When Skibo Castle was built in the early 20th century, its owner, steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, was the world's richest man. Today, Skibo Castle is an exclusive private club in the far north of Scotland where members pay £4,000 a year on top of a one-off £5,000 joining fee. Non-members can visit once on a hotel basis, after which, if they want to return, they have to join.

If you've got the money it's well worth a punt and much less pretentious than it sounds. While Madonna famously married here and Catherine Zeta-Jones is said to be among its members, the majority of guests are self-made businessmen and women rather than celebrities.

It's also deeply quirky. Just as in Carnegie's day, a kilted piper rouses guests from the terrace at 8am. Forty-five minutes later, the in-house organist serenades them over breakfast from the main hall, often kept company by an owl. Add to that a full-time adult storyteller, a likeable but slightly dotty doorman and some unusually low door handles (apparently they were tailor-made for the hobbit-sized Carnegie), and you start to wonder if JK Rowling isn't part of the anonymous syndicate of members who bought Skibo from Peter de Savary two years ago.

A glamorous new spa looks more like a well-dressed country cottage than a health clinic. It provides a soothing setting for a long list of treatments. And if that doesn't sound enough to keep you occupied, there's horse-riding, golf and 7,500 acres of jaw-dropping grounds.


Skibo Castle, Dornoch, Sutherland, IV25 3RQ (01862 894600; www.carnegieclub.co.uk).

Time to international airport: 45 minutes south to Inverness in one of the club's chauffeur-driven Range Rovers.


You should be with this amount of pampering. Prices are the same whether you take one of the 21 rooms in the castle or one of several lodges scattered through the grounds (guests with young children are encouraged to take a lodge, but are welcome to visit the castle and make use of the extensive children's facilities).

The castle is two-thirds of the way through a grand renovation, with only the glass-roofed marble swimming pool, the castle bedrooms and a couple of lodges to go. Not that there's anything particularly scruffy about the rooms as they stand. Refurbishments won't alter the Edwardian panelling, ancient fireplaces or huge claw-foot baths, but they will freshen up some dated upholstery and offer more modern amenities.

Keeping in touch: a guest study has computers with a high speed internet connection and wireless internet access.

Freebies: the all-inclusive rates encompass having your car washed before it's returned to you. More conventional freebies cover gorgeous-smelling Cath Collins toiletries, jars of Scottish tablet, homemade biscuits, a decanter of whisky and newspapers. Drinks are also provided on request.


All-inclusive rates start at £695 per couple per night for non-members and £295 for members.

I'm not paying that: around 15 miles further north is the most striking youth hostel in Scotland, Carbisdale Castle. Rates here start at £13.50 per person and include access to a large art collection, Italian marble statues and, potentially, a ghost (0870 004 1109; www.syha.org.uk).