“If this hotel had a personality, it would be an ageing but beautiful elderly aunt of dramatically unstable temperament”
Okay, this is a difficult review given the plethora of competing and complicating factors to accommodate and a remarkable division of opinion amongst recent guests which threatens to make it difficult for the reader to accurately dissect the nature of the goings on at this hotel.
First, let me dispel at least one of those mysteries because those wildly differing Tripadvisor reports are simply reflective of the establishment itself. If this hotel had a personality, it would be an ageing but beautiful elderly aunt of dramatically unstable temperament and sepia nobility finding herself somewhat bemused amidst stunning surroundings whose origins she is uncertain of and whose place amongst them she cannot readily explain.
The location is indubitably stunning - especially at dawn and dusk - with the swirling mist enveloping the Apollonian loch; waters lapping gently but incessantly at its ghostly shore, bats a flutter, owls a hooting, this could be a Tim Burton film set. Ghostly and yet dreamily seductive.
The main body of the hotel is a somewhat imperfect fusion of old country house and modern extensions but none of that should be a deal breaker and there are parts of the old house which look and feel as if they await the arrival of a muddied Edwardian shooting party.
The hotel at some point in its evolution made the wise decision to build a dozen or so extremely comfortable loch facing chalet / apartments and extend some of the out buildings back on the small road so as to accommodate the self-catering market, or those who booked with strict privacy in mind. The hotel is also dog friendly, much to its great credit, and there were numerous well behaved canines prowling around which lend a rather jolly and chaotic air to proceedings – assuming of course that one enjoys the company of dogs.
So far so good then and I hope, at this stage, you are more inclined to visit than not. If you are, you may fall in with the eccentric aunt as she crests her sunnier, more benign disposition however please be warned her mood is changeable and strange, it weaves together comic incompetence with a sullen, defensive demeanour. If you meet her in that mood beware – here be, if not dragons, then certainly bothersome kelpies.
Truth be told the management should urgently invest in some additional training for their staff (more on them later) and one senses that they realise that. Perhaps someone sensible from VisitScotland (the national tourism body) will catch wind of the wildly oscillating standards of service and reach out to offer some much needed support. It is required, one suspects, to safeguard long term survival, because the hotel runs on good will, beautiful surroundings and the output of a miniscule band of competent staff who are, rather obviously, swimming upstream.
There is though still a good deal to commend this hotel not least the reassuring presence of that tiny band of hardworking staff ill supported I fear by a similarly well-meaning but solidly clueless management. Sure they will get some things right some of the time, no one is that bad, but overall they do need help and support because one senses that what neighbouring hotels call, “a busy night” this one calls “breaking point”.
The dining experience is one area where the system creaks and groans. The claim is that items on the menu are cooked from fresh and they almost certainly are but frankly so what? That should be standard in a hotel with these aspirations. The claim seems more like an excuse than a selling point and the mooted 30mins waiting time per dish says more about an understaffed kitchen than the culinary alchemy it is designed to portray.
Again, not a deal breaker but they are building a tremendous amount of flex into the system which turns out very respectable fare but not that which will be troubling the Michelin judges anytime soon.
Breakfast appeared to be an exercise in pure performance art modelled unashamedly on the timeless BBC comedy Fawlty Towers. The show began with an aggressive heavily accented waiter swearing loudly and vociferously at fellow guests in what we were told later was an “in joke” with a family he had befriended. The family seemed slightly bemused by the so-called joke but nowhere near as startled as other early morning breakfasters who, if they were not already wide awake, were certainly jolted out of their morning stupor by this truly eccentric approach to serving breakfast. How bad was the swearing? Take it from me, if you were breakfasting with your own elderly aunt you would have been scrambling to turn her hearing aid down.
The fact that the same waiter was otherwise unburdened by any visible redeeming charm or even rudimentary ability gave the whole scene an almost clichéd sense of farce. Clearly a gifted linguist, he appeared to have scant knowledge of the menu since he refused to write anything down and prowled the dining room snarling and muttering in multiple European languages. If only they had warned us that performance art was part of the deal, we would have come prepared. In costume perhaps or at least mugged up on schoolboy French.
Finally, our chalet wasn’t cleaned…… ever. It is as simple as that. It was a little grubby when we arrived and it stayed that way. No clean sheets, no cleaning, nothing.
Again, not a deal breaker and the management did have the courtesy to report back following what was termed “a detailed investigation” which gave the impression of earnest activity culminating in a statement of the blindingly obvious. You see, having reported the matter, the facts were not in question, what the management meant I suppose was that they needed to ask their team why they hadn’t cleaned - as they claimed to have done - dishonestly filling out the paperwork to support the mischief. It was not an investigation which was required but a question, one along the lines of “Why didn’t you clean that chalet?”
In any event whilst the investigation was unnecessarily long winded the response was nothing of the sort being leaner than lean. They didn’t clean it because they didn’t want to. What more can you say and hopefully you see what I mean about the eccentric nature of the place?
Mixed fare or mixed farce but even then it is probably worth a visit.
Because it is a beautiful location, because in their heart of hearts the management must know what needs fixing and because they must also be too smart to let things slip further. In essence, that which needs fixing can be fixed. Give it a go for the beauty alone but be prepared for a variety pack of a break. The beauty of this Highland Cathedral is inhabited by a kaleidoscope cast – some sullen, incompetent and lazy, others charming, hardworking and well meaning
Bad language and early morning performance art may not be to your taste but the food (when, if it arrives) is more than respectable. Being a dog friendly establishment, if you are a dog owner you will find heaven on Earth for you and your best friend. The management may be clueless right now, but I think they will rise to the challenge because they are sitting on a goldmine that with hard work and training will flourish.
The place will forever remain in my mind’s eye one of elderly beauty, eccentric taste, changeable nature and questionable poise and yet hope remains.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC