Five Star Luxury, The Church Tower, Crieff, Perthshire

Our Scottish breaks to Avernish Lodge and Crosple Cottage in autumn last year were more rural in character and we wanted something a little different to shake off the January blues.

We know the the area around Crieff well, as we visit annually during December to enjoy the party nights at the Hydro.  The high street in Crieff always has a good feel to it so we thought Crieff would be a great place to base ourselves for our first break of 2019.

A quick five-star property search threw up the Church Tower. Sitting in a prominent location as you enter Crieff from the South we had driven past the former St Ninians Church place many times and had no idea there was such a unique and unusual property hiding in there for us to enjoy.

Featuring exposed stone, oak flooring, and arched windows, the property is quirky and full of character.  With spectacular 360-degree views of the surrounding area, the three-bedroom apartment has a small sitting area at the top of the tower.  

The perfect place to watch the sunrise and the sunset with a coffee or glass of wine in hand. 

A small fan heater kept the tower warn and comfortable as we watched the ever-changing scene and views over to Loch Turret and Ben Chonzie.

St Ninians dates from the late 19th Century and was converted in the 1960’s into a Church of Scotland seminary retreat and training centre.  The Church Tower, opened in 2007, combines original features like exposed church walls and beams, with the comforts of modern living to provide a unique 5-star standard of holiday experience.

As one would expect in a Church Tower there are 4 flights of stairs up to the apartment front door. Once in the Tower, there is a further flight of stairs to the living room / kitchen area, and another flight to the very top of the tower.   A word of warning the apartment is not for those with limited mobility – if there ever was a case to travel lightly this was it!

You could also guarantee whatever you were looking for was on a different floor to where you were.  This, to be honest wasn’t a bad thing, as it helped burn off a few extra calories to allow us to enjoy the treats available in the high street,

On the first floor, there are 2 double rooms, both with en-suite wet-rooms with under-floor heating and a twin room, together with a large family bathroom.

All bedrooms are decorated to a high standard as are the bathrooms.  The en-suite wet rooms are also very quirky, with the open shower arrangement taking a little getting used to.  Bathrobes and toiletries are provided adding a nice luxurious touch to the stay.

From the first floor, you ascend the light-flooded Tower, with the steel staircase. The Tower has retained its originally features in the old stone walls and evangelistic windows, but the modern LED lighting certainly brings it into the 21st Century.   

Halfway up the Tower staircase, you enter the large open plan living area, with the balcony at one end and the dining area / kitchen at the other.

The, kitchen although small, was more than adequate, for us to rustle up some meals including some fantastic fresh seafood from Fish in Crieff.

The balcony enjoys impressive views over the Crieff hills and beyond, although given the time of year, we never managed to enjoy it to the full.

Off the living area is a snug and cosy tv room with 42″ wall-mounted TV, together with a comfy sofa.  This was a great place to chill out and relax after exploring the Perthshire countryside. We thought we’d try another box set this time round and we settled down to watch Season 1 of the The Vikings – have to say we’re already hooked and working our way through Season 2.

The apartment is unique and quirky and certainly worth a visit providing you can cope with all the stairs.

Centrally located in Crieff, The Church Tower is perfect for exploring the South Highlands of the Trossachs National Park and Perthshire countryside and we managed to fit in several walks, enjoying a spell of rather outstanding weather for the time of year.

Walkhighlands has the usual great coverage in this area and we took in a few of our old favourites including The Knock of Crieff, Lady Mary’s walk and Laggan Hill circular.

We also managed a few new ones nearby at St Fillans Viewpoint circular and the River Earn walk from Crieff to Muthill – although looks like some locals had recently visited!

We had visited Highland Safaris a few years back for a red deer experience and a trip into the mountains to see the amazing Perthshire scenery, so we couldn’t miss the opportunity to visit again during winter. The weather on the day was simply incredible and perhaps the best day of the year so far, with blue skies and more than a ‘crisp’ in the air! You can read about our experience here.

We had a bit of a religious theme going on with this trip, not only were we staying at The Church Tower, in Crieff we had lined up a visit to Little’s Restaurant in the former Riverside Methodist Church in Rattray and Blairgowrie.  

