Fantastic experiences at Glenapp Castle, Scotland
Following a winding, tree-lined road through the Scottish countryside, we passed the ornate iron gates at the entrance to Glenapp Castle. A suite of elegantly dressed black and white staff members lined up at the front door to greet us, and a bagpiper played a chanting tune.
This enthusiastic welcome was only the beginning of the gracious and generous hospitality that we would encounter in the days to come. No wonder we felt like queens and kings!
Glenapp Castle is a private luxury hotel located in the South West of Scotland, outside the coastal village of Ballantrae, in the county of Ayrshire. It was built in 1870 in the Scottish Baronial style, which draws on Gothic and Renaissance architectural elements such as turrets, towers and battlements. Interiors, painstakingly restored and refurbished in the late 1990s, are adorned with Austrian oak paneling, rich brocades and botanical textiles, and dazzling chandeliers. The hotel is a member of the prestigious international label Castles Relay host group.
The nearest international airports are in Glasgow and Edinburgh. If you prefer to fly your own plane, the private airstrip at Castle Kennedy is 16 miles south of the castle. Ground transportation will be provided.
Read on to learn about some of the ways you’ll feel like royalty during your stay at Glenapp Castle.
Hobnob with history
The reign of Glenapp Castle is steeped in a momentous history. In the 1920s, it was the country home of London shipping magnate James Lyle Mackay, also known as the first Earl of Inchcape, and his adventurous daughter, Elsie Mackay. Elsie dreamed of becoming the first female pilot to fly over the Atlantic Ocean on the arduous east-to-west route. Unfortunately, in March 1928, she disappeared into the sky during her attempt. (A year earlier, the American Charles Lindbergh had successfully completed the west-to-east route from New York to Paris.)
Depending on who you ask, Elsie’s ghost may or may not reside in the hotel.
The castle was also a meeting point for Allied rulers during World War II. In 1944 Prime Minister Winston Churchill and General Dwight D. Eisenhower met with Lord Inchcape to discuss the D-Day landing strategy. Churchill’s portrait is prominently displayed in the library.
The castle fell into serious disrepair after the war years, as did a large number of rural estates when the owners could no longer pay taxes and their offspring moved to the towns. Unfortunately, many have been demolished, although a few have become tourist attractions. Glenapp Royal Castle is fortunate to have found new life in this way.
Rule your days and nights
Design your own day and night itineraries from over 65 different activities and excursions, each reflecting the lifestyle of the great country. Options include beekeeping, forest baths, archery, clay pigeon shooting, salmon or trout fishing, and spa treatments. Some activities take place on the 110-acre property and in the surrounding woods, while others are off-site. Transportation is provided.
Our personalized itinerary included stargazing under a midnight sky with a local astronomer and his sophisticated telescopes. Delicious hot chocolate was brought to us while we studied the constellations.
We also spent an afternoon with an expert falconer, who shared the pleasure of handling and flying birds of prey. Under her guidance, we took turns donning the heavy glove (which she primed with pieces of carnivores) and reached out until the kestrel, hawk, or other raptor landed in our hand. with a thud.
Stroll through the exquisite Gardens and Glen
The outdoor environment is a mixture of formal gardens and dense forests dotted with exotic specimens from all over the world. A circuit of maintained trails winds through the abundance of trees.
Our leisurely walk through the wooded Kilphin Glen, for example, started at the exotic Chilean monkey puzzle tree. From there we followed the path along the narrow Smyrton River, crossed a few wooden bridges, passed the red squirrel play area and found our way back to the start.
Directly behind the castle is the Gertrude Jekyll Garden, a French formal garden created in 1902. A carefully manicured lawn bordered by stone walls and carved hedges is interspersed with symmetrical statues and flower beds.
The Walled Victorian Garden is a huge green space anchored in a magnificent 150-foot-long greenhouse. Fruits, vegetables, herbs, and other cooking ingredients are grown here, as are flowers for decorations throughout the hotel.
