We stumble off the Caledonian Sleeper at Stirling, trailing bags across a frosty platform, eyes still half shut.
A silent taxi takes us through the still-sleeping city, past closed-curtained terraces, out into country lanes, with nothing but the inky blue of pre-dawn visible beyond low, snaking hedges. Fifteen minutes later and we're sitting over strong cups of coffee, waiting for sunrise to reveal the unique grounds of our hotel, set as it is on one of Scotland's only lakes.
This lake was a loch until the 1800s, when a Dutch cartographer mistakenly renamed it. (At least this is the more believable of several histories.) So it's largely semantics that makes the Lake of Menteith distinct, but as a volcanic sunrise turns its waters blood red and bounces violent magenta light off the crumbling priory that crowns its perfectly central island, this "mistake lake" seems pretty special.
Owner Ian Fleming – a hospitality industry contemporary of Gary Rhodes and Scotland's own Nick Nairn – splashed about in these waters as a child, but much of his adult life has been spent managing posh hotels in the Caribbean and America. And in the recently acquired Lake of Menteith Hotel he has brought a little bit of New England, where he raised his children, back to the Trossachs. Carved wooden boats, silvery fish and ornamental geese imported from America's East Coast decorate the bar and restaurant, with huge conservatory windows that make a living landscape picture out of the lake. The heart of the hotel is set in an 18th-century manse and the little buttressed, Gothic parish church it was once attached to still stands in the grounds.
Back when the hotel was a manse and the lake used to freeze, Menteith was a hub for the national curling championships. The granite balls now make novel sculptural pieces by the open fire, as, by the end of our stay, do we, rapt by the lake's mercurial weather show and its support cast of high diving osprey and migrating wildfowl in their hundreds.
Bold floral-print wallpaper and watery painted scenes contrast nicely with neutral cream carpets and curtains. Neat modern bathrooms has simple wooden floors. The beds were comfy, although the room was a bit chilly once we'd rolled out from under the plump duvet. All 16 rooms are subtly different in decor. The huge, main lake view suite has just been refurbished, with rich bronze fabrics and a free-standing bath, with four more to follow shortly. Rooms are spread over several floors and wings, making for a quiet, peaceful stay.
The food and drink
Along with the hotel's superb natural setting, the food is the draw here. Its kitchen nurtures the talents of young local chefs and has a close relationship with the Nick Nairn Cook School, set at the other end of the lake. It's only been open two years but the hotel has already won numerous accolades, particularly for its food. The menu features lots of local meats (superb, aged Highland beef) and cheeses plus an impressive and fairly priced selection of international wines (the hotel holds regular wine-tasting weekends) and there's a knee-wobbling collection of local single malt whisky.
Watch this space for the addition of an on-site spa. The hotel can arrange trout and salmon fishing on the lake during the summer, plus guided year-round hiking in the neighbouring Trossachs National Park and around Loch Lomond. Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the hotel and there are free guest-access PCs on request. Guided day trips to Stirling can also be arranged.
Five of the ground-floor rooms have wheelchair access. Children are welcome, with plenty of toys and fold-out beds and adjoining rooms available. Dogs are welcome in selected rooms.
A double room costs from £140, including a slap-up Scottish breakfast and in-room refreshments.
Lake of Menteith Hotel, Port of Menteith, Perthshire, Scotland, FK8 3RA (01877 385258; lake-hotel.com). Sarah Barrell travelled as a guest of Lake of Menteith Hotel and Caledonian Sleeper (scotrail.co.uk). Single fares, London to Stirling, from £59.
WIN! A weekend for two in Reykjavik
We've teamed up with Hotels.com - the world's leading hotel booking website – to offer a weekend break for two in Reykjavik. Enter our prize draw and you could be the lucky winner of two nights' B&B in a junior suite at the four-star Holt Hotel, in Reykjavik. You'll also win two economy flights from London to Reykjavik courtesy of Iceland Express (iceland express.com). Just email your name, address, and telephone number to firstname.lastname@example.org, putting Hotels.com Prize Draw in the subject line, by noon on Friday 26 February 2010.
The winner of the weekend in Lisbon was Martyn Hier from Mid Glamorgan.
Please write OPT OUT at the top of your entry if you do not wish to receive promotional materials from INM or our draw partners. The holiday will be subject to availability until 15 December 2010 and must be booked four weeks prior to departure. Entrants must be aged 18 years or over. For full draw rules go to independent.co.uk/legal.