Great Places to Stay
- Culloden House Hotel, Near Inverness
After a stay at Culloden House Hotel, near Inverness, travel writer Vivien Devlin and her partner report that they would definitely recommend this rather special and romantic hotel, filled with echoes of its rich historical past, matched by personal service and first class hospitality.
Your first glimpse of Culloden House Hotel as you turn into the drive is sure to prompt exclamations of genuine surprise and chin-dropping awe. Even if you have had a sneak preview of a photograph before arrival, there is still something exceptionally stunning about the actual view of this magnificent red-ivy covered Palladian mansion set at the far end of a beautiful expanse of emerald green lawn. Drive around the gardens up to the grand entrance with red-carpeted stairs leading up to the front door. Staff will immediately come out to assist with luggage as you step inside where the sense of grandeur continues with a huge glittering chandelier, pillars and elegant archways framing the front hall.
Culloden House is the ideal place to stay for a wide range of leisure interests, touring around Inverness, Loch Ness and many important historical sites including Cawdor Castle of Macbeth fame and the Culloden battleground. The hotel specialises in golfing holidays including escorted golf tours and personal tuition with tailor-made packages arranged for you by the locally based PGA golf professional Fraser Cromarty. There are several excellent golf courses in the vicinity including Tain, Boat of Garten, and not least the Royal Dornoch Club which attracts many leading international players.
Leisure activities at Culloden include tennis, croquet, badminton and boules. Nearby, arrangements can be made to go fishing on some of the best salmon rivers in Scotland, mountain climbing, winter skiing, horse riding, pheasant shooting, and touring the Speyside Whisky Trail of leading distilleries in the area.
The history of the house is quite exceptional and adds to the distinguished architecture as well as its special romantic and dramatic atmosphere. It was in 1625 that the original Jacobean fortified castle surrounded by the extensive farming estate of Culloden was purchased by Duncan Forbes, a wealthy fur merchant. The Forbes family remained in residence for nearly three hundred years. Duncan`s son John was renowned for his lavish hospitality and love of fine food and wine.
According to one guest, Captain Edmund Burt, it was the custom of the house that on your first visit you would be welcomed with a coconut, which was cracked open and filled with a pint of champagne. A jug of fine claret was also always kept in the hall for guests and passers-by to refresh themselves. Burt concluded that " few guests go away sober at any time."
At the time of the Jacobite rising in 1745 Culloden House was requisitioned by Bonnie Prince Charlie and used as his battle headquarters and private home, right up until the final bloody battle on Culloden Moor on 16th April 1746.
By the end of the 18th century Inverness was regarded as the Capital of the highlands, developing grand Assembly Rooms to present balls, concerts and plays for the high society. Fine country houses within spacious parkland were built on the outskirts so that families could escape the city-life and entertain in style. The present day Culloden House, redesigned and built between 1772 and 1788, is a beautifully proportioned Georgian mansion featuring the main central three-storey house, complemented on either side by two smaller Pavilions. These are built over the vaulted cellars of the original first floor of the former Castle.
Staying at Culloden House
The sweeping staircase up to the front door, as described earlier, is crowned with the coat of arms, leading you into the impressive hallway. The interior design and decoration was commissioned from the famous Adam family of architects featuring the signature pillars, elaborate ceiling cornicing, chandeliers and marble fireplaces. The classic drawing room, dressed in soft pastel shades, with huge armchairs and sofas in front of a roaring fire, is a most relaxing and comfortable place to sit anytime of the day and for drinks before dinner. Next door is the more formal Wedgewood blue dining room, a most inspiring and elegant room to enjoy a superb meal.
There are twenty-three large bedrooms, individually decorated, while the whitewashed Garden Pavilion offers exclusive private accommodation with four luxury suites, including a family room. Our room in the main house with two canopied double beds, chintz fabrics and drapes, coal effect gas fire, with fabulous views over the front lawn was very comfortable and spacious. However this "traditional-look" seems to me to be more 1970s (flowery wallpaper and carpets, modern bathroom suite) is at odds with the period style. Perhaps a fresh contemporary yet classic design incorporating plain soft and subtle colours, quality fabrics and an old-fashioned clawfoot bath, would help to recreate the true Georgian classy style. A refurbishment expense but an investment well spent to preserve the spirit of this grand and gracious home.
