Scottish Island Luxury, Cruickshanks Boutique Bed & Breakfast, Arran

Bed and breakfast stays are not our usual accommodation of choice, but there was something special and unique about Cruickshanks on Arran that we had to try.  Rob and Nanette bought the property in 2015 and have successfully converted a beautiful 19th century house into a comfortable and welcoming place to stay.

As soon as we arrived we felt the warmth and passion they have both invested in the place and instantly felt at ease with them.   In only their second season they have created what must be easily one of the top bed and breakfast destinations in Scotland. Even the AA think so awarding them AA Guest Accommodation of the Year in Scotland for 2018/19.

We were staying in the Pearl Suite which consisted of a pair of connected rooms with fine views over the Firth of Clyde. There was a spacious bedroom with a super-king-sized bed and an adjacent sitting room, with easy chairs and desk.

We have to say we were very impressed with the suite which was more spacious than the website images had portrayed.   This is not a criticism, but instead it’s nice to see a place being honest with their images as opposed to the use of some clever wide-angle lenses

We had two great peaceful and relaxing night’s sleep enjoying luxurious hypnos mattresses, egyptian cotton bedlinen and comfortable hypo-allergenic duvets from Snuggledown.   We were also able to chill out with a Scottish Gin (Edinburgh this time round!) and enjoy our sitting room to the max taking advantage of impressive Wi-fi for an island, flat screen Smart TV and a box set via our own Netflix account.

The suite and other two rooms are equipped with DAB clock radio with Bluetooth sound system and electric kettle with a selection of teas, coffee and hot chocolate.   All have ensuite bathrooms with bathrobes, towels, hairdryer and toiletries from Arran Aromatics, offering a real luxury feel – just look at the quality of those slippers!

In the morning just remember to open those black out curtains when you wake and enjoy those views over the Firth of Clyde, with some freshly brewed coffee and Nanette’s homemade shortbread bites.

Nanette also has other kitchen skills, however, will leave you to find those out when you stay – just remember to leave room for some tempting treats later in the evening! Sorry, they never lasted long enough for a photo.

We wanted to enjoy the outdoors as much as we could, especially as the Scottish weather was relatively kind to us, especially on our arrival on the Friday.   We were only on the Isle for a few days and had planned several walks, nothing to strenuous, but just enough for us to see what the Isle had to offer.

As ever walkhighlands.co.uk was our go to website and we managed to explore and see much of the Isle.

Arran is described as Scotland on Miniature and it’s clear to see why that’s the case with the Isle split in two thanks to the Highland boundary fault.  The lowlands to the south and highlands to the north.

We managed to cover the full 56 miles circumference of the Isle during our stay with whistle stop tours of Brodick, Lamlash, Kildonnan, Lochranza and Corrie along with a few walks thrown in between exploring Glen Coy and the Fairy Glen, Kings Cave on the west of the isle and Fairy Dell to the north at Lochranza.

Even though we were only on the Isle for a few days, we managed three of the ‘big five’ with sightings of red squirrel, red deer and seals all under our belt by midday on the Saturday.  Even managed to catch a group of stags relaxing on a nearby golf course – only in Scotland!

Also, we caught a great shot of this ‘peacock’ butterfly which is apparently quite common, but impressive all the same!

We had planned so much more, including a trip up Goatfell, but that’s now one for our next visit.  Arran has so much to do and we really need to visit again to explore all that’s on offer, including the Arran Brewery, Arran Distillery and the Arran Aromatics factory shop.

As the weather was so good we didn’t fully enjoy the Ceilidh Room back at Cruickshanks (so named after a former sea-captain who converted this space to indulge his favourite pastime), but we did have a wee refreshment on our last night with Rob and Nanette before retiring to bed. The room is cosy and homely with comfortable seating and a wood-burning stove.  Definitely a place to relax, read or simply look out to sea during the more challenging seasons on Arran.

Books, books and more books! We genuinely haven’t seen a place with more books other than our local library and these days perhaps even more than it!  But this really is a place to pick a good book, relax, chill out and, if you can, have a wee digital detox.   Sadly, we never managed the latter, but managed to relax very quickly during our stay.

Also, it’s worth mentioning there is some great outdoor space for guests to enjoy and we managed to spend an hour or so when we arrived catching the last few hours of the afternoon sun.

Although, Cruickshanks is a five-star luxury boutique bed and breakfast it’s not ‘stuffy’ or ‘posh’  and Rob and Nanette make all their guests feel instantly at home .   The attention to detail from the two of them is first class from the quality décor, piping hot plates to the polished cutlery and well-presented breakfast.   It is clear they both have very high standards and are keen for their guests to experience the same.

Rob’s full Scottish breakfast is easily one of the best we’ve had, even winning a commendation from the AA inspectors earlier in the year.  Would also highly recommend his poached eggs on homemade sourdough bread and Nan’s homemade Muesli was so moreish with toasted oats, maple syrup, raisins, dried cherries, pecans, coconut, almonds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds – one bowl was never enough.

Nanette and Rob have lots of local knowledge and if you don’t have time to plan an itinerary before you arrive don’t worry, they’ll keep you right with some top tips on where to visit and dine when you’re out exploring.  Nanette even has her own take on a ‘PowerPoint’ presentation if you have the chance.

