Hold the tartan! This new look scores a hole in one

Isn't Gleneagles just a stuffy golf hotel? Kate Simon reports on an £18m refurbishment that's bringing the old place bang up to date

Is it possible to be intimidated by bricks and mortar? It is when they form the shape of Gleneagles Hotel, the grand old lady of the Scottish Highlands. I was almost shaking in my shoes as I approached the entrance, and not just because of the grandeur of this faux French chateau; I was also a little nervous of the guests I might find inside, cobwebbed to the furniture.

"It might have been stuffy back in the 1920s, when it opened, but not now," explained Simon Brown, the hotel's PR manager, later, over a shortbread. "We want to draw on the hotel's heritage but provide what people need today." A quick glance about us in the main bar, where afternoon tea was in full swing, seemed to prove his point. My fellow guests bridged the generations – there were plenty of children – and most looked unlikely to have the means to casually snap up the £25,000 Rolex my partner had eyed in the window of the Mappin & Webb concession next to reception.

"But why would Gleneagles want you to come and write about them?" My mother had asked on hearing about the assignment. "It's a very good hotel, isn't it?" Apart from the fact that such a question ignores the essential dynamics of time and taste, she had a point. In most people's minds, Gleneagles is probably only matched by the Ritz, Savoy and Dorchester hotels in London as a standard-setter for top-notch hospitality. Does it really need to do anything to assert its stellar position?

Apparently it does. Parent company Diageo, the drinks giant, is lavishing £18m on a rolling programme of refurbishment to upgrade Gleneagles' facilities, bedrooms and communal areas and overhaul its famous golf courses. You might imagine that such a venerable hotel is so constantly primped and preened that it only needs a lick of paint here and a buff of the brass there to keep up to the quality mark. Yet, since the Chinook helicopters whirred away over the Ochil Hills, after the leaders of the G8 departed the hotel following their summit in 2005, Gleneagles has focused on its less-contentious forthcoming role as a host of the Ryder Cup, which comes to Scotland in 2014.

And, yes, Gleneagles is currently welcoming the press through its doors, keen to show off the latest of these improvements, a new Espa spa. I am offered a massage and advised to turn up an hour early to make the most of the new facilities, which comprise a steam room, sauna, two "lifestyle showers" offering chilly or tropical downpours and a psychedelic light show, with ice fountains for an extra pore-closing frisson, and a "vitality pool" with water jets, volcano chairs and a swan's neck for pounding knotted shoulders (cacophonous when, irresistibly, you turn them all on at once). By the time I reach the treatment room I am more than ready to submit, only resisting momentarily when I nearly kick the therapist in the face as she rouses me from my slumber by too forcefully tugging on a toe.

Had I fancied, I could have also indulged in a guilt-free lunch from the "spa menu", prepared in the kitchens of neighbouring Deseo, another just-completed refurbishment project. Deseo is the relaxed Mediterranean restaurant that offers the antithesis of the dining experience most would expect at Gleneagles, and has a novel "food market" where you can peruse the produce of the day before you plump for steak/turbot/ langoustine. There are more formal options to satisfy the traditionalists – the Michelin-starred eponymous showcase for chef Andrew Fairlie, and the hotel's signature restaurant, the Strathearn. But even the latter does not ask sir to wear a tie, and lets in children.

In fact, children are positively encouraged to visit the hotel. More quids have been spent on a new crèche and teenage club – one of the best I've come across due to its child-centred and creative approach. And these come on top of a leisure complex with two pools, and a mile-long list of junior activities, from falconry to off-road driving.

But the most fundamental change at Gleneagles is the re-modelling of its top storey into 10 premium suites, each of which has been afforded views of the glorious surrounding landscape – which was curiously not the case for the 33 bedrooms that previously occupied this floor. These "Spirit" suites most definitely do not fit the stereotype. "The Highlands" is interpreted through the decor with contemporary prints and textiles in the colours of heather, thistle, gorse and spruce, rather than garish tartans and trophies of dead wildlife. And, of course, there's hi-techery in abundance.

Ironically, the hotel's hottest feature hasn't cost it a penny and is rooted firmly in the past. Gleneagles was originally built as a railway hotel and has its own station, just down the road, served six times a week by the Caledonian Sleeper from London. Now, that will go down well with today's green-conscious customer.

COMPACT FACTS

How to get there

First ScotRail Caledonian Sleeper (08457 55 00 33; firstgroup.com /scotrail) calls at Gleneagles once a day, Sunday to Friday. Returns from Euston to Gleneagles start from £189, though Bargain Berths are sometimes available online from £19 single. Gleneagles (0800 704 705; gleneagles.com) offers a special rate of £385 per night for two, from Sunday to Thursday, May to October, with b&b in a Classic double and dinner in the Strathearn Restaurant. Europcar (0871 384 1089; europcar.com) offers car rental from £22 per day.

Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
    Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

    The end of an era across the continent

    It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
    Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

    'Focus on killing American people'

    Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
    Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

    Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

    The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
    Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

    Same-sex marriage

    As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
    The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

    The Mafia is going freelance

    Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable