My favourite country to visit in the whole world is Scotland and am currently writing a book about my 2017 journey around the country.
On my travels I stayed in some truly exceptional places, from cosy inns to full-on luxurious five-stars, and I was delighted to share some of these with Times readers today, in my 20 best places to stay in Scotland feature.
I was recently asked to contribute to the Sunday Times Travel magazine’s Best hotels in the world feature.
I stay in more than 100 hotels every year. So I’ve seen more than my fair share of the bad ones. But I’m also lucky enough to have stayed in some truly great ones, where staff practically bend over backwards to make things perfect, where the bed is comfy, the food is good and the light switches and sockets are all in the right places!
I selected some of my favourites* for this feature. See which hotels made the cut in the May issue of the magazine, on newsstands now and online soon. And let me know if you agree, or if we’ve missed some!
I normally hate chain hotels. The homogenous décor, the basic rooms, the textbook service – it can all just feel a bit, well, uncaring.
But then there is Hotel du Vin, the hotel chain that somehow manages not to feel like a chain at all. Individual décor, opulent rooms, five-star service, everything about this brand screams luxury – and the newest addition to the family, in St Andrews, is no exception.
As soon as I checked in I was instantly at home, my luggage spirited away, the front desk staff like old friends asking about the journey. And then came the room – where I discovered one of the best views in Scotland. Four separate windows, each with a view of the world-famous golf course, each one looking out to sea. I could have gazed out at it for hours, watching the tide fill and empty the saltwater swimming pool, assessing the swing of every golfer on the 18th hole, but there was dinner to be had – and that turned out to be even more special.
We sat in a bay window, looking out over the water, watching the sun set, and ordering cote de boeuf from the josper grill and Anstruther lobster, baked in garlic butter. We washed it down with Marlborough sauvignon blanc and a bottle of Malbec, tough choices made from the slimmed down but tightly edited wine shortlist. We could have stayed for hours, but our bedroom was calling, with its huge bathtub and vast bed. We slept like golfers having played a full 36 and woke to find the sun rising over the water and into our room.
From the hotel it is a short walk to the castle, the cathedral and the university – a trio of historic sights that are not to be missed – and a worthwhile stroll to Janetta’s ice cream parlour where the 20-plus flavours almost flummoxed me and the 2014 Golden Cone Award was proven well deserved.
Every time we returned to the hotel we were glad to be back, sinking into the sofas and plunging into the bath, and each time I had to remind myself that there are more of these – a chain of hotels that doesn’t feel like one, and to which I am always happy to arrive.
Location, location, location. What more could you ask for from a hotel? Well, how about an indoor swimming pool? And an on-site restaurant? Perhaps sweeping views over an ancient city?
The Best Western Queens hotel in Perth has all these things – plus an enviable location right next door to the bus station and across the road from the train station.
It is also just a short walk from the city itself, and I spent my days strolling through the parks that hem in this stately ancient city and sitting outside cafes enjoying the sun and the excellent
local produce – soft fruits from Perthshire, seafood from the Scottish isles.
Each time I returned to the hotel my room seemed to expand. I had what amounted to a dressing room, with just the wardrobe and suitcase stand to occupy the floor space, plus a large desk, a separate table and chairs and an armchair, all arranged around the bed.
And then there was that view. Out over the rooftops of Perth towards the hills, seen from three different aspects from my multiple windows.
It tempted me out again and again, but each time I was glad to return, making full use of the swimming pool and the comfortable lounge bar with free wifi.
Yes, location is important, but so too are facilities – and so the Best Western Queens has plenty to offer, whether you’re catching that bus or train or not.
On my trip to Edinburgh and Glasgow earlier this month I stayed in four different hotels.
All had very different characters, but all were undeniably Scottish. Yes, there was tartan; yes, my luggage was carried by a man in a kilt; and yes, there was complimentary whisky rather than a fruit basket.
But it was more than that; in Scotland, the welcome is everything and at every hotel the staff excelled at making me feel at home.
Appropriate then that this is the Year of Homecoming. Read more about this here. And visit my Triptease collection of Scottish hotel and restaurant reviews here.