Cargill’s Leap and the Knockie circuit in Blairgowrie helped us walk off the calories from a very filling and tasty lunch.  You can read about this here along with our visit to Fish in Crieff.

Basing ourselves so close to the Crieff Town Centre was a master stroke with a butchers, fishmongers, chocolatier, deli, bakers and confectioner within easy walking distance from the apartment, it may however have been better for our waistline if we had been further away from the chocolatier! 

There were also a few great restaurants to eat in nearby and we had some pretty tasty food at the Tower Gastro Pub and Craobh.  Although we never managed to visit during our stay The Lounge also deserves a mention for another excellent menu to choose from – one to visit again in December.

John Burke, the owner, has really created a unique place to stay and has respectfully kept the character of the Church and cleverly added modern and unique elements for his visitors to enjoy.   

This was a really great trip and certainly on our radar to visit again in the future, although we’ve already got an eye on John’s newest property Dun Aluinn an exclusive use venue situated in Aberfeldy Perthshire, Scotland. 

Just waiting for an invite to visit!

Other Information: This was a sponsored / discounted visit; however, the review / article is an independent, honest and true reflection of our experience.  Thank you to John Burke / Dun Aluinn Estate 2018 for allowing us to use some of their images in this blog.

Winter Wonderland, Highland Safaris, Perthshire

Staying at The Church Tower, in Crieff meant we had another opportunity to visit our friends at Highland Safaris in Perthshire.

We visited Highland Safaris a few years back for a red deer experience and a trip into the mountains to see the amazing Perthshire scenery, so we couldn’t miss the opportunity to do so again during winter. The weather on the day was simply incredible and perhaps the best day of the year so far, with blue skies and more than a ‘crisp’ in the air!

Before setting out on our Winter Safari we had a pit stop and some lunch at the onsite café.  The team there were first class, pleasant and genuinely engaging managing to serve up some wholesome paninis and baked potatoes in plenty of time – so much so that we had time for a coffee and some rather tasty home baking.

We set off with Jim in our land rover just around 1pm. He was so passionate about what he did for a living and the area he worked in – such a lucky person!   Similar to our last trip with the Highland Safaris team, it wouldn’t be fair to tell their stories, but they were informative and interesting covering legends and folklore, the Schiehallion mountain and the history of the clans.

An exciting and ‘icy’ climb through the mountain tracks saw us at almost 2,500ft up Tairneachan.  Stopping off a few times for some scenic shots and some to simply look, the weather was perfect for us, but very very cold!

The trip really opened our eyes as to how the mountains of scotland can be so incredible, but very dangerous at the same time if you don’t wrap up well and have the correct equipment. We were lucky to be in a fully equipped land rover, with expert guides on hand to keep us safe.

With temperatures dropping significantly every 1,000 ft the 20 mins stopover in a mountain bothy with some tea, coffee, Kenmore Shortbread and a dram of Dewars Whisky was perfectly timed.

Highland Safaris recently celebrated twenty five years of success which has seen it grow its business from one Land Rover taking small groups up into the hills, to its present level as one of Scotland’s premier five star rated visitor attractions, enabling visitors from home and abroad to successfully engage with Scotland’s wildlife, history and heritage.

We didn’t manage to visit the Red Deer Centre again this time round but would highly recommend it if you’ve haven’t been. The visit starts off with passionate, and informative talk about wild red deer which was good fun interactive and interesting and ends with an opportunity to hand feed the Centre’s herd of tame Red Deer.   During our visit last time we also got to meet the Centre’s Barn Owl who was keen to show us her flying skills; overall, we had a great time learning the secrets of this majestic bird.

One thing is for certain our two trips to Highland Safaris have been anything but ‘dull’!

This was our second trip and it certainly wont be our last, we hope to visit at some point in the future in either spring or summer to see how the scenery has changed.  Overall a fab day out and we’re also looking forward to trying their Loch Tay Safari .

Other Information: This was a sponsored / discounted visit, however, the review / article is an independent, honest and true reflection of our experience.  Thank you also to Clare Graham from www.advantagepr.co.uk for the connection. 

