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Gleneagles hotel in Scotland is too cool to care about its centenary – review

Gleneagles hotel review on its centenary year: too cool to care
Gleneagles hotel review on its centenary year: too cool to care

After 100 years of service, the grand Gleneagles hotel in Scotland is just getting going, says Adam Bloodworth

An ash grey morning, and seven Land Rovers are driving in convoy to the peak of a Scottish mountain. Each vehicle is filled with picnic paraphernalia, champagne – of course – as well as tables and chairs. It is a tough journey, but at the peak the drivers would set up the picnic to end all picnics, with the view to end all views. Cough up enough and Gleneagles will park a brass band up a mountain for you. Nothing is off limits.

That morning, the banqueting spread was laid out ahead of guests helicoptering in. When they arrived, they took a bite of a sandwich and a photo, then jumped back in the chopper. Their visit lasted shy of ten minutes. It could only be at Gleneagles, the Scottish country pile celebrating its centenary this year.

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Day one of my visit this spring, and I found myself on the hotel’s private loch (you read that right) with Yuri, job title: ‘Head of Adventure.’ He was regaling me with his most outlandish stories from serving some of the wealthiest people in the world. We had been fishing in the loch for rainbow trout in weather he described as “raw,” a term for when the word ‘cold’ just doesn’t cut it. We watched the clouds pass low over craggy outcrops and tuned into the only sound, the crash of the boat paddles hitting the water.

The approach to the Gleneagles hotel on the fringes of the Scottish Highlands
The approach to the Gleneagles hotel on the fringes of the Scottish Highlands

You can hire a boat and, yes, a private loch, or a luxurious picnic up a mountain, whatever the hell you like, as part of Gleneagles’ ‘Adventures’ programme, which has increased its revenue fivefold over the past decade as guests crave access to local Scottish culture. Even if it means getting frostbite, dragging international tourists around in the freezing cold is now pulling in not just hundreds of thousands, but a million annually.

The Gleneagles hotel at 100: ‘We’re more interested in the future than the past’

It is a formidable hulk of Georgian architecture, its grey colouration playing into the cliche of miserably misty Caledonia. Count yourself lucky if you arrive and the sun’s out, but the bad weather makes it, really

All the while, the grand old dame of Scottish hospitality is keeping relatively quiet about her centenary. Hotels often use the occasion of their 100th to promote themselves, but two months into their centenary year, Gleneagles’ publicity team had no confirmed plans to mark the occasion. I told general manager Conor O’Leary it felt like the hotel was playing the occasion down over breakfast the following morning. “Your instinct is partly right,” he said. “We want to talk about the future.”

Arriving by train from London, I’m met by a chauffeur in one of the hotel’s appealing forest green Land Rovers. The message? “We do rough and luxurious rolled into one!” A few minutes’ drive later and Gleneagles appears through the Scottish mist. It is a formidable hulk of Georgian architecture, its grey colouration playing into the cliche of miserably misty Caledonia. Count yourself lucky if you arrive and the sun’s out, but the bad weather makes it, really.

Get inside, and the emerald green facade of the original 1924 statement clock takes up the entire wall behind the check in desk. It’s the first reminder that nothing much has changed in Gleneagles in a hundred years. It’s a labyrinthine Art Deco tableaux, from splendid restaurants to grand staircases. Only Claridge’s and The Savoy feel like this, but here there’s space to breathe. Like only the most fabulous hotels, there is an effervescence about the place you cannot put your finger on.

Natural light – or natural mist, bringing the outside in – is a focus at the Gleneagles hotel
Natural light – or natural mist, bringing the outside in – is a focus at the Gleneagles hotel

There is always energy. Grace the lobby at three in the morning and someone will be breezing past wearing something fabulous. It’s contagious. Some poor sod was sculpting perfect lines in the grass outside. God knows how he could see between the curls of fog but that wasn’t my problem: we were safe in the clasp of the Century Bar, where at four o’clock in the afternoon it felt more like ten at night. The barkeep made it his duty to force feed me whiskies and later we headed to The Strathearn, the hotel’s flagship restaurant that is so ostentatious that Oscar Wilde would have told the front of house staff to tone things down a bit.

It’s as much about what’s outside as the excellent modern British cooking within: the windows frame the chequered lawns, tennis courts, golf courses and falconry in the garden. Gleneagles is preparing for a takeover of Scotland. Airbnb-style homes on the Isle of Skye are in the works, as is the chance to dine with herds of Highland cows in the middle of nowhere. The property seems to have a penchant for taking people up mountains for things they usually do at the bottom of them. Rumour has it you’ll be able to brush the cows – an extremely Marie Antoinette-ish experience – for an after dinner treat.

Owners once considered opening multiple UK Gleneagles outposts, but the property now sensibly realises its best utilising home turf, becoming the embodiment of a kind of catch-all luxury Scotland. There really isn’t anything quite like Gleneagles. In England there are posh country piles like Coworth Park and Seaham Hall, but by comparison they’re miniscule in both size and aspiration.

Sipping an espresso, O’Leary agrees there’s no direct competition. It seems a mad thing to admit but there’s no being humble about it. The spa could do with a revamp, but honestly, who goes to Scotland to get warm

Visit the Gleneagles hotel

To book go to gleneagles.com or call 01764 290015. Adam travelled to Gleneagles from London with The Trainline from London King’s Cross

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