We’d no sooner arrived at our Pitlochry hotel, the historic Atholl Palace, than we were leaving again. No, there hadn’t been a mix-up or a problem, but we were staying in their brand new accommodation, the Manor House Apartments, which have their own entrance next door. We drove carefully back down the impressive driveway, watching for ducklings and other wildlife, admiring the giant redwoods and other impressive trees, and the glimpses of the beautiful award-winning gardens for which this Pitlochry hotel is famous.
The Kitchen Garden: All Photos (c) Donna Dailey
The new accommodation at the Atholl Palace is in a small separate building, the Manor House. It’s right next door, just a minute’s walk down a set of steps, but if you have heavy luggage, as we did, you can drive round and park right outside via a separate entrance. A stone lion guards the bright red door of this lovely old building, whose rooms have been converted into spacious suites. Ours was light and bright, with a view of the trees behind the main hotel buildings. The rooms were so new that ours had a few teething problems – some doors didn’t quite close, and a wardrobe seemed to be unfinished, but they were minor hitches in what turned out to be a wonderful two-day stay.
The Manor House turned out to be just one of the alternative options to staying in the main Atholl Palace building. Around the impressive grounds are several other lodges, apartments, cottages, and even a bothy next to the Herb Garden. The striking Gothic Gate Lodge that you pass as you drive in is also available for rent, with three bedrooms, three bathrooms, four-poster beds, a wood-burning stove, and all decorated in the style of a Victorian shooting lodge.
Although there are many fine things about the Atholl Palace – its Lavender Spa, its sense of history, the food and the views from its Verandah Restaurant – it was the gardens that made us fall in love with this Pitlochry hotel. On the second day as we set out on a walk we saw red squirrels at the feeders near the hotel, and later when we returned we surprised a young red deer that was sitting in the grass just a few feet from the back of the main hotel building. It leaped up and went bounding off into the safety of the woods.
Even if you don’t leave the immediate vicinity of the hotel, you can enjoy the Herb Garden (which supplies much fresh produce to the kitchen), a Heather Garden, a Japanese Garden, duck ponds, and some of the Redwoods, Noble Firs, Western Red Cedars and other giant trees that were planted when the hotel was being built as far back as 1874. In front of the hotel are colourful flower beds, and if you want to venture a little further there are nature trails and woodland walks, one to the Black Spout woods and waterfall, past the hotel’s hidden 9-hole Pitch ‘n’ Putt Golf Course.
With much fresh produce from the garden, the dinners at the Verandah Restaurant were excellent. There was a strong game influence, but plenty of fish and vegetarian options as well on the two menus – one stays pretty much the same, while the good-value 2-course or 3-course Table d’Hôte changes daily. Or you can do what we did, and mix ‘n’ match your choices – the service was very laid-back and friendly.
For starters we tried both the rabbit terrine with wild thyme, and the Chieftain Skillet (pan-fried haggis with a malt whisky, sweet shallot and chive sauce). Both were superbly hearty dishes. Mains included such simple but very tasty options as oven-baked duck breast, organic salmon with an asparagus, broad bean and roasted garlic risotto, or sea salt and honey roasted pork tenderloin. There was also a good choice of home-made desserts (rhubarb and almond cheesecake, bramble and honey syllabub amongst the several choices), and while they were a little sweet for our taste, we still enjoyed them!
The Atholl Palace Hotel is a popular spot for an overnight stay for people on their way to or from the Scottish Highlands, being about half-way between Glasgow and Inverness and on the southern edge of the Cairngorms National Park. From London Pitlochry is at least an 8-hour drive, though most of it is on motorways. Better to break the journey somewhere scenic like the Ribble Valley or the Yorkshire Dales.
Alternatively you could fly to Edinburgh Airport and rent a car, the drive to Pitlochry being only about 90 minutes.
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