Ardanaiseig is the magical name of one of the most romantic and atmospheric luxury hotels in Scotland. We reached it after about ten miles of driving along single track roads, the first six miles to the village of Kilchrenan, and another 3.8 miles along an even quieter road that takes you through woods and alongside Loch Awe to the front door of this magnificent hotel that was built in 1834 as the home of Colonel Archibald Campbell of Clan Campbell. Today it’s owned by an antique dealer from London, and there are endless splendid pieces from his private collection throughout the hotel, which all add to the joy of being in this beautiful building.
See our YouTube slideshow of our visit to Ardanaiseig
All Photos (c) Donna Dailey.
We’d no time to enjoy the hotel when we checked in, though, as we had a date with Scotland’s top chef. Gary Goldie has been head chef at Ardanaiseig for 13 years, and has been voted Scotland’s Chef of the Year. This is only one of his (and the hotel’s) many accolades, but there’s nothing grand about Gary. He offers to go foraging for mushrooms with any guests who are interested and who arrange it in advance. We’d said we were interested, and when we arrived in the late afternoon Gary said it was the perfect time to go out.
After he’d made sure everything in the kitchen was going as planned, Gary (left) took us out around the grounds. ‘Four o’clock is about the best time to go. That’s when I usually go to kitchen garden to get some borage, and then have a look for what I can find.’ He dashed under trees as he spotted mushrooms half-hidden in the grass, sniffing and cutting them with his hand-made mushroom knife. ‘Look at that,’ he said, showing us one prize specimen, ‘that’s almost a starter in itself.’
Chanterelles, ceps and girolles all went into his basket along with wild herbs picked from the side of the path. He gave us samples to try – wild sorrel, meadowsweet, hairy bittercress. ‘Here’s some wood sorrel. I’m going to use it in the tomato soup tonight. Some of the mushrooms will go in a beef dish I want to try.’ Our mouths were watering already.
See our separate review of what has been chosen as Most Romantic Restaurant in Scotland.
Ardanaiseig has a wonderful location right on the shores of Loch Awe, the longest freshwater loch in Scotland at almost 26 miles from end to end and renowned for its trout fishing. The champion British brown trout is almost always caught in Loch Awe, and other fish in the 300ft-deep loch include rainbow trout, sea trout, salmon, perch, pike, arctic char and eels. The hotel can help fishermen with boats, permits, equipment, fishing guides or fishing lessons, for anyone interested. You can find more about fishing on Loch Awe at www.loch-awe.com.
We walked down from the hotel to the side of the loch, and watched another guest bravely enter the waters in his wet suit. He swam out to one of several crannogs that are just offshore here, and when we spoke to him later we found out that he and his wife, and their two dogs, had driven for 3 days all the way from Switzerland so that they could spend a week at Ardanaiseig, before driving the 3 days back again. That’s how much the hotel appeals to people. Other guests used the hotel’s boats to get out onto the water and enjoy the stunning Loch Awe scenery. We remained strictly landlubbers and explored the hotel’s grounds on foot.
The grounds at Ardanaiseig are wonderful, in the true meaning of the word – full of wonder. There is dense and atmospheric woodland you can walk through, paths down to two different shores of Loch Awe, hidden jetties, a walled garden, giant rhododendrons, and even a secret cemetery from the time when Ardanaiseig was a private house.
Although it rained for a few hours on our second morning, it didn’t dampen our spirits. We relaxed in the guest lounge, browsing the newspapers and magazines, and watching the changing face of Loch Awe through the windows. It was a rare chance for us to unwind and do nothing very much, till the rain eased off and we went for another walk in the wet woods, thankful we’d discovered this very special place.
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