“ Address: Atholl Palace Hotel Pitlochry Perthshire PH16 5LY / Scotland „
At the start of October I was luckier than some. Three weeks after losing my job I was hired by one of our national banks. Whilst I was aware another chunk of my soul may be lost in the process of working for another big corporation, I was also aware that it could be a long time before I could get a decent holiday. I had a week before I started in the role. I began to think up fanciful ideas of where my boyfriend and I could escape to before I started the role. Paris? Maybe Venice? Eventually, we settled on the more realistic and affordable option of a UK short break in a luxury hotel. With much excitement, we decided to head north for a one night spa break in Atholl Palace Spa Hotel in Pitlochry, just an hour and a half outside of Edinburgh.
*~M'LORD AND I MAKE OUR WAY TO OUR HUMBLE COUNTRY ESTATE~*
In my eagerness to get to the hotel and make full use of the facilities, we set off for the hotel in the late morning. We arrived there a good two hours earlier than our check in time and were rather pleased with what we found. The drive up to the hotel is very befitting of a palace. The road curls up round a hill which the 'palace' is situated on top of, a palace which is somewhat grand, if in a rather staid, Scottish style. If you wish, you may even take the opportunity to pretend you are lord and lady of this manor, driving up the road to your own country estate...
Entering the hotel lobby with our luggage we were met by a polite and welcoming lady on reception who was very accommodating despite our early arrival. She even apologized for not having our complimentary drinks ready for us and invited us to come back down later for them (Of course, she need not apologize. We were considerably early). After booking our meal times and confirming our spa treatment we headed up to our rooms...
*~OUR COSY LITTLE BEDCHAMBER~*
Now I wouldn't say our room was anything special. We would really have had to have paid out extra for a more extravagant turret suite or feature room, some of which have four poster beds. However, I was satisfied with what we got. Our bedroom was a pleasant and somewhat cosy affair. It was comfortable, clean and tastefully decorated. We had the usual freebies - coffee, tea and some shortbread next to a travel kettle; shampoo, conditioner and shower gel in the bathroom. If I could state any gripes at all with the room it would be that there was no green tea in the freebies basket, no shower cap and that the bathroom was too white for my liking. Is that even a real complaint? The bathroom was too white?
*~A SPOT OF AFTERNOON TEA~*
We weren't slow in getting ourselves down to the spa. After an hour spent in the swimming pool and jacuzzi we resurfaced to obtain our complimentary drinks from the reception. We were served a delicious honeyed whiskey liqueur. I say delicious as even though I am not a fan of whiskey this was really easy to take to. We sipped at this drink in the lounge whilst we waited for our afternoon tea to be prepared.
Now I've never had afternoon tea before. It always struck me as a very British thing to do amongst old biddies. However, apparently it is something that is quite in vogue now and after having afternoon tea at Atholl hotel, I could certainly get into the habit of having it more often.
Those who were scheduled for tea at 2 o'clock did have to wait a little longer than expected to be allowed entry into the Verandah restaurant where the food was being served. This generated impatience amongst an older couple who made their feelings known. I did get the impression that the staff were operating at a rather relaxed, almost sleepy pace. This could have something to do with the fact that it was a weekday, the hotel was rather quiet and only a few of us were actually about for Afternoon Tea. My boyfriend and I weren't all too bothered by the wait. We'd just come back from a refreshing swim in the pool and our minds were in holiday mode. If anything the unrushed service added to the calming atmosphere of the hotel. It was nice to just sink into the comfy lounge chairs and chat inanely. I'd take a guess and say that they were an older married couple and maybe they'd had enough of each others inane chatter over the years. I swear they barely uttered a word to each other during their tea, her husband barely looking over the top of his paper throughout the whole meal.
The food itself was brought out on a three-tiered cake stand and there was plenty of it. We started off with the selection of sandwiches and savoury scones with smoked salmon on top. I enjoyed the sandwiches but wasn't much of a fan of the savoury scones but that's due to personal preference more than anything. I'm not a savoury girl. I did however love the sweet scones provided which tasted very rustic and traditional and were lovely smothered with jam. The cakes, I ended up smuggling back up to my room for later as I was absolutely stuffed. One of these cakes had butter icing, glitter and stars on top and tasted absolutely delicious.