Worth a mention on the dining front would be Felicity’s in Whiting Bay which is a 10 to 12-minute walk from Rob and Nanette’s, although a few minutes slightly longer uphill for the return journey.  Some great homely food with a real buzz about the place.

If you’re out and about we would also highly recommend Mara Fish Bar and Deli, in Corrie.  They use seafood sourced from local suppliers, offering freshly made to order dishes in a takeaway style dining experience.   A real fab and tasty end to our trip before boarding the ferry back home on Sunday.

Rob and Nanette have really found a niche in the market on Arran and have opened our eyes to the world of bed and breakfasts. The only issue for us would be whether other accommodation can live up to their exacting standards.  They are both a little shy about their AA award, but they should be really proud of what they have achieved in such a short space of time and they can only go on from strength to strength in future years.

Arran has so much to offer and we would highly recommend the award winning Cruickshanks Bed and Breakfast as the perfect base to experience the Isle, whether it be for a walking, cycling, food and drink or wildlife trip.  We’ll definitely be back to explore soon.

Other Information:

Thank you to the Rob and Nanette from Cruickshanks / Andrew Surridge Photography for providing a few pictures for our blog.  Although this was a discounted visit, the review is an independent and true reflection of our experience.

Gran Melia Palacio De Los Duques, Madrid, Spain

An unusual blog here for us here as Mrs Amberpark has been off on her own wee adventure!

My three girlfriends and I normally enjoy spa weekends in the UK on special occasions. This trip to Madrid was arranged to celebrate two ‘memorable’ birthdays. However, being our first overseas trip together it would set the tone as to whether we would revert to spa weekends or make this adventure the new ‘norm’.

No pressure then Gran Palacio de los Duques – here come the girls!

We arrived in two separate parties around midday. Red level check in was in a separate area from main reception desk. The process was seamless with champagne being a very welcomed addition.

The initial ‘feel’ on entering the hotel was one of opulence and relaxation and these factors combined to make us feel part of something rather special.

The hotel is stunning both artistically and structurally. The reproduction Velazquez artworks, the strikingly beautiful individual pieces of furniture and the careful restoration of facets of the original building were all breath taking.

As a party of four females, after a glass or two of champagne, we all aspired to be the princess in Velazquez’s Las Meninas but clearly there is only one princess. There is also of course, a nun, a jester, a dwarf, two ladies in waiting and the famous man himself. Suffice to say we didn’t allocate roles! Four princesses continued their trip.

The hotel is extremely central. Very well located for some major tourist sights including: Teatro Real, Palacio Real, Plaza Mayor and numerous shops, bars and restaurants. The Parque del Retiro is about a 30-minute stroll away or a couple of stops on the underground and also worth a visit. Lots to see and do.

The street the hotel was located on was rather ordinary and it is easy to miss the hotel entrance  so its worth noting this in advance to aid any journey back especially after sampling the ‘comida y bebidas’ in the close by Mercado de San Miguel.

We occupied two red level junior suites for three nights.  At 45 square metres the suite was compact, but this is not unusual for a city centre hotel.

The bathrooms had a waterfall shower and freestanding baths , clarins toiletries and hair straighteners. There was a choice of pillows and water was replenished each day.  During our stay we obtained a kettle, additional tea, extra towels etc promptly and efficiently.

We didn’t manage to visit the Thai wellness centre however we did use the rooftop pool area several times. No problem obtaining four sunbeds despite it being the weekend. Service was efficient with water and towels on tap. The 360-degree rooftop view was simply stunning, punctuated only by us averting our gaze to reach for midday refreshments!

We would like to thank Lydia Sanchez who afforded us an upgrade to junior suites and arranged for small birthday cakes in each room. Reception staff were very helpful while being inconspicuous – not an easy combination to master and waiting staff were generally good, the only exception being when we ate at Monmatre restaurant on our last night.  There, we felt our initial waiter rushed us to order even after we advised him that we wanted a little more time. This slightly tainted the experience of indulging in such a varied and delightful menu.

Overall staff were very pleasant and clearly trained in a corporate ‘melia’ standard approach. They were also patient and friendly even when one of our party practiced speaking Spanish with them.

Our red level privileges allowed us to indulge in complementary cooked breakfast, varied buffet items, hot and cold snacks and all alcoholic drinks during both day and evening as part of our stay. The benefit of this cannot be understated.

It afforded us the ability to mix our experience perfectly. Booking restaurants in the evening and availing ourselves of the hotel facilities during the day. Importantly, while this facility was prepaid it still felt like a privilege and brought us back to the hotel.  This is a clever marketing strategy and it results in a guest / hotel win win situation.

As a group of four professional women our conclusion is interesting and completely reflective of our hotel experience first and Madrid second. This surprised us. Not only have we decided to do something similar again, we have agreed to choose the hotel first and the location second.

This is solely down to our experience at Gran Palacio de los Duques in Madrid and we hope that Melia group will remember us on future trips as we will remember our first trip abroad as a group to a Melia hotel.

Muchas gracias y esperamos verlos a todos pronto.

A big thank you to a special friend for the help with the write up on this one.