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Travel: Blair Atholl Highland hotel casts its warm, magical spell for a festive getaway

© SYSTEMOld Manse of Blair Hotel
Old Manse of Blair Hotel

It’s difficult to imagine the Old Manse of Blair Hotel as the dilapidated and run-down ruin it once was.

The Georgian mansion near Blair Atholl lay empty for more than a decade before it was bought in 2016 and beautifully restored by Anne and Archie Macdonald.

The couple lived in the property for several years as it was transformed while raising their twin girls, who are now 14. They now live on the grounds in another property which was partly restored by Archie, whose day job is chief engineer at CalMac Ferries.

Archie describes his wife as the driving force behind the business but he was hands-on as the country house became a stylish five-star boutique hotel.

The property boasts a fine-dining restaurant serving Scottish contemporary food made with fresh seasonal ingredients and local produce.

Guests can choose from a variety of bedrooms and suites or opt for the renovated stable block or railway cottages. The number of rooms recently rose to 23 when a row of 10 with private terraces in the hotel’s walled garden was opened.

The rapid expansion recently saw Anne and Archie hand over the running of the business to Inverlochy Castle Management International (ICMI), which also looks after Andy Murray’s Cromlix near Dunblane and the Isle of Eriska near Oban.

This has given the hotel more flexibility over staffing, which Archie admitted had become problematic since Brexit and the pandemic.

When my wife and I arrived we were given a warm welcome by a friendly member of staff. The group sets high standards – it was hotel management company of the year in 2020 – so the level of service was second to none.

© SYSTEM
Fine dining in the Orangery.

We were invited to sit in front of an open fire in the lounge while our bags were taken to our room and a fresh pot of coffee was brewed.

We were then shown to our spacious suite with a king-size bed, waterfall walk-in shower and huge freestanding bath. The thick robes and memory-foam slippers, as well as a Nespresso coffee machine, were nice touches that increased the comfort levels considerably.

After a wander around the grounds, and a brief meeting with the hotel’s resident Highland cows Seoras and Seamus, we made our way to Falls of Bruar, five minutes drive away. The beauty spot has a series of waterfalls with a snaking path, which isn’t too steep and certainly suitable for prams and buggies.

Some years ago we tried canyoning at the Falls of Bruar for the first (and last) time. For those that don’t know, it involves donning a wetsuit and hurling yourself from the edge of waterfalls into the deep pools 20ft below.

As we peered down at the broiling water we questioned our sanity but in the exuberance of youth it’s certainly an unforgettable experience worth trying. And if you are going to have a go, there is no more beautiful spot than the Falls of Bruar, which once inspired Robert Burns to pen an 11-verse poem. The Humble Petition Of The Bruar Water prompted the 4th Duke of Atholl to lay out paths, bridges, viewpoints and plant trees that Burns asked for in verse, albeit after the poet’s untimely death.

After taking in the breathtaking scenery, we enjoyed a visit to the sprawling House of Bruar, essentially a shopping centre for country clothing, goods and food.

If you’re hungry and you don’t want to wade through hordes of tourists waiting for a table I’d recommend the gourmet pie takeaway outside.

For us, it was back to the Old Manse of Blair Hotel for a delicious three-course dinner in the award-winning Orangery Restaurant housed in a crisp, bright Mozolowski & Murray conservatory.

The service was exceptional and the set menu exquisite. Each course has a choice of three dishes and I opted for the smoked mackerel starter, roast duck main and passion fruit posset to finish. My wife enjoyed tomato soup, beetroot orzotto and dark chocolate delice. Perhaps it was the tasteful Christmas decorations, the glowing fire pit outside, or the personal service, perhaps all of these, but we were left with a warm feeling.

We woke to a dusting of snow outside, which gave the Orangery a magical feeling when we returned for a hearty full Scottish breakfast.

Sadly, we could only stay one night but left the Old Manse of Blair with a resolution to return in the New Year.


P.S.

The Old Manse of Blair boutique hotel is the ideal base for exploring the natural beauty of Highland Perthshire and the Cairngorms National Park.

Factfile:

Rooms at the Old Manse of Blair Hotel are £200-£400 per night. Three-course dinner in the Orangery is £65 per person.

theoldmanseofblair.com; 01796 483344.