Great Places to Stay
- The Eisenhower Apartment, Culzean Castle
A suite of rooms at the top of Culzean Castle were gifted to General, later President Eisenhower, for his use during his lifetime, by a grateful nation via the National Trust for Scotland. The rooms can now be rented from the Trust. Here is travel writer Vivien Devlin's experience of staying in these fabulous apartments.
Eisenhower Apartment, Culzean Castle
Imagine waking up in a spacious and elegantly furnished bedroom in an 18th century Castle, then pull back the curtains and observe the view. High rugged cliffs with crashing waves below, and stretching into the distance in all directions is the Firth of Clyde; looking directly west on a clear day you'll see the mountains of Arran and to the south the long tail of the Mull of Kintyre peninsula. Surrounded by a rich sense of history and stunning landscape, this must be one of the most beautiful, exclusive and romantic places to stay in the world.
Culzean Castle [ pronounced Cull-ean] was designed for David Kennedy, the 10th Earl of Cassillis as a "bachelor pad" to entertain his friends, by the prestigious Scottish architect, Robert Adam, between 1777 and 1792. The task was to transform the original fortress to a romantic and fashionable castle. It has been described as a story-book castle and regarded as a fantastic example of his architectural genius.
The Eisenhower Apartment is so named because this spectacular suite of rooms on the top floor of Culzean was offered to General Dwight Eisenhower in 1945 as a lifetime tenure, denoting a gift from Scotland in gratitude to his services during the Second World War. Eisenhower felt greatly honoured by such a generous presentation and visited Culzean several times, once as President of the United States. For a temporary period the castle - ideally fortified and secluded - became the Scottish White House, where he could combine politics and pleasure, invite members of his government staff, entertain friends and arrange family gatherings. In his retirement he would spend longer periods here, where he liked to enjoy golfing, painting and walking through the woodland and along by the shore. He is quoted as saying " This is a place I can relax".
Eisenhower died in 1969, and the ownership and administration of the Apartment reverted back to the National Trust for Scotland. Now everyone can have the pleasure and privilege of being able to stay here and relax for a magical few days, being part of a most exclusive house party, with a maximum of twelve people, and sampling the very best of Scottish hospitality and cuisine. There are six very individual and charming bedrooms, all with private facilities. The Eisenhower suite itself, with canopied twin beds, traditional features, fireplace, and furnishings is probably untouched since the President's time here. My partner Ken and I were given the Ailsa Suite with a magnificent four poster bed, an enormous bathroom and terrific views over the battlements and out to sea.
There is the very attractive Gault Suite, where one bed is immediately under an arched window, with a perfect view over to Arran. Two smaller but delightful attic rooms in the floor above have views over the gardens.
Culzean - A Private Home
The day to day routine of the Eisenhower Apartment is run very much on the lines of a private country house. Guests are encouraged to consider Eisenhower's former Scottish home "as your own". Completely self-contained, it is accessible by a private lift and therefore isolated from the public areas of the Castle. Arriving in the mid afternoon we were shown to our room and then given a brief tour of the "house". The exquisite oval design of this top floor is dominated by the cupola above and the kaleidoscope-feature of the central red-carpeted staircase and series of grand marble pillars spiralling out below. The dining room, elegantly furnished with beautiful antique pieces, is where breakfast and dinner is served.
But the room where you could sit happily for hours - if not days - is the grand, circular drawing room, with the same exquisite views out to sea. Here guests may spend a quiet afternoon in sumptuously comfortable sofas and armchairs, piled high with cushions, with magazines and a library of books and a roaring log fire. Gilt mirrors and original oil paintings adorn the walls and scattered around on the polished mahogany tables are personal ornaments and family photographs of Eisenhower. His long association here, quite rightly, is subtly respected and preserved, and at times you almost believe he might just walk in the door having been out for a stroll.
At 4.30pm each day, a traditional Scottish afternoon tea is laid out in this room, on the central table. Apart from the delicious presentation of home-make scones, cream and jam, gingerbread, sponge and chocolate cakes, it is the fabulous silver teapot, the display of delicate pink and blue flower-patterned bone china cups and plates, ivory handle knives and linen napkins, which creates a rather refined and aristocratic occasion. You can picture the original Kennedy family, The Earls of Cassillis, who owned Culzean until 1945, and the Eisenhowers, sitting here over years gone by, entertaining their guests.
