Great Places to Stay
- Mar Hall, Bishopton, Renfrewshire
"There were never strawberries
like the ones we had
that sultry afternoon.
.....let the sun beat
on our forgetfulness
one hour of all
the heat intense
and summer lightning
on the Kilpatrick hills.
let the storm wash the plates"
Strawberries - Edwin Morgan
Location and History
Mar Hall, Glasgow's new 5 star golf and spa hotel is located on the 240 acre Earl of Mar Estate on the River Clyde with the gently rolling Kilpatrick Hills on the far bank. In ancient Scotland, Mar was one of the seven Pictish kingdoms and the Earl of Mar is the oldest title in Britain while the Mar Estate has a long and fascinating history. As far back as the 14th century there was a grand aristocratic castle built on the land - reference is made in the record books of Mary Queen of Scots and Robert the Bruce having visited - though presumably not at the same time. Then in 1828 a lavish Gothic mansion house was commissioned by the Earl of Mar at a cost of around £50,000. The architect was the renowned Sir Robert Smirke who had also designed the British Museum in London. Fast forward to 1916 and the First World War when the house was taken over as the headquarters of Erskine Hospital established for the care of servicemen, later known as the Princes Louise Scottish Hospital for Limbless sailors and soldiers. By the end of the 20th century, it was necessary to find alternative accommodation and following in the footsteps of his great, great aunt, Prince Charles opened a new Erskine military care home in October 2000.
It has been a major two-year refurbishment project to transform the former hospital into a luxury hotel and Spa. The architect, David Major of Whitehill Designs, Moffat and designers Wallace Interiors from Cupar were in charge of the £10 million hotel renovation. The overall aim was to recreate the classic opulence of the 19th century Gothic mansion featuring period antique furniture, paintings, tapestries, sumptuous drapes and soft furnishings, combined with the ambience of contemporary 21st century, 5 star hotel living.
It's an imposing traditionally Scottish baronial grey stone property. A covered porch leads up to the lobby and reception area. Beyond is the Grand Hall, magnificent in its ornate architecture, with curved ceiling carvings, a wall of long tall windows and chandeliers overhead. It 's certainly a grand entrance to the hotel. Jeannette Montgomery, Mar Hall Operations director, was a former manager at Glasgow's other luxury hotel, Number One Devonshire Glasgow. Not surprisingly, designer Lesley Wallace who had previously created the unique style at Number One, was invited to work her painterly magic at Mar Hall. Mar Hall - which is just twenty minutes from the city centre and around five minutes from Glasgow Airport - opened for business in July 2004. The completion of the Spa and leisure complex is planned for November 2004 and the Golf course in the summer of 2006.
Grand Bedrooms and Suites
It would not matter which of the 39 beautiful bedrooms and suites you select in the original Mar Hall house - they are all breathtaking. Hotel Review Scotland was fortunate to experience a couple of nights in Room 27, a fabulous, lavish, palatial suite with separate small sitting room. Colour scheme is tranquil and soothing- perfectly pale and subtle: hints of double cream, eau de nil, café latte and silver grey. The four-poster king size bed dominates the room with its thick brocade drapes over each post, bedspread and cushions. Original features include old-fashioned squat radiators, marble fireplaces and corniced ceilings. The tall sash windows, framed in exquisite curtains tied back with silk tassels, overlook the river and the Kilpatrick Hills beyond. The sitting room is in darker tones with brown leather sofa and armchairs to curl up in to read or watch television.
And then there's the bathroom. The typical hotel bathroom is usually forgettable but not at Mar Hall. Forget windowless rooms with an annoying buzzing fan and no room to swing a cat, let alone bathe in comfort. This is a glossy, gleaming palace of a bathroom, dressed in darker tones of chocolate brown marble tiles with dark textured wallpaper. Such bath time bliss: a traditional claw foot tub, separate power shower -for two - and, hoorah, twin wash hand basins. At the window to add a touch of class, is a beautiful cream chaise longue for a quiet rest after a hot bath. If you prefer more colour in your life, then another 4 poster room features bold plum and purple drapes against grey stripe walls - utterly stunning.
Accommodation comes in every variety of size, colour and design - Club, Classic and Deluxe rooms, Junior and Duplex suites and for the ultimate comfort, Classic and Deluxe one bedroom suites. Duplex suites are on the ground floor with mezzanine lounge level leading downstairs to the bedroom. A further 14 double rooms are located in the new Aveda Spa wing - a perfect option if you enjoy an early morning swim or work out.
Glasgow is gourmet city and the opening of Mar Hall not only provides a new hotel but also a superb new restaurant for guests and non-residents alike. Executive Chef Jim Kerr at the Cristal restaurant at Mar Hall has an impeccable CV, having made his culinary mark at all the top Glasgow restaurants - One Devonshire Gardens, the legendary Rogano, Nairns and the Dining Room. His philosophy in creating a memorable dining experience is to "promote Glasgow as a whole". The surroundings at Cristal imbue style and relaxation in an intimate gold and cream room with views over the river.
