Just Back: Scotland’s Gleneagles Hotel

Tania Swasbrook, co-founder of Vgari Lifestyle, a Travelworld International affiliate, recently traveled abroad and is back with this report.

“Isn’t that a golf hotel?” was my initial question upon being invited to serve on the board of Scotland’s Gleneagles Hotel. I was with a friend visiting from London and the look of sheer horror was evident. He calmly explained that golf was a “small part” of Gleneagles as it is really known for the amazing facilities and outdoor activities. 

“Small part of it!” I exclaimed after Google revealed Gleneagles has three historically significant golf courses, which have hosted the Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup, Scottish Open and the Women’s British Open, and will host the Senior Open Championship in 2022. “How is that a ‘small part of it?’” 

So, this is how my journey began. It was interesting to note that Europeans are well aware of this “glorious playground”… but as Americans, we have all sorts of misconceptions about it, such as the remote setting being difficult to get to or it only has golf. Located less than an hour from the capital city of Edinburgh or Glasgow, and both less than an hour flight from London, it can be said it is easier to get to Gleneagles than many places in the United States. (Tip: Delta Air Lines will even offer non-stops to Edinburgh from New York and Boston in 2022). 

I decided last minute to take my nine-year-old daughter with me. She would stay with her grandfather in London the first week while I visited Gleneagles with the board and then join me. We flew directly into London Heathrow and were whisked through security and on to the newly renovated Carlton Tower Jumeirah. That it has undergone an almost $140 million renovation piqued my interest, and the fact that Aaron Kaupp had recently taken over as general manager is what made it a “must go.” The location is fantastic (a five-minute walk from Hyde Park and Harrods) but given the comp set in London, it was never on my list. My curiosity paid off.

Estate Room, Main House

The Luxury Estate Room, Main House encompasses 430 square feet of space, offers estate views and has period features.

The arrival was seamless and the hotel impeccable. Then I got to the room. The attention to detail was out of this world. We had engraved pink keys and engraved slippers. My daughter had a teepee set up with an English tea set. That evening, after dinner, we came back to the room where they had set up a projector that simulated stars. 

Note: The gym, Peak Fitness Club, has state-of-the-art equipment, exercise classes, and a sauna and a 20-meter pool — both with actual sky views through a glass ceiling area. It’s a total game-changer in London.

Sad, but excited about what was to come, I left the next day from Heathrow for my quick one-hour flight to Edinburgh. One bit of insight is that if you can fly out of London City, it is a lot easier. Heathrow is notorious for being very strict with security and carry-ons and they did not fail this time. I had to wait almost 20 minutes for them to get my bag back as I had forgotten my eyedrops in it.

In Edinburgh, I was greeted by my smiling Scottish driver, David. Minutes later, I was in a new model Land Rover. What an excellent start. The drive is about 45 minutes from Edinburgh airport (or almost the same from Glasgow) to Gleneagles but that felt like only five minutes as I conversed with David the entire way. David had been at Gleneagles for over 20 years, something that I soon came to find out was not rare. He proudly shared information about Scotland and pointed out fun points along the road. Of course, I just had to ask him about “Outlander” and after he rolled his eyes and chuckled, he told me (and drove me by) some of the filming locations. 

Gleneagles Advisory Board at Trail Yard

The Gleneagles Advisory board convened on site in Scotland recently and learned what it’s like to “live like a local,” with Barbour caps, and wellies included. 

Literally everything is less than an hour from Gleneagles, from historical castles and characters (think Mary Queen of Scotts and Brave Heart) to vibrant cities, such as Edinburgh, to the base of the Highlands. I started to take pictures but stopped as I was just in awe. 

When we arrived at The Gleneagles Hotel, my mouth dropped. The sun was shining down on this majestic castle-like building, which was surrounded by green trees and mountains. In front, stood tall men in kilts. It was as if it were all out of a movie. I hugged David goodbye and was quickly met by Ashely (the director of international sales for Gleneagles) who was as excited to see me as I her. The work they have been doing with the travel advisor community in the United States, led by the managing director and fearless leader Conor O’Leary, has been incredible. We walked into the lobby, past the cracking fireplace, straight to my suite. Well, that’s not entirely true, as we passed the incredible corridor of shops (I was told the owner’s wife personally selected the products and arrangement of shops and you can tell!) and I may have stopped for a bit. 

