Great Places to Stay
- Craigellachie Hotel, Speyside, Banffshire
The article below by Bruce Stannard was originally published in the SCOTS Heritage magazine. This lavishly illustrated and informative quarterly publication is the Journal of the Scots Heritage Society and over the years it has published articles on many aspects of Scotland - including reviews of some great Scottish hotels. The editor has kindly agreed to it being reproduced here.
The SCOTS Heritage magazine is one of the finest (if not the finest) magazine about Scotland. If you want to confirm that for yourself, there is a 30-day free trial subscription offer on their site.
An Astonishing Array of Scotch Whiskies
It is a rare thing to be able to recommend an hotel without the slightest hesitation. But in the case of the Craigellachie I know I'm on firm ground. It was early evening when I arrived. Light flaky snow was beginning to flutter out of a charcoal sky. From the moment I walked through Craigellachie's front door and into the welcoming warmth I felt completely at home. A charming young lady with the most wonderful red hair emerged from behind the reception desk, shook hands in a forthright introduction and asked whether I might care for a "wee welcoming dram." "On the house," she added conspiratorially. Oh, indeed, I did. The Craigellachie has an astonishing array of Scotch whiskies including no less than 300 single malts. It is one of the biggest collections of drinking malt whiskies in the world. It is hardly surprising therefore that Scotch Whisky aficianados who come from all over the world to traipse around the famous distilleries on the so-called Whisky Trail inevitably end up the here at the Craigellachie (pronounced Craig-ell-ecky).
Hotel Bar of the Year
While my luggage was being taken up to my room I was invited to take my dram and relax in the library, a wonderful honey-coloured pine-panelled room with deep, dark green leather lounges. I could have happily curled up right there. Under the guidance of the fastidious General Manager, Duncan Elphick, Craigellachie has just emerged from a major refurbishment. The entire hotel has a stylish yet understated décor which conveyes a cozy, welcoming warmth. My room was immaculate with crisp bed linen, large fluffy white towels and most importantly, lots and lots of really hot water in the shower. Anyone who has travelled widely in Scotland will know how hard it is to find a decent shower. There are just 26 en suite bedrooms at Craigellachie, all of them beautifully outfitted.
Properly showered and spruced-up, I came down to pre-dinner drinks in the famous Quaich Bar which had just won Scotland's coveted Hotel Bar of the Year award. It was not hard to see why. Rack after rack after rack of whiskies - literally an A to Z of Scotch - lined all four walls. The Deputy Manager, Mark Alexander, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject, asked me which I preferred. When I named an Islay single Malt he nodded sagely and immediately went straight to the bottle. How, I wondered could he have known exactly where to lay his hands on it ? Easy. The entire collection, he informed me, was laid out in alphabetical order.
In the Highlands
The dinner menu was very sensibly given to me in the bar so that I had plenty of time to consider. As an entree I chose a hot salad of caramelised scallops and asparagus while for the main course I found it impossible to go past the Aberdeen Angus sirloin with blue cheese on a thyme potato cake with brandy and pink peppercorns.
The stone walls of the dining room were hung with sporting memorabilia, stags head trophies, salmon and trout. There could be not much doubt that I was in the Highlands. Craigellachie's Master Chef, Tony Alcott makes his own pungent and crusty tomato bread which was liberally sprinkled with rock salt. I know doctors who say it's wicked to eat salt like that but I could have devoured an entire loaf. The scallops were fresh and firm and beautifully cooked; the beef was tender and juicy - exactly the medium rare that I'd asked for.
A Golden Glow
After such a magnificent meal I felt obliged to take a walk. The snow was still falling soft and fluffy and the air was crisp and clean and cold. I walked down by the rustling river and looked back at the Craigellachie, white in the moonlight with its windows lit from within by a golden glow. In all the Highlands I couldn't imagine a nicer place to spend the night.
For more information or to make a reservation see the Craigellachie Web site or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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