The azalea pond, lined with azaleas, Chilean fire bushes, devil’s walking sticks, and other rare plants, promises stunning colors most of the year. Stroll to the north side of the pond for a photogenic view of the castle.
Board the eight-passenger motorized boat from the castle to Girvan Harbor and set sail for the Hebrides, an archipelago off the west coast of mainland Scotland. The natural environment is breathtaking and the sky is great. Sea creatures and bird life are abundant. You may spot sea lions, dolphins, minke whales, eagles, puffins, northern gannets and murres on your way to visit a distillery on the Isle of Islay or play a round of golf on the island. Isle of Arran. The boat’s knowledgeable two-person crew are happy to make recommendations.
Our half-day tour took us to Ailsa Craig, an uninhabited and imposing dome-shaped island a 30-minute drive from the harbor, for a hike and a picnic. The island, mostly made up of a gigantic granite boulder, is a sanctuary for tens of thousands of seabirds swarming above sheer cliffs. The scenery is a bit rugged, but our lunch of soup, starter and dessert was served with selected wines at perfectly set tables.
the Hebridean Sea Safari is a luxury glamping experience, a la Glenapp. As you cruise leisurely and admire the seascapes, the team of concierges make their way to a secluded beach or sheltered cove to organize your overnight accommodation. They pitch tents, put up rugs and lamps, make comfortable beds, and build showers with hot water, so everything is ready when you arrive. The lush cashmere blankets from Begg x Co are provided to protect you from the cold. Dinner and breakfast are expertly prepared by your chef, and tables are dressed in linens, china and glassware. You can choose your own daytime adventures.
Sleep like a princess
The 21 spacious rooms and suites of Glenapp Castle are individually and exquisitely decorated with period furniture, luxury textiles and precious antiques. Many have fireplaces and four-poster beds. The views from the windows vary from the garden to the forest to the sea, but all are stunning.
The bedrooms are equipped with many extras, such as crisp linens and Penhaligon’s of London toiletries in the private bathrooms. It wasn’t until my second night that I realized that the satin cord above my king-size bed had transformed the chandelier light fixtures. A three-course Scottish breakfast is included with your overnight stay.
If you are traveling with companions, The effort is a new 4,500 square foot penthouse retreat with four one bed and one bath suites and a dining area that can accommodate up to 16 people. The apartment, accessed by a private elevator, also features a full kitchen, media room, library, lounge and spa treatment room. Your personal chef and your butler are discreetly available to meet your needs.
Canine companions are welcome in four dog-friendly rooms designed with exterior entrances. Your pooch will be greeted on arrival with their own set of tasty treats and essential poo bags. Dog sitting can also be organized.
Enjoy haute cuisine
Meals at Glenapp Castle are big business, where even breakfast is presented with silver service hospitality. The menu selections are impressive, with an emphasis on ingredients sourced from nearby farms, estates and waters as well as the hotel gardens.
The most exclusive is the Six-course gourmet dinner, which starts with canapes, ends with petits fours, and offers creative seasonal dishes in between. Another treat is the Champagne Afternoon Tea, a delicacy of expertly crafted sandwiches, cream cakes, scones with sour cream and homemade jam, as well as a bottle of champagne.
In addition to the award-winning main dining room, two less formal rooms overlook the walled Victorian garden. The cheerful and bright Azalea Glasshouse restaurant is inside the greenhouse, and the lace-curtained Victorian tea room is a renovated gardener’s house tucked away along the perimeter of the garden. In winter, the tearoom turns into a ‘snug’ or a cozy place to drink whiskey (the Scottish spelling) or other spirits.
Pro tip: Many guests dress for dinner, which can lead to a packing dilemma when traveling light. My solution was a tight black mid-calf skirt that folded smaller than a tea towel (without wrinkling), some shiny knit tops, and a few rhinestones. A tiara isn’t necessary, but if you want to wear one, you won’t feel like you belong.