Once you’ve been to Scotland you will want to return every year, like the osprey and the eagles that circle in the blue skies above as you walk the most romantic moors in the world. The breathtaking unspoiled beauty of the countryside, the clean, heather scented air, the history that engulfs you and the chance to experience royal life in the same rooms , bath and bed as Queen Victoria at Inverlochy Castle, Andrew Carnegie at Skibo Castle and Princess Anne and Prince Andrew at Gleneagles makes Scotland irresistible. Have Citarella pack a picnic basket filled with Beluga, lobster salad, and foi gras for your night flight to London. With the imminent death of the Concorde, British Airways with its comfy flat beds is the only way to go, unless you have your own plane, n’est-ce pas? Before you know it, you’ve landed in London and made an easy connection to Edinburgh. The Gleneagles Hotel that is located in Auchterarder, Perthshire will arrange for you to arrive by helicopter on the great lawn or send a chauffeured Renault Espace to whisk you to its fabled grounds, which is less than an hour away from the airport. If you are being driven to the hotel, ask for David Miller, as he knows all the local lore. Make a quick stop at Stirling Castle where the battle of Stirling Bridge was fought and won against the British by William Wallace in 1297. Mel Gibson played the Scottish hero in the film Braveheart and when it opened here he donned a kilt and placed a wreath at the Wallace Monument.
When Gleneagles opened its doors in 1924, it was hailed as “A Riviera in the Highlands” and “The eighth wonder of the world.” The first description still holds true; the second is only a tad exaggerated, unless you’re talking about golf. Gleneagles means golf and the long established Kings and Queens Courses, designed by James Braid, the five time winner of the Open Championship, are legendary. Jack Nicklaus redesigned The Monarchs Course in 1993 and there is even a nine-hole Wee Course that provides a less daunting challenge than the others. The famed Ryder Cup was played here in 1927 and will return in 2014. Nearby, is St. Andrews where golf was born more than six hundred years ago as well as several other important courses that you can play at. Pulling up to Gleneagles, is a bit like going to Nirvana. There are 1,000 lush acres to romp in, and smack dab in the middle is the grandest of great hotels imaginable. It’s modeled after a 19th century French chateau and can be compared favorably to The Hoel du Palace in Biarritz, where it doesn’t get any grander. There are 216 rooms and 13 suites all with dramatic views overlooking sweeping lawns, verdant gardens, and the gently rolling Ochil and Perthshire Hills. The hotel has just completed a 15 million dollar renovation that has maintained its art deco details and added all the modern conveniences imaginable including a major spa with two indoor pools and all the services and amenities every diva and divo needs after a day in the great outdoors. In addition to golf, Gleneagles offers an elegant array of adult diversions including a Shooting and Fishing school founded by the internationally known sportsman and legendary Formula One race car driver, Jackie Stewart, who is more often on the premises than off. Jackie’s is the busiest clay target shooting school in the world and is spread over 86 acres. It features 12 target disciplines that simulate the flight of game birds across the moors, including Crossing Pigeon, Bolting Rabbit, and King’s Pheasant, which is shot from a tower 1,000 feet high.
Over the years, Sean Connery, Steven Speilberg, Sylvester Stallone, Gene Hackman and Prince Andrew have all picked up their 12-gauge Berettas and tried their hands at this entertaining sport that gives you the thrill of the shoot without the guilt of having to kill anything. There is also tennis on grass as well as all-weather courts, croquet, hiking, cycling and off-road driving on two challenging purpose built courses in Land Rover Discoveries including quarter-size Land Rovers for the youngest guests dubbed Gleneagles for those six and up who can squeeze into the wee seats. Princess Anne’s first husband Captain Mark Philips founded the Equestrian Centre, which has one of Europe’s finest indoor arenas as well as magnificent outdoor trails; you can bring your own horse or ride one of theirs. There is hunting, jumping, carriage riding and even side-saddle for the beginner or the expert. What I found most exciting was the chance to learn the ancient sport of falconry, one of the most aristocratic of pursuits enjoyed for centuries by Princes, Kings and Queens. The British School of Falconry is based here. They teach you the basics in an hour and you are out on the moor, with your own hawk and guide, chasing rabbits the next. There are eight Harris hawks, two eagles and two falcons kept on the estate, each has a bell attached to them to signal their coming and going. Falconry bonds you with nature while forging a partnership with these elegant birds of prey in their natural habitat. Hawking in the wild beauty of Scotland with the tinkle of soft bells as your hawk swoops towards your gloved hand and follows you from tree to tree as you walk along the heath, is in a word . . . Thrilling. As you criss cross the moor, you search for rabbits and there are plenty of them. When you spot one, you yell “Rabbit,” and swing your bird forward as if hitting a forehand. If the rabbit escapes the hawk and hides in a hole, you send in a ferret to drive him out. The hawk makes a quick kill, and it’s grilled rabbit for dinner. Yummy. The rooms at Gleneagles are large and plush, ours was done in shades of cocoa brown and beige with dark wood moldings, tartan bed spreads and rich burgundy velvet curtains to keep the drafts out. The bathroom was enormous and luxe and we had a wall of windows facing the manicured grounds.