Scottish Seafood, Good for the ‘Sole’, Little’s Restaurant, Perthshire

We had a bit of a religious theme going on with our last trip staying at The Church Tower, in Crieff and then a wee visit to Little’s Restaurant in the former Riverside Methodist Church in Rattray and Blairgowrie. 

Look out for our Church Tower blog coming soon, but first up Little’s Restaurant and Fish in Crieff.

Willie Little is well known in the area and has a wealth of experience in the catering industry with Little’s being the latest in a line of popular restaurants he has owned and run in Angus and Perthshire over the years.

We had the pleasure of catching up with Willie during our visit and what an interesting and infectious character he is with some amazing and wonderful stories about the church transformation, floorboards, dry rot, his plans for the future, how the renovation came in a ‘little’ over budget and of course his passion for seafood.  

The full story of the church transformation can be found here

Willie is so passionate about fish it’s no surprise his menus feature traditional as well as some more unusual dishes. Willie also has a love for seasonal Scottish fish and seafood and has a passion for sharing this with his customers both at the shop and the restaurant. 

He spends his mornings at his fish shop in Crieff and then travels onto Blairgowrie in the afternoon to cook in the evenings in the restaurant.  Thinking up his daily specials whilst driving from Crieff to Blairgowrie his restaurant team  must be on their toes to spring into action for his customers arriving for lunch.

We arrived for afternoon lunch and were given a very warm welcome by Helen who invited us in to marvel at the unique surroundings.  The renovation is stunning and full of character; built in 1885 it became the headquarters in 1917 of the Labour Corps and around 20,000 men of all ages and ranks passed through in the following two years. Built from Pictfield Quarry stone to seat 440 people, the church was completed and consecrated in 1887.

As Helen showed us to our table, we couldn’t miss the unique and impressive central stained-glass window.  Erected in 1922, the window, we are told, is the only memorial in Britain to the 7,000 officers and men of the Labour Corp who gave their lives in WW1.

Our attention was eventually drawn away from the stained-glass window by an equally impressive fish menu and specials blackboard with many traditional and unusual fish and seafood pairings / combinations to choose from.  Decisions, decisions!

Our starters were a selection of seafood tasters including mussels with bacon, crispy squid rings, prawn mayonnaise and smoked salmon along with an impressive dish of hand-dived Orkney king scallops and black pudding.  A very tasty start to our lunch and the first restaurant we can truly say we really enjoyed the squid – very moreish!

Mains were just as impressive with a delicious fillet of sea bass, with rosti potato, smoked bacon, and cabbage and Fish of the Day.   Willies passion is to encourage his customers to try types of fish they may not have tried before.  On the menu for us was Megrim a flatfish similar in flavour to Dover sole. From the same family as turbot and brill, it has softer flesh and thin skin that can be easily crisped during cooking.  

Served with toasted almonds, sauté potatoes, and nut-brown butter, the Megrim was fab and very filling – a word of warning if you think you’ve finished, flip it over and you’ve got plenty more to work through.  So much so, the space normally left for desserts was easily breached.

Willie sources all his fish and seafood from trusted suppliers in places like Peterhead and Kinlochbervie knowing all the fishermen and the divers direct. What we found interesting was that he knew where everything in his restaurant and fishmongers, Fish in Crieff, comes from.

Through his fishmongers, Fish in Crieff, Willie has access to the freshest fish that Scottish waters has to offer coming daily from Scrabster Market in the North of Scotland, from market to plate within 12 hours. 

Staying at The Church Tower only a few 100 metres along from his shop in Crieff, Willie was pleased to arrange for us to visit and try some of the fresh produce on offer. 

We had hoped to catch Willie in his shop, but he was long gone on his daily journey to Blairgowrie by the time we arrived at the shop around 9am.  Suspect he had another busy day ahead of him.

Not to worry as we received another warm welcome from Shaun who was hard at work filleting some Red Fish at his work counter when we arrived.  Very knowledgeable and engaging Shaun showed us around the shop answering our questions and giving advice on how to prepare and cook the different types of fish and seafood. 