Apart from the personal service of meals, guests are very much invited to relax as if at home, and help themselves to drinks from the "Bar" - a cupboard in the drawing room, and near the kitchen, a fridge full of mineral water, soft drinks, chilled wine and beer. Even after only a couple of hours we are immediately drawn into the luxurious comfort, atmosphere and wonderful hospitality in our temporary Castle home.
Culzean Country Park
After tea it was definitely time for a long walk and to explore part of the glorious landscape of gardens, manicured lawns and herbaceous borders, wild woodland, cliff paths, the sea shore, streams and ponds. This perfectly preserved natural habitat for a rich variety of wildlife, birds, trees and flowers, makes up the 560 acres of Culzean Country Park. We walked over to the delightful Walled Garden in which flowers, fruit and vegetables are still grown in the traditional fashion.
The Victorian glasshouse Vinery has recently been completely restored, where the castle's gardeners are now growing the nine varieties of grape - which, according to a horticultural magazine of 1882, flourished here for the family dining room at Culzean. There is also a fascinating exhibition showing the extensive horticultural and archeological research archeological which was required to investigate how the vine roots were nurtured and flourished, more than a century ago.
With the afternoon sun sinking over the Firth of Clyde, we then set off on a mile walk down to the famous Swan Pond. The wide path gradually narrowed as we entered a thicker part of the wood and suddenly, there about 20 metres ahead of us four or five baby roe deer sprinted across, from right to left, dashing into the seclusion of the undergrowth. In the faint twilight, this was a stunning sight to witness wildlife at such close quarters.
Mesmerised by this delight, looking out for squirrels and birds, we strolled on to the pond. This is part of Robert Adam's overall design for the castle gardens - a beautifully proportioned long, oval shape, giving a very natural setting with a miniature island in the middle and a sweep of bulrush grasses at the far end. There, near the water's edge was a complete Swan family, parents and three cygnets, enjoying an early evening swim; in the rose-tinted dusk, the snow white swans made a delightful picture. Apparently there are two or three pairs of swans nesting here. This is no simple garden pond - this is a magical place where you could sit for many a relaxing hour. I wonder why it is not named after the ballet and described as Swan Lake?
Food and Drink - Eisenhower Style
Dinner at the Eisenhower Apartment is served at 8pm, following drinks in the drawing room. The whole occasion is arranged on a very personal basis, with a selection of menus sent out to guests in advance of arrival. Any unsuitable dishes can be rejected and preferences suggested. Over afternoon tea the menu is presented for your final selection from two choices for each course. The emphasis is on fresh local produce such as home made vegetable soups, fresh garden salads, Ayrshire lamb, Scotch beef and the best of West Coast fish and seafood.
At around 7.30pm the guests began to gather in the drawing room where a full cocktail bar - spirits, wine and champagne - was laid out for people to help themselves. Sitting by the blazing log fire, G & T in hand, we were introduced to an American family from Utah, who had been visiting Edinburgh and now spending a few days at Culzean, taking day trips to Glasgow and around the area. The atmosphere was extremely `homely`- in a very grand and elegant fashion - and so much more comfortable and relaxing than a typical hotel.
The intimate dining room looked simply wonderful, the table set with gleaming silver candlesticks, cutlery, crystal glasses and fresh flowers from the walled garden. We began with seared smoked salmon, followed by a very generous portion of baked lemon sole, with basil, white wine sauce. Platters of fresh vegetables were brought to the table, as well as white and red wines selected to complement the meal. A rich assortment of chocolate and creamy desserts were then offered as well as biscuits and cheese, liqueurs and port, in traditional country house fashion. Coffee was served back in the drawing room, where we and several guests stayed up chatting over a couple of nightcaps, until the wee sma` hours.
Stories of several ghosts who continue to haunt Culzean soon came back to mind as we made our way back to the Ailsa Suite. The spirit of a woman dressed in a ball gown has been observed within recent memory, but no one knows who this may be. It is said that on stormy nights you can hear the drone of a ghostly bagpiper above the howling wind and crashing waves. The castle also has a legend of a knight who abducted a young heiress and held her captive, planning to kill her. She manages to lull him to sleep and then stabs him to death with his own dirk. Safely tucked up in the enormous four poster bed, not a sound was heard all night.