Let’s get to the rain, there wasn’t any. I chanced the Fall and went to Scotland at the end of October and had crisp air, beautiful foliage and sunshine every day. Walking in Gleneagles is a delight, be sure to go out at night when the mist is thick and secrets can be shared. There’s a beautiful fountain on the grounds- past which are rolling hills. The plantings are varied and carefully laid out, it is a horticultural and scenic wonderland. The public rooms are grand and terribly romantic. The art deco bar is buzzing and what fun to see off leash labs and King Charles Cavalier spaniels roaming freely amidst the guests who are encouraged to bring their pets. Smoking is definitely welcome here. The food is excellent and has a unique and flavorful twist. There are four restaurants including Andrew Fairlie, which is a Michelin-starred restaurant that features French cuisine; book early as it can be tricky to get in. Andrew was happy to cook up the rabbit we bagged and on another night the trout we caught. Try the lobster, the pate de fois gras and the duck for two. On Halloween, I donned my witch’s hat and caused barely a stir, the hallway was decked out in pumpkins and a scarecrow. The hotel also nods its cap to Thanksgiving which has a good number of ex-pats checking in year after year; Easter and Christmas are also popular with the smart jet set. Gleneagles is definitely family friendly but this does not in anyway mean it’s Disneyland or over run with children who are quietly catered to. Kids have their own web site and there is The Club Restaurant which has both Mediterranean and California influences with oak fired pizzas, burgers, fries, grilled steaks, and pasta. Ewan McGregor, one of Scotland’s favorite sons comes from Crieff, Perthshire, which is just ten miles from Gleneagles. He gets home to see his family regularly, and never misses the chance to hit the links at one of the hotels award winning courses.
On what was a gorgeous Sunday afternoon he brought his wife Eve Mavrakis, and his parents, James and Carol McGregor, to lunch at the hotel’s Strathearn Restaurant, one of Europe’s most elegant watering holes. The spacious room is decorated with classical columns and has a central chandelier of superior beauty. Be sure to book a table by the imposing and roaring fireplace, this also puts you near the grand piano, which is played every night. On the weekends it is accompanied by a violin. The food in this restaurant is sophisticated and the wine list extensive. The sommelier was happy to open a bottle of 1980 Crystal to sell me a single glass, the same with a1983 Dom Perignon, a 1995 La Grande Dame and a 1990 Krug Rose. Delicious! I skipped the $2,000 bottle of red Brochard Burgundy but it was there for the asking. The traditional Scottish breakfast of kippers, smoked salmon, blood sausages, and omelets, is served here in a beautiful glass conservatory off the main dinning room. The fly fishing here is incredible. There are three lochs stocked with brown and rainbow trout amidst the most glorious possible scenery. My ghillie, who had forty years experience, took us to Strathearn Castle, where we fished in a loch that featured the picture perfect castle across the pond. It had swan and duck paddling serenely across the water. There was even a miniature waterfall at the end of the loch. This isn’t Vegas, this scenery is real. We caught three, four and five pound trout with ease and ate them for lunch and dinner. The hotel chefs were happy to prepare them several ways including poached, grilled, fried and battered. Wow! There is so much to do and see at Glorious Gleneagles the only answer is to. . . . return.