The shop has everything you would expect and much more and the people and visitors to Crieff are so lucky to have this on their doorstep.  We left with fresh mussels, red fish, scallops and some cod fillet.  Red Fish isn’t the most attractive fish, so we’ll save you from the before pictures, but the fillets and finished dish was a little more pleasing on the eye. 

Back at the Church Tower we set about trying to create dishes that might not be too far out of place on Willies specials board, including Thai Chilli and Coconut Mussels, Red Fish with Sweet Potato and Thai Chilli and Coconut Cod Fillet. 

We might need to work on our presentation, but even if we do say so ourselves, the dishes were fab.  Nothing to do with the skills of the amateur chefs, but instead simply down to the freshness of the ingredients!

The Riverside Methodist Church in Rattray and Blairgowrie was clearly a focus for the community and War efforts in years gone by and it’s a pleasure to see that it has become so once again.  With a warm and welcoming atmosphere Willie has created a unique venue, in a prime location, serving outstanding cuisine which perfectly showcases Scotland’s amazing seafood. 

Fish in Crieff is equally as impressive and is the type of shop that we wish every high street would have, providing everyone with the opportunity to prepare dishes with the same ingredients as Willie and other top chefs serve up to their customers.

We really can’t recommend Little’s Restaurant and Fish in Crieff highly enough and we’ll definitely be returning when we’re visiting Perthshire again.

Other Information: Thank you to Littles Restaurant / Fish in Crieff for providing a few pictures for our social media feeds / blog.  This was a sponsored visit, however, the review / article is an independent, honest and true reflection of our experience.  Thank you also to Clare Graham from www.advantagepr.co.uk for the connection. 

Avernish Lodge, Lochalsh Luxury, Scotland

According to the website Avernish Lodge is situated on the banks of Loch Alsh, with stunning views over Eilean Donan Castle, is miles from any passing traffic and serenity is guaranteed.  This is a 100% accurate description and just what we needed before winter took hold in Scotland.

Slightly further north than our trip in October back to Crosple Cottage Loch Melfort, Avernish Lodge is ideally placed to explore the Kyle of Lochalsh and another great excuse for a journey via Glencoe.

We set off a little later than planned meaning we arrived at Avernish just as the sun was going down; when we approached the village of Dornie, Eilean Donan Castle was magically lit up to honour the 100-year Armistice celebrations.  What a welcome to the area!

As we turned off the main road it felt like the local pipistrelle bats were guiding us along the track as the light faded for the day.  Avernish Lodge, completed in 2016, is about a mile off the main A87 road down a quiet single-track road which gives access to several crofts scattered along the banks of Loch Alsh.

The lodge sits in an elevated prominent position on the hillside with unrestricted views over the loch and over to Glas Eilean, a small island in the middle.

It was a first for us arriving in the dark and little strange, however, as soon as we entered the lodge we were at home.  The lodge is finished to an extremely high standard and has been very well looked after by guests and owner James.

You enter the lodge via a handy utility room with a sink, washing machine, tumble dryer and a drying cupboard for hanging up outdoor clothing.

The living area is large with a high-pitched roof, it’s a modern open-plan well equipped space complete with a log burning stove, HD television with Sky TV, Wi-Fi Internet and a solid wood dining table separating the living area and the kitchen.

The bathroom and en-suite are also very impressive adding to an already luxurious experience.

Our biggest decision when we arrived was which of the two bedrooms, we were going to sleep in. 

The largest bedroom can be set up as two single beds or a super king, but the views from the slightly smaller en-suite bedroom overlooking Eilean Donan made it an easy choice for us.  

There was something enchanting about falling asleep with the castle lit up in the distance.  We didn’t fully appreciate the stunning view until the next morning – waking up to a glorious sunrise over the loch was even more special.

When we entered the living space the next morning the extent of the views of Loch Alsh from the floor to ceiling windows was mesmerising.

We both had our eyes on the luxurious rotating chair positioned in the corner window – luckily it was big enough to fit two!    Many a morning started sitting here with a coffee enjoying the views.