My top-floor suite felt like part of a stately home because the four stories, with 233 bedrooms and 28 suites, are accessible by staircases (which I personally love). Built in 1924 with the idea to attract noble and wealthy railway travelers, the hotel was something I thought would be a bit “dated.” My suite, however, had bright colors and modern fixtures, while still reflecting the property’s history (there are options for those with more traditional tastes as well).

Donning my new Barbour outerwear that had been awaiting me, thanks to Gleneagles and Peter Bates, I put my cap and wellies on and took the stairs down to the lobby in search for some lunch. As luck would have it, I ran into Richard, who has been at Gleneagles for 30 years. In the days to come, it was uncanny how he always knew what I was looking for. He walked me to the Century Bar where he told me that the “Salmon and a glass of Chablis” was a must. So it was.

This brings me to food and beverage. I expected haggis and meat at all meals (which is available, of course) but the variety of dishes, directed by Executive Chef Simon Attridge (notable for opening of the Shard in London and receiving a Michelin star at 25) was surprising. On offer were Indian dishes, Steak & Haggis pie at the Dormy and my daughter’s favorite “make your own pizza at the Brasserie.” And let’s not forget Andrew Fairlie, serving vegetables and edible flowers from its walled “Secret Garden.” It is the only Michelin two-star restaurant in Scotland.  

The Birnam Brasserie

The Birnam Brasserie, overseen by Head Chef Stefano Furci, serves Italian and French cuisine.

I decided to go for a walk after my meal. Feeling very Scottish in my Barbour outfit, I headed outside. Gleneagles has more than 850 acres of land which makes it a destination unto itself. I can see why offroading and fishing would be so popular. I walked down to the gardens, past the outdoor tennis courts with view of the mountains (I can see myself hiking those) and golf courses. Then I realized I was going to be late for my massage so dashed back to the spa.

With its two indoor swimming pools (one adults-only) and one heated outdoor pool (including a thermal suite) the spa is its own destination; the gym is actually frequented by local members and it has high-end equipment, including Peloton. 

During my visit I quickly came to understand that at Gleneagles, everything is its own destination. The spa could be its own establishment. The golf course is obviously very well-known, and the equestrian center is one of the best in Scotland. The tennis center has nine courts (including four indoor courts). The “Shooting & Fishing School,” which, like golf, offers outside memberships, includes clay pigeon and air rifle shooting, archery and more. They even have Falconry school.

Other than drinking (being the home of Scotch, this is a whole event in itself), everything adults can do the kids can do as well. If you ask my daughter, she will agree that they cater to families and kids brilliantly. The children’s club is broken up by age, offering zip lines, hikes, bikes and more. You can train gundogs or adopt a Shetland pony for the day. Plus, every pursuit is headed up by some sort of professional, dedicated team. Favorite Moment: I took my daughter to meet the ferrets where Keenan Scott brought us such joy with his knowledge about the animals. I don’t think I have ever laughed so much seeing ferrets race (or get stuck) down some holes. 

We made a quick trip back to Edinburgh for a hard hat tour of what will become the “Gleneagles Townhouse” right smack in the middle of town near the train station. The Townhouse will be Gleneagles’ first city hotel, restaurant, and members club, and as one of the first to see it, I wondered how the concept of “Gleneagles in the city” would fly. However, they have hit the sweet spot. Gleneagles Townhouse will be in a former bank building and is like a sexy, younger urban sister to Gleneagles Hotel. It will have a boutique feel to it blended with the old estate feel of Gleneagles and maintain an Edinburgh sense of place. This will be a perfect ad-on to any visit.

As we all agreed, you don’t come to Scotland for the weather. But the warmth you feel at the estate from its people, food, whiskey and passions is palpable. My own Scottish fling was full of history, pursuits and surprises. If anyone my daughter and I meet tries to describe Gleneagles as a golf resort, we will have plenty of tales to tee up for them.

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