Put locally-sourced seafood and stunning Scottish scenery centre stage of your staycation at Loch Fyne Hotel & Spa
Over the past year a multi-million pound revamp as part of Crerar Hotels’ newly focussed portfolio has put this perfectly placed hotel back on the map. I expect it to stay that way for many years to come.
Our visit, during an unassuming week in October, which promised less than perfect weather, turned out to be a popular one. In fact, as we learned, the hotel has been busy since the lockdown was lifted. With refurbishments finished during the pandemic, social distancing is almost part of the fabric of the hotel, with subtle but stylish mahogany-framed screens separating tables in the restaurant.
This is the overriding first impression: one of style, but not in a way that lacks substance. The restaurant is striking but not oppressively so, decorated in an earthy, natural palate of blues and browns that bring the lochs and mountains outside, in. There’s a smattering of tartan that makes you smile when you spot it. And the black and white photographs of fishermen and women, hauling creels or else digging for clams, ensures the magic of your Scottish surroundings is around every corner.
The subtly Scottish, stylish theme continues in our room, Craws Nest. With its own separate sitting area, this is the kind of suite you could comfortably stay in for a week or more. The porthole window peers right across the tranquil expanse of Loch Fyne – no distractions. This room, along with the other named suites (Glen Ord, Lagavulin & Hen’s Coup), is in the oldest part of the country house hotel and exudes warmth and character. Its beams and sloping floors, combined with the nautical window, add to the romance and the sense that we are floating in a boat out on the loch itself.
Having arrived in heavy rain, yet keen to make the most of our time, we are soaked through by the time we check in after a walk around Inveraray Castle. The hot rain shower and Rose, Lime and Sandalwood-scented ARRAN Sense of Scotland toiletries are an indulgent way to freshen up and begin the evening. We also enjoy the well-stocked welcome tray, which includes delicious Scotland-based businesses such as Tunnocks teacakes and Brodies tea and hot chocolate, as well as cafetière coffee. By the time we discover robes and slippers to lounge in, we are already feeling thoroughly pampered and at ease in our miniature home-from-home. There are two televisions, a radio and even a desk space. You really could spend weeks here.
And for those who like to combine their mountain-climbing with a hot stone massage or soak in a hot tub, you’re going to like the sound of this: using ishga skincare products from the Hebridean Isles, Loch Fyne Hotel’s spa therapists can personalise treatments to your needs, whether you’d like the full five-sense-awakening top-to-toe experience or a no-nonsense express focus on some sore back muscles or everyday shoulder tension.
The food & drink
With its new menu, the Cladach Mòr Bistro, which means ‘great shore’ in Gaelic, takes its lead from the region’s heaving natural larder. Argyll’s sea lochs create a unique refuge for seafood, especially shellfish, which thrive in these steep-sided basins that are sheltered from the elements. Never far from the shore, its easy pickings for local fishermen.
The King Prawn cocktail topped with giant local langoustines is just one example of how the chefs use the fresh ingredients at their fingertips to create traditional dishes with a twist. Another of our favourites was the deceptively simple samphire side salad, which was the perfect, zingy companion to the rich seafood linguine.
The meat – Lammermuir Luing grass-fed beef and red deer venison – is also locally sourced from none other than Crerar Home Farm. The hotel’s Spanish Josper charcoal-fired grill cooks these fine cuts to perfection, with the help of some very talented chefs of course! Their finesse is the main reason this restaurant is AA Rosette-winning, after all.
Breakfast is also a revelation, with all the classics on offer, including a full Scottish breakfast with all the trimmings (Charles Macleod Stornoway black pudding, Campbell’s haggis, potato scone, you get the idea) as well as some more inspired and exciting options, such as fresh Scottish oysters or bean cassoulet. You really can live like a king or queen here.
In the area
Argyll’s concertinated landscape, rising and falling countless times across the horizon from rocky peak to placid loch, is ripe for exploring. Inveraray offers a central base, with the iconic valley of Glen Coe to the north, the Arrochar Alps and Loch Lomond to the east, Argyll’s Secret Coast to the south and Oban to the west.
There are a few unmissable, and slightly more off-the-beaten track, gems however. The first is Dunadd Fort in Kilmartin Glen, a rocky outcrop encrusted with the remarkable remains of an Iron Age fort: crumbling stone walls, inscriptions and most remarkable of all, carved footprints possibly used during inauguration ceremonies. Though the site is far older, it is internationally renowned as a royal power centre of the Gaelic kings of the kingdom of Dál Riata, from about 500 to 800 AD.
Also in the valley, and visible from the top of this hill, is an expansive and extremely boggy basin, known more grandly as Moine Mhor or ‘great moss’. Managed by NatureScot, it is a protected piece of a wild landscape – a tapestry of hummocks, hollows and pools – that is increasingly threatened in Europe. Look out for hen harriers in winter, or osprey fishing along the river.
The Crinan Canal, also known as ‘Britain’s most beautiful shortcut’, is a brilliant option for a walk if the clouds are low and munro-bagging is out of the question. The canal starts at Ardrishaig on Loch Fyne, and ends nine miles away at Crinan and the Atlantic Ocean, a vital link in the supply chain to the Highlands and Islands. Clyde Puffers, special cargo boats designed to travel the Crinan and Forth & Clyde Canals, used to be common sights, but now only two are left. You can spot Auld Reekie and Vic 32 at the canal basin in Crinan.
You must of course head north to Glen Coe (just over an hour’s drive from the hotel (The Green Welly Stop at Tyndrum has refreshments) to experience the other-worldly loch pocked landscape of Rannoch Moor and the picture-perfect munros of Buachaille Etive Mor and the Three Sisters. En route, keep your eyes peeled for Kilchurn Castle on Loch Awe and snap your own brooding Scottish castle photo. Once the powerbase of the Campbells of Glenorchy it is now one of the most photographed ruins in Scotland.
Of course Inveraray itself has its fair share of sights. Its own castle, now a country house, is just as prestigious as Kilchurn, if not more so, though far from ruined. The home of the Dukes of Argyll and the seat of the Clan Campbell to this day, the contents of the 18th-century Inverarary Castle span many generations. With 16 acres of gardens, a tearoom, woodland walks and the house itself to explore, visitors come from all over Scotland to visit this must-see relic of Scotland’s clan history. While staying at Loch Fyne Hotel & Spa, you’re just a 20-minute walk away. We did say it was perfectly placed.
To find out more or to book in, visit www.crerarhotels.com/loch-fyne-hotel-spa