I was definitely very satisfied with my afternoon tea. It provided me with a relaxing, tasty and filling meal. Even if the service was a little slow I found the staff polite and thought it was very nice of them to substitute my cup of tea with a glass of lemonade for free. In addition to this, sitting in the verandah, we had some stunning views of the scenery outside, its forests and rolling hills. Even in a city like Edinburgh, life can seem a too fast-paced at times and it was nice to take things down a notch in this glorious setting.
*~MY VERY FIRST PROFESSIONAL MASSAGE~*
After our afternoon tea we made our way back down to the spa, located in the basement. We had scheduled lava shell massages and I was really looking forward to it as it was my first professional massage. Certainly, the girl who provided the massage did not disappoint.
The massage lasted for somewhere around 40 or 50 minutes and it was absolutely fantastic. She covered various areas of my body including my back, legs and even the palms of my hands and creases of my fingers, which I found particularly relaxing. It was good to let go of any pent up tension in my body as I'd been quite stressed in those three weeks of unemployment.
After the massage, I was led into a room with two lounge chairs. This area was set aside for some post-massage relaxation and I certainly took advantage of it. I found I was able to make myself some Twinings Green Tea and Cranberry and lay back in my seat waiting for my boyfriend to come out of his massage session. I felt rather pampered!
The spa itself is terrific even if you haven't scheduled a treatment. There is a heated indoor pool, a Jacuzzi, a steam room and a plunge pool. We particularly enjoyed the indoor pool as, being an October weekday, it was so quiet and we had it to ourselves for a large portion of the time. It is also great to not have to endure the chill and discomfort of an unheated pool. Absolute luxury!
*~OUR EVENING MEAL~*
After spending a considerable portion of our afternoon in the spa we attempted to make ourselves presentable and headed to dinner. I was quite nervous about dinner as I had read bad reviews about the food but hoped that it would be as enjoyable as our afternoon tea.
I'm glad to say that dinner actually exceeded my expectations, at least in terms of the starter and main course. We both ordered a seafood starter. I cannot for the life of me remember the name of this starter but it comprised of a sort of half pureed concoction of seafood including prawns. This was actually tastier than it sounds. It had a great spicy kick and it was undeniably more-ish. For our main course, my boyfriend got a pork dish and I got a beef olive dish. The beef olive dish also was better than I expected too. It was very tender and served in a mouth-watering sauce. It also came with delicious asparagus and potato sides. It was just a shame that the dessert was rather disappointing. I ordered profiteroles. These profiteroles were of the ice cream variety rather than the fresh cream variety and I didn't find them particularly brilliant. It reminded me of something you could buy in Iceland. They really need to work on their desserts!
*~WINDING DOWN FOR THE EVENING~*
After dinner we spend some time exploring the hotel, its little nooks and crannies, including a Games room. My boyfriend and I played a game of backgammon before we decided we could find somewhere more comfortable to relax. The games room was certainly not the best place to chill out in. It is rather sparse and neglected, its décor more suited to a store room. It's just a shame that they haven't considered taking this room and redecorating it, filling it with comfy chairs and atmospheric lighting. Surely it would transform the room into an absolute treasure.
We just didn't feel at home in the place and decided it'd be better to grab a drink or two at the Stagshead Bar on the ground floor. This bar looks like your traditional dark wood game pub. It's the type of place you imagine a group of flat-capped men would gather after a pheasant hunt. I much preferred the lounge areas to the bar as the chairs were much more comfortable, so we took our drinks through to there. I must say that I appreciated the service of the staff at the bar and elsewhere in the hotel. If they were passing by and saw you gazing at a drinks menu they were attentive enough to come over to you and ask you if you would like anything. I also must compliment the Polish guy who was on the bar that night as had to endure the most patronizing older gentleman, who treated him like a child when he wasn't quite up to speed with his Scottish whiskey knowledge. I'm not sure I could have managed to be quite so polite and professional on this occasion.