Our ‘batch’ cooking at Crosple Cottage was a real success so we did the same again for our break at Avernish.

Again, we just needed a few pots and of course a microwave to prepare our meals, but the kitchen is fully equipped for the more adventurous chef to rustle up some local delights, but a must visit place is Buth Bheag seafood shack in Kyle of Lochalsh to stock up and sample some local produce.

The dining table was perfect place to relax, enjoy the view whilst tucking into a piping hot bowl of soup or casserole as well as a glass (or two) of red.

All rooms, including the living space, are fitted with independently controlled underfloor heating, which is great.  A word of warning though, it can get very warm if the temperature is set to high so take it easy on the first few nights especially if you need to use the log fire as it heats up the large living area in no time.

During our week we were very lucky with the weather; November in Scotland can be sometimes unpredictable and very cold however we managed out every day to explore and most of the days the sun was shining.

On a couple of occasions, it was that warm we had to ditch the fleeces and jackets.

At this time of year, the daylight hours were short with the sun going down just after 4pm so as we returned to the lodge most days we could enjoy watching the sun go down.

Each of the bedrooms and living areas has a glass door that opens onto a paved patio area, offering outdoor access which you could make use of during the warmer lighter months.

Although the lodge is remote the broadband connection is not too bad and at a little over 5mbps allowed us to keep an eye on the weather, download some walks and fire up a Netflix box set to enjoy via our own Apple TV.  The Smart TV also has a full Sky Sports and Movies package as well as access to a suite of apps such as BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime, Netflix etc, perfect for those cosy autumn evenings with a roaring log fire burning beside you.

As we said before when holidaying in Scotland there can only be one series to settle down and watch – Outlander.  Season 3 was our choice this time round and like our accommodation didn’t disappoint – no spoilers, but we can’t wait for Season 4 to complete so we can binge on it during our next stay wherever that may be.

No box set would be complete without a nice Scottish Gin to accompany it, Makar was this week’s choice (one of Linda’s favourites) with a wee Drambuie to finish off most evenings.   Afraid, we made the fateful mistake of discovering a Bonnie Prince Charlie’s aka Prosecco and Drambuie!  Very nice – they certainly had the desired effect.

Worth pointing out that while fibre optic isn’t yet in the area the coverage of EE’s mobile 4g signal at the lodge was impressive at lmost 20-25mbps and Vodafone’s 4g was around 5mbps. Always good to know for those social media hungry people who like to keep in touch or book up their next trip!

The lodge is very close to a number of popular tourist attractions, such as; Eilean Donan Castle, The Isle of Skye, Plockton and numerous other castles, mountains and tourist hotspots.

A wee pit stop went down well at the Plockton Inn before we ventured over to Duncraig Castle to explore.  That’s on our radar for a visit next year!

During our stay we always turned left when we left Avernish along the main tourist route towards Skye, maybe next time we’ll venture right.

All our walks and the towns / villages we explored were generally within about a 30-minute drive although we did venture over to the Fairy Pools on Skye on our last day – well worth a trip.

Wildlife encounters included seals, otters, mountain goats, red deer and roe dear not forgetting the local bats!  Highlight was this close up encounter with a very friendly chaffinch as we set of to explore the Fairy Pools.

Would highly recommend spending time having a look at walkhighlands.co.uk  our go to website before you arrive and plan a few walks to get you started.

This is our second year we have holidayed in Scotland at this time of year and we would highly recommend it.  The roads are generally quiet, and, on many occasions, we didn’t encounter any other walkers when we were out exploring – check out the scenery in these pics.

Yes, some venues are closed or have restricted hours, but the great outdoors are well and truly open and not to be missed.

James has created a real place to get away from it all and it was a wrench to leave at the end of our stay.  For those looking for luxury self-catering accommodation and a holiday experience in a picturesque setting Avernish Lodge is up there with the best.

We really can’t stress how relaxed we felt here overlooking Loch Alsh and Eilean Donan Castle and we would highly recommend a visit.

With so much to do in the area James has created a perfect base for you to return each day to relax, recharge and reflect on your adventures and, of course, sip a wee refreshment.

