Planning a staycation to Scotland? We don’t blame you. With its ruggedly beautiful scenery, smattering of lochs and famed food and drink offerings, it is rightly thought of as a place of pure magic.
Appetite is only growing for the most northern tip of the UK. It’s become cool to reconnect with nature, and even before the pandemic people have been looking for an escape from their busy lives in the city. More than ever, it seems, there’s a want and need to explore this country’s treasures; from the pastel skies of Dornoch to the heather-covered hills on the Isle of Skye.
But where to stay? Now, that is the question. Scotland has natural wonders in abundance and it’s also fast becoming home to a hub of the coolest hotels in the UK.
For this reason, we suggest that you make your hotel stays the anchor for your trip to Scotland. With accommodation options like a gothic tower which sits on the site of ancient witch trials and an art dealer’s hotel housing a real Picasso, it’s all part of the experience.
Here, we’ve tried and tested the absolute best hotels in Scotland to give you the heads up on those that are unmissable. Hey, it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it, right?
The Fife Arms, Braemar
The Fife Arms isn’t just accommodation, it’s an experience. Reminiscent of the days when people would take a trip to just stay at a hotel, The Fife Arms is a wonderland of art, food, history, secret rooms, horticulture and incredible views across the Cairngorms.
First for a little context: the small highland village of Braemar rose to popularity back in the late 19th century after the royal family acquired Balmoral. Being only a 12 minute drive away, Braemar was one of the closest places that high society could stay and so this gigantic, beautiful Victorian hotel was built.
Back then, the hotel was considered one of the grandest in Scotland, but by the 1980s times had changed and the descent of its former glory eventually ended in closure. Fast forward to 2019 and The Fife Arms was ready to open again under new ownership, international art dealers Iwan and Manuela Wirth. This opening came after an in-depth and inspiring renovation, seeing art become a focus for the hotel to tell the stories of Braemar.
For example, the dining room has been used as a floor-to-ceiling mural painted by artist Guillermo Kuitca. He used the River Dee, which runs directly next to the hotel, as inspiration for a piece which stretches across the whole room and portrays the changing seasons of the landscape. While, in the lounge a charismatic Picasso casually hangs, sitting next to elaborate tartan walls and swirling, colourful ceiling – another artist mural.
Things to do include exploring the wildflower garden in the rear of the hotel, visiting a waxwork of Queen Victoria in a Cabinet of Curiosities-style study and sipping cocktails in the disco ball-lit Elsa’s Bar, named after the fashion designer who coined the colour shocking pink. Between taking an art tour of the hotel, checking out the spa, getting a pint in The Flying Stag and munching afternoon tea in the lobby, this hotel is a holiday all on its own.
From gorgeous rooms to incredible food and, of course, the jaw-dropping scenery of the area, The Fife Arms really is bucket list-worthy.
The Witchery, Edinburgh
Thanks to Edinburgh’s gothic architecture and dramatic past, its streets are brooding with history and atmosphere – both of which contribute to the experience at The Witchery.
This 16th Century building has been an opulent restaurant and rooms since the 1970s and sits just downwind from Edinburgh Castle, directly on the Royal Mile and the site where in the reign of James VI, hundreds of women were murdered for suspected witchcraft.
After 50 years of welcoming diners and overnight guests it has become an iconic part of the city. It has two restaurants; The Witchery is the original and feels very intimate with ornately carved, dark wood panelled walls and booths that look like church pews, glowing with candlelight. The Secret Garden, meanwhile, resembles a glamorous crypt, which you’ll find down in the belly of a nearby subterranean site. As you descend the staircase, foliage can be seen hanging overhead, while stone angels and urns are positioned around the tables.
The Witchery’s exclusive nine suites, however, take the theatrics to a whole other level. Each one is unique but all are outrageously over-the-top with eccentric features such as hidden doors and even a pipe organ as a headboard. These rooms have been heralded as some of the most romantic in the world, and it’s easy to see why; think four poster beds and huge, gold gilded baths for two.
If you’re looking for something stand-out, this hotel is sure to give you an experience you’ll never forget.
Kinloch Lodge, Skye
Scottish hospitality could be characterised by the warmest of welcomes, comfortable and cosy surroundings, incredible food and drink, as well as beautiful scenery. Kinlock Lodge has all of this in abundance and much more.
And who better to welcome you to the Isle of Skye and this stunning hotel than Isabella Macdonald, whose family have owned this lodge since the 18th century. Her father Godfrey, Lord Macdonald and High Chief of Clan Donald, and his wife, world-renowned chef Claire, transformed their home into a hotel in 1972 and have since left Isabella, who is a wonderful host, at the helm.
This great, white lodge has a stunning position on the Isle of Skye, kissing the shores of Loch na Dal and backed by a rugged mountain (a great place for a long walk before dinner). In the distance you can also see the Cuillin mountains which make for a dramatic backdrop for your trip. It’s a perfect spot to explore the island as lots of must-see destinations are within an hour’s drive, such as the mystical fairy pools and the Talisker whisky distillery.
