By Ashley Davies
One of the thrills of staying in old castles is knowing there’s a good chance you’re sleeping in a room that may have been occupied by the great and the good of the past.
This place has had more than its fair share of big names, from Queen Victoria – who spent a week here sketching the landscape in her youth – to President of the American Confederacy Jefferson Davis. More recently, guests have included Robert De Niro, Bryan Ferry, Elton John, Steve Coogan and Sean Connery. Oh, and Barbara Cartland; it is impossible not to imagine her descending the staircase, all powdered and perfumed.
At first glance, this might look like an early 18th-century castle, but building didn’t actually start until the 1860s, when this baronial style was all the rage.
Inside, it is luxurious, ornate, chintzy and cosy, with a huge sitting room, the Great Hall, where you are encouraged to lounge around to your heart’s content, reading, listening to the occasional pianist, fighting off snoozes in front of the roaring fire or playing board game. One floor up is a rather smart billiards room with a proper snooker table, and the heads of several stuffed stags looking down disapprovingly at your lack of finesse on the baize.
Wining and dining? Executive chef Philip Carnegie presides over a kitchen that thoroughly deserves its Michelin stars and AA Award for Culinary Excellence. The daily changing menu is big on fish, local meats and seasonal produce, all carefully and creatively prepared and tantalisingly presented with a modern British bent. And in recognition of the fact that even people who don’t eat meat appreciate kitchen expertise, the vegetarian menu is utterly mouthwatering and exciting. The autumn truffle omelette with Jerusalem artichokes and baby leeks is a particular highlight. Quality pre-supper nibbles and little treats amuse your bouches, and particularly fine coffee complements the dining experience, in which you can indulge in one of three rooms. Non-guests are very welcome to visit for lunch or dinner.
Room service? None of the 17 rooms is the same, but all have enormous beds, luxurious linen, splendidly designed bathrooms and dreamy views. It is a shame, though, that they don’t have tea and coffee-making facilities. Hot drinks can be ordered, and they come on a marvellous tray with great silverware and biscuits, but you do have to pay extra.
Budget or boutique? By no stretch of the imagination is this a budget hangout. The most expensive suite is £695 per night.
Worth getting out of bed for? Nobody could accuse Fort William itself of being the most bonny town in Scotland – a terrible shame, considering how many visitors pass through it – but it is a useful jumping-off point for some of Scotland’s most extraordinary sights and activities, and has every reason to call itself the Outdoor Capital of the UK. There are loads of adventure sports to choose from, including white water rafting, climbing and mountain biking. There is a great deal of walking for all levels, from a simple, horizontal riverside stroll to a seriously challenging climb up Ben Nevis. Or you can make use of the Mountain Gondola cable car system to get a whole lot higher than your legs might take you on their own. Old Inverlochy Castle, a ruin dating back to the 13th century and sitting on the banks of the River Lochy, is a half hour walk away. Also worth a look is Neptune’s Staircase, a compelling arrangement of eight lochs on the Caledonian Canal, designed by Thomas Telford, and the Ben Nevis Distillery.
There is also plenty to do in the picturesque grounds of the hotel itself. It has its own loch (the most famous photographs of the hotel with the loch in front are actually taken from the other side of the water), and you’re welcome to take the little boat out for a romantic row. And depending on the time of season, you may see the geese that fly over from Canada every year. They are descendants of a previous owner of the hotel, who brought a gaggle over in the middle of the last century, and now about 200 of them come back every winter.
Little extras? The impeccable service is one of the best things about this hotel. Whether it’s getting your muddy walking boots cleaned after a yomp on the hills or having someone miraculously appear with your key when you need it, you are made to feel very special. There is complimentary water in the rooms and posh products in the bathroom.
Guestbook comments? The service is exceptional and the setting exquisite.
Bed and breakfast, from £265; a four-course dinner costs £67 per person (01397 702177, http://www.inverlochycastle hotel.com)
This article first appeared in Scotland on Sunday on 28 October, 2012