And so to the food. Kerr is a global adventurer and has created a menu based on the freshest Scottish produce but subtly inspired here and there by the delicate oriental tastes and flavours from Japan and Asia. Sample for instance New Style Sashimi the paper-thin slices of raw salmon or halibut, marinated in a magical sauce of garlic, soy sauce, ginger, yuzu oil and other secret ingredients. Similar in texture to smoked salmon but with a brash, spicy edge which kicks in at the back of the throat. As an appetiser it does the trick. Jim Kerr seems to specialise in fish - his signature Hot & Sour Prawn soup, like the Sashimi throws a punch and a huge bowl is a meal in itself. Scallops must be a personal favourite and pepper the menu from a warm salad starter to Scallops and Monkfish with Asian greens en Papillotte. Break open the singed paper and the vapours of the fish stew seep out. Such a healthy and light way to bake fish to preserve all the flavours.
Otherwise you may find Roast Breast of Duck with Foie Gras and Madeira Poached sultanas and Fillet of Angus Beef with Horseradish Mash. For non meat eaters there was Asparagus, Broad Bean and Pea Risotto with Truffle Oil - which unfortunately didn't quite make the grade and tasted rather bland. And on to pudding. Rum & Raisin Crème brulée or a Kerr signature dish to die for - Warm Carrot cake with Marmalade ice cream. This is a menu which colourfully illustrates a chef in his prime, enjoying the creative, challenging experimentation which Cristal, as a brand new restaurant, can offer.
The first meal of the day is taken seriously at Mar Hall. If you are given the correct menu. There is a short limited menu for large wedding parties (which we were given by mistake), but the real McCoy looks like a real feast. There is no buffet and everything is brought to the table, which is how it should be. The orange juice tastes as if it is freshly squeezed and not out of a carton. Choose from cereals, home made muesli (no porridge?), and warm crumpets with jam. For a hot dish why not try Kedgeree - a breakfast classic, Smoked Salmon with scrambled eggs, Kippers or Stornoway Black pudding with poached eggs and potato scone. Real thought has gone into the selection to offer a traditional Scottish breakfast except for the absence of porridge.
The Grand Hall is beautifully furnished with French style Louis XIV chairs and low coffee tables. This is the hub and gathering place of Mar Hall. Sit over the papers with morning coffee, a light sandwich or salad lunch, or tea and scones at 4 o'clock. Towards evening guests may more likely sit in either of the two cocktail bars - the Cigar bar designed like a gentleman's club lounge with leather sofas and chairs, the walls lined with glass cabinets displaying bottles of cognac, whisky and champagne. Alternatively, at the far end of the Hall is the Tattinger champagne bar with more contemporary furnishings for that quiet, oh so romantic pre-dinner aperitif.
Aveda Spa and Leisure Centre
Mar Hall is proud to announce that it is the first Aveda Spa Concept in the UK. The purpose built Aveda Spa and leisure complex offers twelve treatment rooms, swimming pool, gymnasium, Vichy showers, hair and nail salon as well as a Spa lounge and café. Having experienced an Aveda Elemental facial I can guarantee the high quality of professional treatment, VIP personal attention and superb relaxing facilities. Men and women can choose from a wide selection of face, body, hand and feet treats. Spa guests complete a questionnaire about their skin, mood, diet and stress levels then select their choice of herbal-scented natural Aveda moisturising lotions and masks. Lie back and feel soothed and rejuvenated by the therapist's touch. A couple of hours at the Aveda Spa will certainly restore balance and harmony to your mind, body and soul.
To complete Mar Hall as a superior hotel, Spa and leisure resort is the forthcoming championship Golf course. This is currently in construction along the banks of the River Clyde with the aim to open it for play in the summer of 2006. The beauty of Mar Hall is its hidden yet central location. Cross the Erskine Bridge and in 20 minutes you will reach Loch Lomond, or head into Glasgow city centre for shopping, theatre and nightlife.
To have the opportunity to have a sneak preview of a brand new luxury 5-star hotel is a real treat. I visited Mar Hall in late August when it had only been open for a month and all the furnishings, fabrics, bedlinen and bathroom marble were all fresh and sparkling new. Room 27 is simply sensually stunning, a blend of regal elegance with homely touches - sofas piled with cushions, large TVs, coffee table, fresh flowers and good bedside lighting. The young staff are friendly, efficient and charming. While everything has been carefully designed with a sense of passion about what a 5 star hotel should offer, I particularly loved the two cocktail bars, Jim Kerr's exotic dinner menu and the sheer quality of food, the Aveda Spa, and the views of Kilpatrick hills over the river. The buzz is already out on Mar Hall and proving extremely popular with leisure and business travellers, VIP guests as well as a number of grand weddings. It's the perfect balance - this is an elegant, romantic country house hotel near the city.
For more information or to make a reservation see the Mar Hall Web site.
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