After a couple of rum and cokes, my boyfriend and I retired for the night. I must admit I was a little bit disappointed with our bed. I had hoped that in a 4 star hotel I'd have a bed I could sink into. However, the bed was rather firm and distinctly average. This was one of my few gripes with the place. Although I had a rather good night of sleep, I've had better.
*~HOME AGAIN ALREADY?!~*
We woke up in the morning hungry for breakfast. Sadly I wasn't that impressed with what was on offer. A mixture of hot and cold food, it was buffet style and I thought that it was pretty standard in terms of taste and quality. It was great that there was haggis and black pudding but it was very, very average. Moreover, I'm always disappointed when cooked breakfasts have no hash browns. It just isn't a cooked breakfast without them.
I do wonder if my opinion of breakfast was just a matter of personal preference. My boyfriend, for example, thoroughly enjoyed breakfast. Maybe I am just picky?
Certainly, breakfast filled me up for a large portion of the day and we went for a swim in the pool after (This was a bit of a mistake - we definitely should have went swimming before breakfast. I had a stomach like a rock).
After a swim and a shower, we checked out of the hotel and I must admit that, even if the bed and the breakfast could have been better, I did come out of there feeling happy and relaxed - exactly what I hoped from the place. It was just a shame we had to head home...
*~A PEACEFUL SCOTTISH RETREAT~*
We stayed at Atholl Palace for no other purpose than to be treated well and escape our usual everyday life in Edinburgh. It is great to stay somewhere that offers you much more than just the basics. Lord knows I've stayed in enough hostels and economy hotels in my time.
If we really wanted there were several facilities we could have taken advantage of. There was a gym, a tennis court, a putting green and even a museum about the hotel located in the basement. We didn't visit the museum as I didn't fancy paying any more money than what it cost to cover our stay. However, it is fascinating to know that the place started out as a 'hydropathic establishment' which ran on 'strict temperance principles to treat people in the healthy air of Pitlochry'. Crazy Victorians and their frivolous ideas!
So we did not visit the museum but we did take advantage of the gardens and walks before we left. The gardens of the hotel are lovely and I can only imagine how stunning they must be in the summer time. It was just a shame it was a grey and dreary day when we had a look round...
*~A FOUR STAR REVIEW FOR A FOUR STAR HOTEL- but it has so much more potential!~*
We definitely had an enjoyable time in the hotel. I found that the staff were polite and I appreciated that they kept some distance from you, allowing you your own space to enjoy your time there. I also appreciated the price of the stay. It was £135 each which is in no way cheap but I thought it was good value as it was all inclusive of the room, food, spa treatment and use of the spa facilities. And my god, the lava shells massage was good!
My stay was certainly not without criticism. As I have said, the beds and food at breakfast could be better and there a few other things they need to sort out. One thing I love about the hotel is the entrance lobby and the lounge with its elegant lighting, antique furniture and traditional interior design. However, some of the décor gives you the impression the hotel has had its day. Some of the carpets and curtains, for example, are ghastly. Whoever chose them has questionable taste. Now, in no way do I want them to depart from the traditional Scottish country house look but they desperately need to update parts of the hotel.
I think that whilst the hotel is good it has so much more potential. It just needs something extra special that really makes it stand out amongst other 4 star hotels. Maybe a revamp of the games room or a brand new games room? A refurb that gets rid of its hideous carpets and curtains? Some changes and some added sparkle and, maybe in future I can award this place five stars.
I've given my visit to Atholl Palace hotel a four star rating because even though it had its faults I did have an enjoyable stay there and would consider going back there in future. I think that it would be particularly wonderful to take some friends up there for New Years as its holiday celebrations look particularly promising (if only I had the time and money!).
Whilst in some ways this hotel needs a big hard kick into the 21st century, overall I had a very pleasant stay there.
Atholl Palace Hotel is a great place to sit back, relax and lose all sense of time. With its relaxed, country atmosphere it is a great place to escape a busy life and leave your troubles behind you.
*~Thank you very much for reading my review : - )~*
*~Also published on Ciao under Renza - November 2011~*
Extra Tip: From the months of May to September, the hotel even has its own outdoor swimming pool! (if you're crazy enough)