Glenapp Castle Hotel Ballantrae, Scotland, United Kingdom
We first saw Glenapp Castle Hotel in 2002, after it had been painstakingly renovated by Scottish hoteliers, the McMillan family. Back then, this Scots-baronial Victorian castle hotel rose to fame fast with rave reviews in luxe-hotel guides and glossy magazines, soon joining Relais & Châteaux and earning a Michelin star. However, ultimately, it was just a very luxurious restaurant with rooms. That’s what we thought until our recent visit.
Paul and Poppy Szkiler have taken over, and quite literally elevated the hotel to the next level, spending £4.5 million. Where, at the very top of the castle, there was once the owner’s living quarters, there is now an utterly lavish 4-bedroom penthouse suite reached by private lift, which took £2 million of the refurb sum. It comes with a butler, chef, massage room, sauna, formal dining room, kitchen and media room. There’s also the cutest library full of board games and books, where we curled up to read an antique copy of Alice in Wonderland.
Chandeliers, deep sofas, mahogany tables, and fabric wallpaper feature in the traditional-style luxury decor, plus antique-looking mirrors which magically transform into Smart TVs. It smells divine, too, from coconutty Connock London kukui oil diffusers and fresh flowers in grand vases. We found the service cheery, professional, and far from stuffy.
Right on time
While you’re Out There
Take a day trip on Glenapp’s skippered boat to Ailsa Craig – an oval island jutting 1110 feet out of the water, 8 miles from the mainland. We went on a blue-skied spring day, and swirls of puffins, gannets and eider ducks heralded our arrival. The resident seals popped their heads up to check out us newcomers. We circled the island to see thousands of birds’ nests and the granite cliffs quarried to make Olympic curling stones. But the best part was yet to come. After mooring at the jetty, we climb up to a ruined folly, sitting puffed at the top staring out to sea, before heading down for a champagne picnic on the grassy shore. There wasn’t a floppy ham sandwich in sight in our Glenapp-made lunch. Instead, we feast on dressed heritage tomatoes, local roast beef, runny Scottish cheese, special salads for the veggies, fancy cakes and chilled fizz, all accompanied by the pure joy of being on an uninhabited Scottish island.
The rest of the 17-room hotel is in keeping with the Victorian castle it’s housed in, offering oak panelling galore, high-ceilinged bedrooms with four-poster beds and bay window views of Ailsa Craig island off the Ayrshire coast. You can also spot the hotel’s all-weather tennis court, immaculate gardens and ornamental lake. We wandered amid the greenery and found an ornate old glasshouse, which we were told will soon open as an informal second restaurant. The main restaurant is fine dining (our favourite starter was candy beetroot salad with apple, goat’s cheese, pickled egg yolk and spring potatoes), but, as Paul says, ‘sometimes you just want a great steak.’
And there is the difference. Paul really understands what people want. He offers a social conscience, too. As a sustainable investor, he builds businesses not only for profit, but to address social and environmental challenges, both here in the UK and in West Africa, where he often works.
His vision here is for a five-star destination with experiences for all, taking Glenapp from a restaurant with rooms to somewhere to stay for 2 or more nights. With a new menu of activities covering tennis and stargazing, helicopter lifts to distilleries and golf courses, boat trips to Ailsa Craig and a private glamping site on Jura, I’d say it’s a job done.