Changue (who famously had a fight with the Devil and won) is a secluded woodland retreat from the modern world. If you’re planning to spend time unwinding, the owners can let you know of all the latest offers giving access to the gym, steam room and infinity pool at the local spa. Changue House was refurbished only two years ago, and owners Sue Frost and Barbara Pitkin have kitted the place out in grand style including a huge staircase, a piano, and a full-sized snooker table. There’s plenty of opportunity for frosty rambles, hardcore mountain biking and a cozy log burner in the drawing room to relax by at the end of the day
Perfect for: Family gatherings, reunions, retreats, winter wonderland-scapes.
Rooms: From £1100 for a week’s hire in January – if there’s 12 of you, that’s just £91.60 each.
Changue House, by Barr, South Ayrshire, KA26 9TN 01465 841 654