In the morning, the view from the bedroom window out to sea just makes you want to get up and get out there, to breathe in the fresh salty air. Over breakfast we heard that a couple of guests had ventured out for an early stroll down to the shore. As you would expect breakfast at the Eisenhower Apartment is a feast fit for Kings, and once again you may choose whatever you wish. One lady requested camomile tea, a large portion of scrambled eggs, cooked without butter, with mushrooms and tomatoes. No problem. There was fresh fruits, porridge, freshly baked croissants, eggs, Finnan haddock, smoked salmon - everything you could wish for, all served on traditional blue Willow pattern plates.
Exercise was now on the agenda so we took a long walk right along the Cliff Path, high above the shore line. From here you can see the wonderful shape of Ailsa Craig island. We then ventured deep into the woodland, criss crossing paths, back around our favourite Swan Pond and up the hill to see the Pagoda, where the original Kennedy family kept monkeys. Today there is a carved wooden monkey in the cage.
Back along the upper path we visit the fascinating Victorian Ice House built deep in the darkness of the undergrowth - a necessary domestic appliance before refrigerators. On to the charming Camellia House, recently restored, now full of statues and flowers. Coming back towards the Castle again we wandered around the formal sunken garden with its flower borders and fountain pond. Beyond here are Adam's original Ruined Arch and Roman Viaduct, all in keeping with the 18th century Picturesque landscaping of the gardens, inspired by the culture, art and literature of the time. And from here the main drive leads us back to the Castle.
Guests staying at the Eisenhower Apartment have the added bonus of being able to tour the public rooms in Culzean privately, prior to 11am when the visitors arrive. The formal exterior to the castle, with its turrets and towers gives little indication of the opulent grandeur inside. Robert Adam's meticulous attention to detail and shape matched by his passion for Classical embellishment reaches its absolute peak here. In 1787 he started on the final aspect of his design plan, ten years after he was took up the commission to rebuild Culzean. From a dark and sunless courtyard he created the fabulous oval red staircase which sweeps upwards to the cupola above filling the whole shaft with natural light. The first and second floors are lined by white Corinthian and Ionian pillars, emphasising the perspective and height such that the whole dramatic centre hallway is widely regarded as his greatest masterpiece. The Castle contains a fine collection of 18th century furniture, paintings and portraits, many of which relate the many colourful tales of the Earls of Cassilis. There is a magnificent circular saloon, an armoury of pistols and swords, and also a very well presented exhibition dedicated to the life and achievements of General Eisenhower."Culzean supplies everything a fervent romanticist could need. Rocks, cliffs, woods, follies, pounding surf and leafy darkness, art and nature, turreted majesty and even a secret wood"
Gillian Glover, journalist
Culzean is a truly magical place. With so much to see and do around the Country Park for all the family and in the Castle itself, no wonder there are around 300,000 visitors each year making Culzean the most popular attraction within the National Trust of Scotland. But its vast expanse of gardens, natural woodland and seashore, you can often enjoy a quiet and relaxing walk without meeting a soul.
However to stay at the Eisenhower Apartment is a unique experience, giving a true appreciation of the classic architectural design as you sit, sipping tea, or enjoying a four course dinner, using the family silver and porcelain, and surrounded by antiques and works of art. It is an extraordinary privilege to have the opportunity to absorb at first hand a vivid sense of the social life here across the generations. Living here, even just for a day or so, you feel part of the history and culture of the Castle, amidst the gracious style and relaxing ambience of this magnificent family home.
Reservations - The Eisenhower Apartment
For details on reservations, see National Trust for Scotland.
The postal address is:Culzean Castle
Bedrooms may be reserved on a B&B or dinner, B&B basis. Special rates can be negotiated for exclusive use of the entire apartment with six bedrooms for a private party, wedding reception or corporate hospitality.
Reservations - Culzean Castle
From April to October the Castle can be hired after 6pm for private and corporate entertainment. The State dining room is popular for wedding receptions and private dinners. In winter when the castle (but not the Country Park) is closed, it is available throughout the day.
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