Dining at Culloden
As a member of Taste of Scotland, the restaurant is highly renowned for freshly prepared dishes using the finest local produce, described as " an experience of fine dining, luxury and professional caring staff". Yes, that would be our impression too.
Head chef Michael Simpson has been at Culloden for over sixteen years after training as a commis chef at the Station Hotel, Inverness. The apprenticeship must have been first class because other novices at the same time include two notable award winning chefs of today, Jeff Bland at the Balmoral Hotel, Edinburgh and Kevin McGillvary at Ballathie House, Perth. Simpson then moved to Gleneagles before working in Germany to extend his international training, before returning home to Inverness.
Each night the elegant Adams Dining Room is the setting for am epic five course menu. Starters include Terrine of Chicken and Vegetables with duck liver served with a pimento sauce, Smoked Haddock, Potato and Leek Timbale (a delicious combination) or Warm West Coast Kiln Salmon served with dill butter and salad. Then the soup course, a thick and warming Tomato and Lentil Broth with Chives - perfect when you've been out in the Highland air all day. Then a choice of four main courses, offering the very best of Scottish fish, meat and game - Roasted Loin of Highland Venison, topped with a wild mushroom and chicken mousse or as I thoroughly enjoyed, Pan Fried fillet of Halibut, with a shellfish risotto set on a creamed langoustine sauce. This was quite excellent, the soft chewy rice grains contrasting with the flaky texture of the fish. Scottish Beef was also on the menu as well as a vegetarian dish, Filo Pastry Parcel with basmati rice, spinach and red peppers.
There is a selection of traditional Scottish desserts such as Atholl Brose, a confection of honey, cream and whisky as well as fresh fruits such as Blairgowrie raspberries, and the option of a platter of local cheeses.
This was a truly enjoyable meal, served with a genuinely friendly and unfussy manner. Our waiter was smartly dressed in an attractive purple and green tartan waistcoat - the Culloden clan of course. And judging by the animated conversations between other guests as they adjourned to the drawing room and library bar for coffee and liqueurs, everyone was enjoying themselves amidst the cosy comforts of Culloden.
And Then Breakfast
After a sound sleep in our palatial bedroom, we were ready - unbelievably after such a dinner - for a good full Scottish breakfast the next morning. A great deal of attention goes into breakfast at Culloden, viewing it as one of the most important meals of the day, which it is. The menu offers everything you could possibly wish for - porridge, fresh fruit, prunes, smoked haddock, kippers, all kinds of eggs, home-made sausages, smoked salmon .. the list is endless.
There were two particular aspects about our breakfast experience that I really appreciated: firstly, there is no buffet from which you have to keep getting up to serve yourself for fruit juice and cereals. Everything is brought to your table. Secondly, my huge pot of tea had been prepared with real, loose tea. There are very few top class hotels which would do likewise and Culloden should be congratulated on this. Needless to say, my scrambled eggs and my partner's haddock with poached egg were perfectly cooked and together with fruit, toast and home-made marmalade, this was a feast for a king.
After just one overnight stay, for dinner, bed and breakfast at Culloden, we would definitely recommend this rather special and romantic hotel, filled with echoes of its rich historical past, matched by personal service and first class hospitality.
And don't just take my word for it.
"Thank you for making my stay so welcoming. True Highland hospitality"
"Absolutely splendid, wonderful staff .. would recommend to all."
"Delightful and unforgettable .. no way you can find such a thing, luxury and meals in Belgium - I will be back."
"It wasn't like a hotel at all - more like being a guest in someone's home".
As you can gather from these comments, despite the grand Georgian surroundings, due to the friendly welcoming manner by all staff there is no hint of any stuffy formality that may be experienced at other country house hotels. Guests are simply encouraged to relax in a homely atmosphere and to appreciate Culloden as "your house, to enjoy all the finest things in life."
For more information about Culloden House Hotel see their Web Site or contact them by E-mail.
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