The Gleneagles Hotel, Scotland
Is there any point coming to Gleneagles if you don’t play golf? The answer is absolutely yes. Although this Scottish resort is synonymous with golf- it will host the Ryder Cup in 2014-- there is plenty to do for non golfers. Think of Gleneagles as a grand, family resort in the tradition of The Greenbrier or Sea Island, where the vibe is unfussy and relaxed, and there’s something for everyone in the family.
And the emphasis really is on “family,” even though this is the same location which famously hosted the G8 summit in 2005. Children are definitely welcome and well looked after. During my stay, there were a large number of parents pushing strollers around the resort, but there weren’t so many kids that it felt overrun with them. And where else in the world can kids sign up for a junior off-roading class in a mini Range Rover, or try their hand at the gundog school?
The huge range of activities is one of the biggest draws at Gleneagles. Think of it as summer camp, British style - and bringing wellies and a Barbour jacket is a must to look the part. Just about every outdoor pursuit imagineable is available, from horseback riding and polo lessons, to tennis and off-roading in a Range Rover, as well as clay pigeon shooting and fly-fishing. We signed up for a falconry lesson. Thanks to the help of our guide and a bag full of bird bribes (including chicken feet and raw meat) we spent a leisurely hour flying the hawks and learning all about them. FYI, the birds are a lot lighter than you'd think.
Of course golf is one of the biggest draws at Gleneagles, and it’s one of the best golf resorts in the world. There are three courses to choose from, as well as a nine hole “Wee Course.” If you’re looking to improve your game, sign up for a lesson with a PGA Pro, as my husband did. The pro videotaped his swing to give him detailed feedback, and will be emailing him a video file with further tips. Or if, like me, you don’t play golf, just take a leisurely three mile stroll around the course to enjoy the scenery; you’ll end up back at the newly renovated Dormy Clubhouse, which offers a wide selection of sandwiches, soups and drinks.
Although we didn’t have any golf kinks to work out, we spent an entire afternoon at the spa, officially called The Spa at Gleneagles by Espa. It’s a sprawling, Zen-like space with a light filled courtyard and a small reflecting pool. On every level, it was done right. Unlike most British spas, there were pre and post treatment relaxation rooms with cushiony chairs, fresh fruit and teas, and my therapist took the time to ask me what areas I wanted to focus on.
But if your preferred therapy is of the retail type, Gleneagles won’t disappoint. The shops at the retail arcade run the gamut from country to glamorous, and there’s also a nail bar and hair salon for primping. You can stock up on cashmere sweaters, Dubarry boots and Barbour jackets, or pick up a dress at Escada or diamond jewelry at Mappin & Webb.
But whether you choose to spend your time at Gleneagles at the spa or on the links, you’re guaranteed not to feel crowded. Gleneagles is spread out over 850 acres in Perthshire, one of the most beautiful corners of Scotland. It’s an easy one hour drive from both Edinburgh or Glasgow, and there’s also direct train service from London- the resort has its own train station as it was built in 1924 by the Caledonian Railway Company. Today it is owned by drinks conglomerate Diageo, and guests will find plenty of Diageo drinks stocked at the hotel, including Guinness, Baileys and a wide selection of rare whiskies.
The main building was designed in a French Chateau meets Capability Brown style, and a new wing was added in 2002. Our room was in the main building and was a mix of traditional and contemporary styles. Although the design has plenty of nods to Scotland, guests are not smacked over the head with too much tartan. Plaid pops up in the accessories, such as blankets and pillows, but the look is very streamlined. The bathroom décor was also classic, with a 1920s inspired design, complete with a clawfoot tub and subway tiles, plus a separate shower stall.
While there are 232 guestrooms, those looking for even more space can book one of the 26 suites. The largest are the Spirit Suites, located on the top of the hotel, with sprawling living and dining areas.
Guests will find a stronger Scottish influence in the restaurants. The most formal space is the Michelin starred Andrew Fairlie. Although we didn’t have time to sample it, the menu is French with a Scottish twist. We did spend plenty of time at Stathearn, the main dining area which serves a massive buffet breakfast as well as dinner. Although its fine dining, it’s hardly formal; you can wear jeans to breakfast although business casual is preferred for evenings (and children are welcome).
It’s impossible to count calories in the morning when faced with a smorgasbord of Scottish treats such as Ayrshire smoked bacon, potato scones and several types of smoked salmon (not to mention the fresh berries, black pudding and smoked haddock). Scottish fare is also in abundance at dinner, which, in a charmingly old fashioned nod, used plenty of trolleys; there were trolleys for nearly every course, including cheese, salmon, flambéed steak and crepes.
If you aren’t completely bursting full by the end of your meal, you can finish off the evening with a drink in The Bar. Choices range from vintage drinks like a Singapore Sling or a Blood & Sand (created for a Rudolph Valentino film), or modern classics such as a Basil Grande, with pear juice, vodka and basil. As with everything at Gleneagles, even the drinks menu offers a charmingly perfect mix of the classic and contemporary.
Rates start at £420.
The Gleneagles Hotel
Auchterarder, Perthshire, PH3 1NF Scotland
Phone: (+44) 01764 662231 or (866) 881 9525 (USA)