“THE finest parcel of land in the world I have ever been given to work with”, was how Jack Nicklaus described the 850 acres of Perthshire countryside, home to the Gleneagles Hotel. The parcel he was given was the old Glendevon Course, which in the early 1990s he moulded and morphed into the Monarch, which in turn abdicated to make way for the PGA Centenary Course.
Gleneagles is the venue for the 2014 Ryder Cup, when Scotland’s hills and glens – haunted by the bloody spectre of partisan battles past – will ring again with chants of a more modern clan warfare; U-S-A U-S-A against the European olés.
The Gleneagles Hotel has a reputation that precedes it, built on a 90-year history of hosting society’s elite; part Jay Gatsby, part Bobby Jones, with a dash of Sean Connery – wryly drinking a single malt under a mounted stag’s head.
Or at least that is the perceived idea of Gleneagles – an Art Deco behemoth, a golfing theme park for wealthy Americans, embodying their rose-tinted ideas about the Scottish golfing estate.
The reality is somewhat different, and far more subtle.
Gleneagles was built specifically as a golf resort and that heritage is inescapable – the long driveway takes you past the clubhouse, the golf academy, ordered rows of golf buggies like sentries and THAT view from the 1st tee on the King’s Course. The hotel building itself is impressive in size and stature, but is also austere and a little foreboding.
The solid grey walls, stone balustrades and tall rows of jutting chimneys seem braced against the elements and together with the neatly tended, Capability Brown designed gardens lend something of an institutional air, but what I found instead was a relaxed and warmly hospitable welcome.
I’d arrived with my husband around midday and slap bang into peak check-out time which gave me an excellent opportunity for some sly, sidelong observation of my fellow guests. The mix was broad, from young families and couples both young and old, to multi-generational groups which yes, included Americans armed with golf clubs – all charming to a fault. And although the surroundings are grand and formal – think dark wood panelling, cathedral high ceilings and plushly piled carpets – the staff were relaxed and quick to smile, cloaking a ruthless efficiency with charm and grace.
I had worried that the air at Gleneagles would be too rarefied and the corridors too hushed, but the balance is spot on. It’s the sort of place where kids are welcomed and indulged, but also where you can dress in your finery, dine at a two Michelin starred restaurant and feel like the laird of the manor.
The jewel in the crown is the Espa Life spa. One of only two such spas in the UK (the other is housed in the Corinthia Hotel in London). Espa Life is at the cutting edge of the spa and wellness industry and alongside traditional spa facilities offers an expansive range of treatments and therapies to combat the ills of modern, hectic lives, plus completely immersive Lifestyle Programmes which recognise the need for more in-depth analysis and longer-term treatment of specific issues such as stress, fatigue, weight loss and fertility. The team includes naturopaths, osteopaths, physiotherapists, personal trainers, herbalists, acupuncturists and colon hydrotherapists.
This is the place to come if you need a complete body MOT This is the place to come if you need a complete body MOT, to tackle a chronic complaint or simply want to move towards a healthier lifestyle.
The spa itself is a beautifully tranquil space of muted opulence, with bronze tiles, dark wood and flickering Arabic lanterns, where you feel cocooned from the outside world. Male and female “heat experiences” are separate, coming together at the slate clad vitality pool with its sadistic massage fountains.
I saw hardly another soul during my time here despite the hotel being full, testimony to an excellent management team. The treatment menu is extensive; tailored facials, massages, exfoliations, plus Ayurvedic treatments, including reflexology, reiki and the four-handed Purva Karma massage for the ultimate in ambidextrous relaxation.
I have shoulders stiffer than the single malts so chose one of the Signature Treatments called The Source, an epic two hour body overhaul involving reflexology, full body exfoliation and deep tissue massage, using locally-sourced ingredients from the rivers and hills of Perthshire. At £180 it’s an investment but you will leave feeling like a new person – ask for Sarah who is also trained in Ayurvedic therapies and reiki, and has magic in her fingers.
Gleneagles is also in the middle of a multi-million pound refurbishment of The Club. After the renovation –
both phases will be finished by November – it will house an indoor pool, a children’s pool, a gym plus, if the artist’s impression is anything to go by, a glorious outdoor pool worth braving sub-zero temperatures for.
For families there is no excuse for idleness with a world famous Shooting and Fishing school, Equestrian Centre, the British School of Falconry, Gundog School, offroad 4×4 driving, cycle hire and courses in wildlife
photography. There are also jogging routes around the grounds, including a scenic 5km wooded track around the King’s Course where I nearly ran into a velvet-antlered deer among the silver birches.
We ate dinner in Deseo, the most informal of the restaurants.
It’s a big airy space and is the relaxed option and ideal for families who might otherwise feel constrained in the more formal restaurants. Food is very good though, and considered (they have a “breed book” which lets you choose the breed of cow your steak comes from).
We retired to the Art Deco bar for a nightcap; something about the place makes you feel you should, if only to feel a small part of its long history and rub shoulders with the ghosts of Hope and Crosby.
We stayed in The Braid House, the 59-room wing. Our room was classically modern, cool and spacious, but the showstopper was the knock out view from the balcony over the Ochil hills, stunning at any time of day but breathtaking at dawn or dusk.
Gleneagles is an iconic, historical gem, staying true to its heritage yet remaining cutting edge. It is glamourous and classy without being stuffy, an expansive estate that still feels intimate, a golf resort, a
wellness retreat, family activity centre, romantic escape. A thoroughly modern classic.
Gleneagles is a world-famous five-star luxury hotel as well as an award-winning spa and golf resort. Next year the PGA Centenary Course will play host to the Ryder Cup while the King’s and Queen’s courses are also sensational in their own right.
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