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Issue 12 - Splendour at Pitlochry

Scotland Magazine Issue 12
January 2004


This article is 14 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Splendour at Pitlochry

Hotels don't get much more grand than Atholl Palace in Pitlochry, says Brigid James

Pitlochry’s Atholl Palace Hotel rises in Scottish baronial splendour from its 48-acre grounds of woodland and parkland.

Situated under one hour’s drive north of Perth on the south side of the Highlands, the hotel’s setting, both within its own grounds and in the swelling mountainous landscape, is spectacular, and it provides an ideal base for discovering the great history and landscape of the west Highlands.

At around 200 years old, the Atholl Palace is an imposing yet attractive building, rising high above the sweeping driveway. Inside, all bedrooms are smart and comfortable, having been recently refurbished.

On entering the hotel, the lobby provides an atmosphere of elegant yet cosy charm, with open fires roaring during the colder months and a predominant theme of dark, rich reds coupled with bronze and gold.

Straight ahead through the lobby is the dining room, one of the loveliest rooms in the hotel. The far wall is comprised of huge windows, revealing a stunning panorama of woodland with the River Tummel winding below – a view so beautiful that it might even distract you from the excellent cuisine on offer.

In the hotel restaurant, you will find great service and a menu that makes the most of local and typically Scottish delights such as Aberdeen Angus beef, smoked salmon, haddock, and, of course, haggis, with truly delicious results.

Vegetarians also have a reasonable choice. Desserts, again, come highly recommended, and tend towards the more traditional, but are certainly none the worse for that.

For a nightcap afterwards, try the cosy and traditional Stagshead Bar for a range of whiskies from various Scottish regions.

The recently refurbished bedrooms begin with standard twin and double rooms, with views of the gardens and local peak Ben-YVrackie, or the River Tummel and its valley to the south.

At the top end of the scale are the grand Turret Suites, which are exactly what the name suggests.

One in each turret, the suites feature elevated lounges and the accompanying splendid panoramic views you would expect – very romantic and luxurious.

Without even venturing further afield, the hotel offers its own entertainment onsite, including an outdoor swimming pool, open during summer, and tennis courts – the hotel is the host of the annual Highland Tennis Championships each September, which are now in their 107th year.

The varied and attractive walks through the wooded grounds are delightful, and, notably, encompass specimen trees dating from the late 19th century, such as giant sequoia, brought back by seed collectors Menzies and Douglas, whose legacy can also be admired in other Highland Perthshire gardens such as those of Blair Castle.

There is also plenty to observe in terms of wildlife, such as deer and squirrels, as well as many different types of woodland-dwelling birds, and more imposing species such as buzzards.

The hotel is currently restoring its kitchen herb garden to produce fresh herbs and vegetables for the restaurant, and the ancient fruit trees have been pruned to encourage new growth.

Seats are provided for guests to enjoy the garden’s progress, and to observe the visiting birds and animals.

Beyond the Atholl Palace, the small town of Pitlochry itself is the first port of call, with its long high street comprising many shops selling typically Scottish gifts, including a well-stocked outlet of The Whisky Shop, definitely worth a visit.

Up the hill behind the town in Moulin (a 10 or 15-minute walk), the Moulin Inn offers a pleasant traditional pub atmosphere, a good menu and a decent local pint; the beer is brewed just down the street.

Back down in town, don’t miss the Pitlochry Festival Theatre right on the banks of the River Tummel, which puts on several different plays a week during its season from May until October. There is also the nearby Salmon Ladder, a series of interconnected pools via which thousands of salmon can be observed passing every year between April and October to reach their spawning ground.

Of course, a major reason for many people to visit Pitlochry is its ideal location as a base to explore the Highlands.

In every direction from the town, wonderful scenery and walks or hikes are to be found, but closer by, the Pass of Killiecrankie, site of a Jacobite victory in 1689, can be reached on foot from Pitlochry, and Loch Tummel is also close by. Right on the doorstep, the impressive peak Ben-YVrackie, brooding at 2759 feet above the town, can be ascended – to the summit base if not the peak – through woodland initially and then across open moorland with views back down to the town.

And, of course, the hotel is a good base for enjoying the many golf courses in the area, such as at Taymouth Castle, Dunkeld and, further afield, Gleneagles, among many others. Pitlochry has its own course too, which affords a splendid view of the Atholl Palace from the seventh tee.

This area of Perthshire is also a fertile area for whisky. Just next to Pitlochry is the Scotland’s smallest distillery Edradour distillery, where distinctive whisky is made.

At Aberfeldy, about half-an-hour’s drive south-west of the town, Dewar’s World of Whisky offers a modern, entertaining insight into the production of Dewar’s White Label blended whisky as well as a guided tour of Aberfeldy distillery itself.

And don’t forget The Famous Grouse Experience, near Crieff, about one hour south by car from Pitlochry.

Visitors can enjoy a simulated ‘flight’ with a grouse as it flies across the Highlands.

The centre tastefully and attractively combines the traditional (Glenturret distillery) with the modern (The Famous Grouse Experience annex).

These suggestions only skim the surface of what this beautiful Perthshire Highland area has to offer, and the Atholl Palace Hotel offers a great base from which to explore. This comfortable, luxurious hotel is a rising star, so do take the chance to sample its charm and attractions.

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