Travel Story Historic stays: Scotland's enchanting Fonab Castle Hotel

Fonab Castle Hotel.
Picture: Steve McKenna
Photo of Steve McKenna

With a reputation for fine dining, this 19th-century castle is a charming blend of the traditional and modern.

The Scottish countryside is dotted with quirky and attractive places to stay, from stately manors and hunting lodges to alpine-style cabins and even a converted single-decker bus.

But it’s hard to trump bedding down in a castle. There are dozens of options to tempt travellers, but few can match the appeal — or critical acclaim — of Fonab Castle Hotel & Spa. This five-star affair is perched on the shores of Loch Faskally, on the outskirts of the prim Perthshire town of Pitlochry (once a favourite summer getaway of Queen Victoria). 

Fonab enchants from the moment you first see it, from its looping, tree-lined driveway just off the A9 (the main route between Edinburgh and John O’ Groats). 

Built in red sandstone with a flurry of conical turrets, chimneys and gables, the castle is complemented, rather smartly, by neat wooden lodges that wouldn’t look out of place in the Scandinavian wilds. These new annexes have 29 rooms, but I’m happy to be staying in one of 13 “signature” rooms in the castle, which was built in 1892 as a family home for the Sandeman dynasty that made a fortune in the port and sherry business. 

Befitting the hotel’s character, my spacious turret room is a charming blend of the traditional and modern. While there’s a bygone feel to the varnished furniture and tartan-patterned carpet, the shabby-chic velvet sofa and throw, Nespresso machine and sleek bathroom with touch lighting ooze 21st century cool.

I could happily laze away an afternoon in a fluffy bath-robe, slouched on the super-king bed laden with pillows. But there are plenty of outdoor diversions worth getting dressed for. As well as strolls around the quaint Victorian centre of Pitlochry, there are hillwalking trails on the doorstep, a couple of whisky distilleries to visit, and a lively calendar of cultural events at the nearby Pitlochry Festival Theatre. The hotel’s concierge can arrange a bundle of activities, from fishing and shooting to off-road four-wheel driving. 

After spending the last few days canoeing in the highlands, I decide to give my arms and shoulders some TLC in the hotel’s spa, which is tucked inside one of the modern wooden outbuildings and has a small swimming pool and hot tub, and fragrant steam rooms and saunas.

Fonab has an excellent reputation for food and drink, and at its fine-dining Sandemans Restaurant I enjoy a multi-course, wine-paired menu with stand-outs including Perthshire lamb encrusted with herbs and served with Provencal vegetables, and slow-cooked, melt-in-the-mouth Scottish salmon, drizzled with a sambuca puree. The next evening, in the brasserie — an airy space with floor-to-ceiling windows backing on to the loch — I dine on crab ravioli, Scotch rib-eye with whisky and green peppercorn sauce and cranachan (a Scottish dessert of oatmeal, whisky, honey cream and raspberries). 

After dinner, if the weather’s good, you might fancy a nightcap on the lake-side lawn (the setting is beautiful and, in summer, the sun doesn’t set until after 10pm). If it’s a bit chilly, the Ministry of Malt lounge is a cosy alternative inside the castle, with a fantastic collection of aged whiskies. And not surprisingly, considering Fonab’s heritage, you can also relax here with a premium port.

Fact File

Disclaimer

Steve McKenna was a guest of Visit Scotland and Fonab Castle Hotel & Spa.

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