Great Places to Stay
- Donavourd Country House, Pitlochry, Perthshire
Pitlochry has long had a fine reputation as an attractive Highland holiday town, the perfect base for visitors touring Perthshire, hill walking, fishing, as well as enjoying the superb summertime Pitlochry Theatre Festival. " The Theatre in the Hills" was founded in 1951 - first housed in a temporary marquee - but now boasts a superb, purpose-built theatre at Port-na-Craig on the banks of the River Tummel. From May until October, six plays are performed in repertoire, with the slogan "Stay six days, see six plays," covering classics, comedy, drama and thrillers.
Pitlochry is an extremely popular holiday destination for all ages, with coaches, cars, cyclists and wandering pedestrians blocking the High street. There are many hotels and guest houses to choose from in town, but the ideal way to enjoy the best of the area is to stay just two miles down the road at Donavourd House Hotel. If you arrive by train - on the comfortable Scotrail Edinburgh to Inverness route - the hotel will arrange for their local taxi company to collect you. This charming hotel is set in six acres of garden, park and woodland and is an imposing country mansion, dating back to the 17th century with Victorian extensions. The entrance hall is most impressive, still retaining the original dark pine wall panelling and dominated by a 20-foot window and fine curving staircase (see the illustration). Leading off are the sunny drawing room with bay window and the dining room beyond overlooking the gardens and the forested glen of Strathtummel beyond.
This former Laird's country house has just nine bedrooms, furnished with homely touches. All are individually decorated - fresh terracotta paintwork and fabrics, contrasting with white bed linen and drapes, are most attractive. Some rooms have four poster beds and larger bathrooms with two hand basins adding a touch of romance and luxury. There's an eclectic mix of traditional and modern furniture such as an old oak dressing table beside a new wickerwork armchair - but it is all very comfortable.
Curiously the television is on a stand high up on the wall which is not very convenient and difficult to view lying in bed - a 1980s design feature which does not fit in with the period look! The bathrooms are modernised and adequate but one small quibble - the bath towels are akin to hand towels and totally useless even for this slim female reviewer (height 5ft 4"). Bedrooms have a hospitality tray and armchairs - and if you wish a book to read there are bookcases in the hall stuffed with paperbacks to suit all tastes.
Wining and Dining
Now we come to the essential ingredient of your stay at Donavourd. The food. The owner of Donavourd is Nicole McKechnie who trained and worked in the United States as a chef for many years and now brings her creative skills in preparing fresh, simple yet appetising, imaginative, healthy, wholesome dishes using local fish and meat, organic vegetables, garden herbs and fresh fruit. The cuisine could be described as contemporary Scottish with an international twist. The attractive restaurant is called Lily's featuring around half a dozen tables prettily set with white tablecloths and fresh flowers.
The short dinner menu with two or three choices per course, changes daily. If you are vegetarian, diabetic or other dietary request, let Nicole know in advance and she will be pleased to prepare something special. Sample dishes might include a delicious Smoked Salmon 'potato cake' Blini with crème fraîche and well dressed rocket salad, Blue Cheese soufflé, Crispy oriental Monkfish parcels, Ravioli stuffed with asparagus and ricotta cheese, and Pan Seared Perthshire Lamb chops with spicy potato, pepper and tomato tagine. End with Warm Rhubarb Crumble, local Blairgowrie strawberries or a platter of excellent Scottish cheese - such as unusual spicy Arran cheddar - crackers and oatcakes. If you are going to the theatre, dinner can be served early around 6.30pm and if you have no time for dessert, you can enjoy this on your return.
The fresh and homemade quality experienced at dinner is carried through to breakfast so enjoy fruit juice, strong coffee, toast and pastries, bacon and eggs or, if the last portion has not been ordered, perhaps scrambled eggs and smoked salmon.
A fully stocked small bar is tucked into the corner of the drawing room which again, unfortunately, destroys the period look of this lovely Georgian country house. A bar as such, which no one can sit at, is not really required as all the wines and spirit bottles and glasses could be stored elsewhere and drinks brought out to guests on request. The style of the lounge is delightfully "shabby chic" with the most wonderful ancient battered old leather sofas with some springs almost gone but where you can sink down and relax for hours, sipping tea or reading. The atmosphere in the lounge is very homely with four friends playing Scrabble late one afternoon after tea, moving on to a laid back, late night mood with guests sipping a nightcap while planning the next day's agenda.
Sports and Leisure
In and around Pitlochry there are 101 visitor attractions covering history, heritage, sport and leisure - Blair Castle (illustrated here), Castle Menzies, Dunkeld Cathedral Queens View at Loch Tummel, (a must visit), House of Bruar shopping complex for fine Scottish clothing and food, Edradour whisky distillery, hill walking, golf and fishing - as well as the Pitlochry Theatre, as described above, which runs from May to October.
Many hotel reviews may comment that a certain country house hotel is so relaxing and comfortable that it is like staying in someone's private home. Donavourd is definitely such a family-run house where the owner is also the manager and chef, greeting you at the door and offering personal attention and hospitality. Guests return time after time. This is a perfect place to stay for a quiet, restful break away from the hubbub of Pitlochry and for touring Perthshire. Simply furnished rooms, homely comforts but the highlight is superb fresh, delicious, imaginative home-cooking with style.
For more information or to make a reservation see the Donavourd Country House Web site or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
For tourist information on Perthshire, see Perthshire Tourist Board Web site and if you want to find out the programme of plays at the Pitlochry Festival Theatre they have a Web site at www.pitlochry.org.uk.
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