Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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A roaring 20s palace set amidst Scottish rolling hills, the Gleneagles Hotel is a category of its own. Built in 1924 by a railway company, the legendary palace featured its own railway station and a golf course. Now renovated and beautifully maintained, the Gleneagles is a place that’s oddly child-friendly given its opulence and luxury. We stayed there with our girls during the October break as our “splurge night” at the end of a week-long vacation in Scotland. It was heaven.
Our plan was the following. Since we arrived during the afternoon, we would settle in, take our girls out for a child-friendly dinner, then find them an activity for the evening so we could have a parents’ night out. The next morning would be reserved to kids activities, namely the swimming pool. Here’s how it went.
Located an hour outside Edinburgh in Perthshire, the hotel is a luxury resort famous for hosting golf cups and a G8 conference. The sheer size of the place is staggering – 232 luxury rooms and 26 suites, four restaurants, an afternoon tea, a coffee lounge and two bars. Add to that the spa, two swimming pools, shops and reception rooms and you’ll have an idea of the hotel, excluding the outside grounds. Needless to say, it’s spotless and luxurious without being ostentatious. We arrived in our hiking gear after a day on the trails and were treated like royalty upon arrival, a great sign in my book.
There were no family rooms available for our dates so the reservation gal suggested a sovereign room and it was fantastic choice. Upon checking at the reception in we were handed maps – that I hung on to for dear life, God the place is big – and promptly shown to our room. I tried to remember the right wing, the right hallway and the right door but during our short stay, I got sidetracked twice. Very large, the room opened on a king bed sporting a beautiful green tartan bedspread and inviting pillows. I would gladly have taken that bedspread home. Two single beds were made out in corners of the room for our girls and despite the two extra beds, the room still felt very spacious.
Down a hallway was a walk-in dressing room that our girls loved and used as a hide-out, right next to a white-tiled bathroom with a stand-alone bathtub and a separate shower. I wish I could pack more adjectives in sentences but this might end up reading like a fluff piece and it’s not because we paid the market price for our stay. It was just that great. The only downside of our room was the view – on the rooftops of the kitchens and the spa. Yes, I would have preferred rolling hills and catered lawns.
Leaving the room was tough. I think my girls would have been happy just having a bath and eating room service in plush bathrobes in front of the TV. OK, me too.
At the reception I enquired about family dining options – the Deseo restaurant was supposed to be great for kids. This laid-back Mediterranean bistro hit my girls’ soft spot with the kids’ menu. After a week of haddock, sausages and blood pudding, they literally jumped on the DIY pizza! That, my friends, is why you take the kids out – to see the biggest smile on their face when they start splattering sauce and arranging toppings on a blank pre-baked pizza crust. Oh what fun they had! My 9-year old even got artsy and drew a clock face with cheese and mushrooms. Though the composition melted and came out of the oven somewhat blurry, it was great and they both ate their pizza with gusto before wolfing down an ice cream.
Our girls were 7 and 9 at the time, too old for the hotel kids’ playroom – heaven for the preschool crowd – but exactly the right age for the the older kids’ playzone. Table football, arcade and video games, bean bags make up an inviting place to hang out with friends. On the night we stayed, the playzone’s activities included two movie screenings but unfortunately, our girls had already seen the movies and most of the games were “busy” with teens. Ah, what to do? We went to the reception and asked if they had kids’ DVDs our girls could watch in the room. Though they were somewhat surprised that we didn’t have an iPad for our girls’ entertainment (seems like most guests do), they opened the DVD library in the kids’ center and we found two great options for the evening. Relieved that we now had an evening plan, we tucked our girls into bed and left them in movie wonderland.
The evening was just starting for us and we had a dinner reservation at the Strathearn an hour later. To better get to know the place, we had a drink at the Clubhouse Bar that features comfy leather armchairs, dark-wood furnishings, soft music and low lights. Hovering between jazz age and arts and crafts, the place would fit right in a glamour 1920s movie.
After a mai tai and a whisky sour, we made our way to The Strathearn, the elegant dining room of the hotel where fine Scottish cuisine is served. I don’t remember much of the menu except that it was good but I do remember a conversation with one of the waiters about smoked salmon. See, we chose a smoked salmon sampler as an appetizer. Well the waiter knew the smoker by name, told us the fish was smoked specially for the Gleneagles and knew the smoking method used – peat, I think. Where else does the restaurant staff know who smoked the fish in your plate?
After a good night’s sleep, we took our girls to breakfast at the Strathhearn where the buffet rivaled our memories of the Ahwanee’s breakfast buffet. Smoked salmon, eggs, pancakes, porridge and hot cakes, fresh fruit, cereals, sausages, bacon, yogurt and the usual breakfast fare made us very happy even if we were not particularly hungry.
The swimming pool
Splash party! That pretty much sums up our swimming pool morning. Lucky for us, the morning activities offered a splash party for children with a giant inflatable structure floating on half of the pool and pool guards on duty in the water. Our girls dashed to the front of the line and spent the next couple hours crawling in tunnels, slipping on tubes and sliding down water slides. Do I need to say they loved it?
If you want to be treated like royalty and are willing to break the bank, the Gleneagles hotel is a wonderful place to stay with your kids and even with your older family members. We saw lots of different age groups in all areas of the hotel and everyone seemed to have fun. On school breaks the hotel offers a long list of kids’ activities for all ages – think of it as posh camp. If you’re looking to save on your stay, I’d suggest you subscribe to the Gleneagles online newsletter – they often offer specials.
Photo gallery – click on thumbnails to enlarge
Note: All photos are courtesy of The Gleneagles Hotel.