One of Britain's grandest hotels is approaching its 100th birthday but is still as classy and modern as ever, as Annunciata Elwes found out.
Movers, shakers, merrymakers, flappers and sophisticates flocked to enjoy the gilded luxury of Gleneagles when it opened in 1924: they called it the ‘Playground of the Gods’, the ‘Riviera in the Highlands’ and famous dance bands broadcast live from the ballroom.
Most places of great beauty and style that prospered in the 1920s have long ago seen their best days, but not so this glorious 850-acre Perthshire estate. It’s as exquisite as ever, albeit much updated – an enormous redecoration project has been under way for some years now – and the extravagance of its heyday reigns supreme.
The jewels in the Gleneagles crown are its five-star château-esque hotel, with 232 bedrooms, three championship golf courses – the Ryder Cup took place here in 2014 – the award-winning ESPA spa, the only restaurant in Scotland to hold two Michelin stars and an impeccable attention to detail that only the finest destinations in the world can boast.
Food and drink
The double-Michelin starred main restaurant is now named after its celebrated chef, Andrew Fairlie. It’s arguably the finest in Scotland, serving up French-inspired local cuisine; try the smoked lobster, infused for 12 hours over whisky barrels.
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There are also four other haunts: the Strathearn, punctuated by Ionic pillars, silver-domed dishes and waiters flambéing at white-clothed tables; the Century Bar, with seafood, game and an extensive whisky list; Auchterarder 70, a relaxing oak-panelled pub; and the Birnam Brasserie, which serves French-American fusion in a Parisian-style bistro.
What to do
‘If heaven is as good as this, I sure hope they have some tee times left.’ So said the great Lee Trevino after first visiting Gleneagles. The PGA Centenary Course hosted the Ryder Cup in 2014 and is plenty of fun, but purists may well prefer the King’s Course, a glorious track with many fairways hemmed in by picturesque dunes.
Golf is only part of the story: also on offer are falconry, gundog training, off-roading, riding, ferretting, fishing, cycling, shooting, archery and tennis. After a day in the glens, head for a swim and sauna to unwind before the next adventure.
Don’t miss: The American bar
The bedrooms are stylish, the landscape jaw-dropping and the spa exquisite, but it’s the opulent American Bar I won’t forget. Clandestine and glamorous, it’s a 1920s den in which the lights are dimmed, the drinks are heady and the caviar sublime.
A series of unusual cocktails fits the era and those with Champagne are mixed on a gleaming Art Deco trolley – I recommend one with sugarsnap-pea purée. The Three Musicians, served with a miniature of the Picasso painting it’s named for, is also delectable.
The Gleneagles Hotel, Auchterarder, Perthshire. From £275 per night, based on two people sharing a Classic Room and including breakfast (01764 662231; www.gleneagles.com)