Other Information:

Although this was a discounted visit, the review is an independent and true reflection of our experience.  Thank you to James for use of some property images in this article.

Argyll Autumn Hideaway, Crosple Cottage, Melfort

Our Seabourn cruise in the summer surpassed our expectations in terms of luxury, fine dining and of course service.   We would however have liked some more relaxation as, being our first cruise, we tried to cram in as much as we could.  Days started early and ended late, so we knew we needed another type of break (or two) before winter took hold this year.

Look out for our trip to Avernish Lodge, Kyle of Lochalsh later in the year, but first up was Crosple Cottage, Loch Melfort, Argyll.

We’re so lucky here in Scotland – within just a few hours the car can be packed, and you can be on the road to many incredibly scenic and peaceful locations.

We stopped off at Inveraray for lunch and a wee stretch of our legs.   Check out the views from the top of Dun Na Cuaiche, the ascent certainly worked off a few of the added calories from the lunchtime fish and chips!

When we reached the small village of Kilmelford just over an hour later, we knew we didn’t have far to go. Crosple Cottage was just  2 miles further along the lochside, turning off the main road we ascended the final 400m via a farm track. The Cottage appeared round the final bend; our secluded hideaway for 7 days.

Crosple cottage has impressive views of Loch Melfort / Fearnach Bay and the open countryside, no neighbours (except the curious sheep), no interruptions, just peace and solitude with only the wildlife and each other for company.

If you do manage a visit, do not panic if you hear the occasional noise outside in the evening, its probably one of the curious sheep who jump the wall into the cottage garden.   If only we’d known about that when we arrived, it would have prevented the scare we got as we shone our torch outside on our first evening only to be greeted by a glowing pair of eyes.  Watch out for this chap on your travels  too – we were assured he was harmless!

The ground floor of the cottage is open plan and well laid out with a cosy sitting area and a wood burner, small dining area and a very well-equipped kitchen.   It was nice to see that sustainability is important to Rory and Jennie as there were clear recycling instructions for guests which is sometimes missing from properties we have stayed at recently. We had taken relaxation to a new level and had ‘batched’ cooked for our 7 day stay, so we just needed a few pots and of course a microwave to prepare our meals, but the kitchen is clearly equipped for the more adventurous chef to rustle up some culinary delights.

The living area has french doors that open out onto a south facing patio with views down to Loch Melfort.  Despite the time of year, we were fortunate enough to enjoy the patio on several occasions during our stay.

Off the hallway is a handy utility room with washing machine, tumble dryer and plenty of hooks for hanging up outdoor clothing.  Upstairs there is a compact bedroom with a large king-size bed and a good sized bathroom both with stunning views down to Loch Melfort.

The bathroom has a large walk in shower and a deep cast iron roll top bath which is perfect for a soak after a day exploring; even big enough for two.  It certainly helped us recover from our more energetic walks.  The underfloor heating, fluffy bath robes and Scottish toiletries added to the luxuriousness and created a real private retreat for us to enjoy.

Rest assured that every little extra has been thought of to make your stay perfect. There are vases of fresh flowers, a good supply of quality magazines and wide selection of books to choose from should you decide to have a lazy morning or afternoon. A Nespresso coffee machine is also on hand with capsules available to purchase, if your own supply runs out.

An impressive 11Mbps plus broadband connection allows you to review the weather, download some walks and fire up a Netflix box set to enjoy.

When staying in a wee Scottish cottage there can only be one series to settle down and watch – Outlander.  Season 2 was our choice this time round and like our accommodation didn’t disappoint – but you’ll never guess what happened at Culloden!

No box set would be complete without a nice Scottish Gin to accompany it, Arbikie AKs was this week’s choice (again), along with an impressive newcomer for us, Jinzu, both washed down with a wee Drambuie to finish off the evening.  The roaring log fire was the perfect backdrop for a cosy Autumn evening.

There are plenty of walks directly from the cottage if you don’t want to drive, including Melfort hill to the rear of the cottage.