Rooms at Kinloch Lodge are classically homely but we’d recommend exploring as much of the house as possible. The ground floor is the perfect place for cosying up and enjoying a good book thanks to its roaring fire, sea views and squishy sofas. A little bird even told us that some guests have been known to dose off in there after a cup of tea and some cake, so it’s clearly a relaxing space.
But its the dining room that is unmissable. This is the ultimate place for a romantic evening as diners sit at tables positioned towards the breathtaking views, cocooned in deep, navy panelled walls which are adorned with oil paintings and sample the tasting menu by candlelight.
The food is some of the best you’ll taste in Scotland. Think langoustines caught just down the road that very morning and cloud-like whipped butter, seasoned with salt from the sea outside the window. The freshness and purity of the seasonal, sustainable menu is simply a must.
Links House, Dornoch
It’s hard to find peacefulness like that of standing on Dornoch Beach in Inverness. With flat, pale sands and the benefit of a micro-climate which delivers pink-lilac sunsets, this spot is more than special. It is just one of the many natural wonders that fan out from Links House, a five-star highland retreat in the charming town of Dornoch.
For those looking for an escape from modern life Links House is a godsend. Brilliantly managed, the passionate and friendly team behind the hotel are keen to assist guests in planning excursions such as hiking, biking, fishing and guided tours of the area. Or, simply trundle around the small shops and cafes in the nearby town, take long walks along the beach and perhaps try your hand at golf, courtesy of the world-renown club, Royal Dornoch, which sits just next door. Truthfully, you could never leave this gorgeous hotel and have the time of your life.
There are plenty of options when it comes to rooms, and the collective style nods to authentic Scottish hues and patterns. But, those looking to really make the most of the hotel should consider the bespoke apartments. The penthouse, for example, has a private balcony with beach views, a cosy snug with roaring fire, a plush kitchen, dining area and a huge bedroom which is decorated with antique furniture and sumptuous soft furnishings. Oh, and don’t forget the walk-in shower and bath positioned under a skylight so that you can see the stars.
Food is an important talking point also when it comes to Links House. The in-house restaurant, Mara, is themed around “gifts from Scotland’s fields, forests and skies” with an approach that is simple, fresh and supremely delicious. We recommend trying the tasting experience which boasts eight courses with highlights such as seared Highland duck breast, slow-cooked Highland wagyu featherblade and Highland fine cheeses.
Combined with some of the most beautiful scenery you’ll ever encounter, a team of staff who are as knowledgeable as they are kind and the special magic of the area, Links House is the stuff dreams are made of.
The Grandtully Hotel, Grandtully
While historic buildings with sympathetic decor suit Scotland well, The Grandtully Hotel is a fresh, contemporary reprieve from hotels themed on dark colour palettes and rich fabrics.
It’s owned by Ballintaggart, a family-run group known for its experiential farm which invites guests to stay, enjoy the surroundings and restaurant, or even try out the cookery school.
The Grandtully Hotel has been created with a similar focus on food and the venue’s casual restaurant and outdoor terrace serves up seasonal, local produce alongside an experimental drinks menu.
The hotel has eight bedrooms which have a clean-cut, simplistic feel and feature bathrooms: think pastel metro tiling and free-standing baths with luxurious toiletries.
It’s a lovely mix between modern trends and a homely feel in a simply gorgeous spot. We recommend extended your stay to experience the farm’s on-site restaurant as well.
The Three Chimneys, Skye
Skye may be a small, remote place but it’s home to one of the most revered dining experiences in the whole of the UK. In fact, we’ll bet you’ve heard of The Three Chimneys for its stand-out restaurant alone.
Looking out over the shores of Loch Dunvegan, this tranquil spot benefits from nature in both views and the sourcing of its produce. Indeed, most of the ingredients on the menu sourced from local crofters, foragers, fisherman and farmers living within a few miles of the restaurant.
Not only is this a unique position to be in, to have such an abundance of incredible bounty in such close, fresh proximity, it makes a huge difference to the food – which is amazing. Think oysters that taste like the sea, pillow-soft scallops, tasty Black Isle beef and fantastic drinks pairings, as recommended by the brilliant staff.
Speaking of the team – the best way to experience this restaurant is by booking the chef’s table which enables you to sit right there in the kitchen, watching the magic happen. It really is the kind of thing you’ll never forget, so if you can, do.
And, after a meal which we think will be one of the best in your life, you’ll want to collapse into a comfy haven of bed. The Three Chimneys has these, too. The House Over-By is right next door and has six calming rooms for relaxing in. Decorated with serene hues that reflect the surroundings, this is a wonderful place to put your feet up or go exploring all the glory of nature just outside the window.
Images: Links House / courtesy of venues