We often meandered our way through the bracken, a scythe would have been handy mind you in some places, and joined the track for the Creag an Sturra circuit.  It was supposed to be a ‘short cut’, but the steep ascent in some places is for the more adventurous and definitely took its toll on our legs. Worth it though for the views!

We would also highly recommend the adjacent An Coire Lochan Circuit for some incredible views of Jura, Scarba and Lunga and everything in between!

The cottage has really good information on local walks, places to visit and things to do in the surrounding area.

Just find what suits and off you go – but don’t underestimate the benefits of some lazy mornings or afternoons just chilling in the cottage.   We managed this every day and have to say was just what we needed to recharge the batteries.

If you do venture further afield we’d recommend exploring Seil Island and of course crossing the ‘Atlantic’ via the historic Clachan Bridge.

Here you can visit Ellenabeich and climb the nearby hillside to see stunning views of nearby Mull and the slate island of Easdale.  Further south the Cuan Coast and Moor Circuit really is worth a try.

Wildlife sightings during our stay were sporadic, however, we managed three of the big five, catching a few curious seals in the Fearnach Bay, some deer up near Seil Island and a Golden Eagle swirling above Melfort Hill.

Crosple Cottage is the perfect romantic hideaway, located in a secluded spot nestled on a hillside and just 300 meters from the shores of Loch Melfort.  Just remember and pull yourself away from the cosy log fire to explore the beautiful Argyll scenery.

Rory Campbell Gibson and his wife Jennie have created something unique with Crosple Cottage, their second self-catering property situated on their farmland on the Melfort Estate near Oban.

Crosple Cottage and their first project, Fearnach Bay House, which is equally as impressive, were built by Rory himself and decorated internally by Jennie.  We hadn’t appreciated until the end of our break that Rory is also an artist and many of his pieces adorn the walls of Crosple Cottage.   For someone that has only taken up painting in recent years he has a real talent – see for yourself here.

Rory and Jennie sought to create accommodation to appeal to those who were looking for luxury self-catering accommodation and a holiday experience in a picturesque setting.  They have no doubt achieved this here at Crosple Cottage and we hope to try Fearnach Bay House some time soon.

We really can’t stress how relaxed we felt here in our very own secluded Argyll hideaway and we would highly recommend a visit.

Other Information:

Although this was a discounted visit, the review is an independent and true reflection of our experience.

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.

Seabourn Encore, Ultra Luxury at Sea, Our First Ever Cruise

Not only were we celebrating a special occasion, our first cruise had to be extra special, so we chose one of the top ultra-luxury cruise lines in the world, Seabourn.

Aboard their brand new ship Encore we set set sail from Barcelona on what was billed as the Romance of the Rivieras, visiting Mahon, Marseille, St Tropez, Ajaccio, Monte Carlo, Portovenere and Rome.

We were not disappointing and are now part of the ‘cruiserati’ world!

Full blog to follow, but pics tell a thousand words.   A few courtesy of our friends at Seabourn!

 

The Magic of the ‘Opera’, Moments Restaurant, Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona

With two Michelin stars, the Mandarin Oriental’s Moments restaurant continues to win awards and devotees thanks to its creative, fresh and healthy cuisine inspired by Catalan culinary culture.

Where better to celebrate Linda’s special birthday than here!

Managed by chef Carme Ruscalleda and her son Raül Balam, Moments offers one of the finest gastronomic experiences in Barcelona.

We were lucky to be able to try a new menu featuring twelve dishes inspired by the magic of the Opera. This unique dining experience was something special and transported us to another stage……

Full blog to follow soon……pics too good not to share now though!

Spring Sunshine, Ardnamurchan and Moidart, Scottish Highlands

This was our second trip to Ardnamurchan in less than 6 months, staying again at Garmoran Square, Mingarry, Moidart.   Our first trip can be found here.

Moidart is best known as Bonnie Prince Charlie country as he arrived in Kinlochmoidart in August 1745 landing at Castle Tioram on route from France setting sail up Loch Shiel from Dalilea.

It’s worth reading up on the history before you arrive as you’ll immediately fall in love with these stories and the folklore the area has to offer.

Full blog to follow shortly…..enjoy pics just now!