IT IS always nice to get a pat on the back for your efforts. After a spell of praise and awards, this is something that the Ardanaiseig Hotel knows only too well.
I joined the team on the weekend they were celebrating their latest achievements with tourism minister Jim Mather. These included a third AA rosette, being voted the third-best leisure hotel in the UK by the readers of Conde Nast Traveller, and a host of accolades at the Scottish Hotel Awards 2010.
There is clearly a lot to be proud of at Ardanaiseig, so it was with excitement that I made my way to the west of Scotland to sample the delights of this remote getaway.
And let me point out, this hotel certainly is remote. I was lucky enough to visit on a gorgeous autumn day and had a lovely drive along the A85 to arrive at Kilchrenan by Taynuilt, which is about 30 miles from Oban. The hotel lies at the end of a 10-mile single-track road, but this really wasn't as terrifying as I first envisaged. It is a tarmac road and there are plenty of passing places; the only danger is veering off the road while staring at the scenery. The puff of chimney smoke in the distance finally led us to the grand driveway of this impressive, B-listed hotel.
Our room, Ben Lui, had a gorgeous view over Loch Awe which encouraged us to have a wander about the grounds. In hindsight, I really should have taken up the offer of the array of wellies up for grabs for guests, but the surroundings are so spectacular that I tramped about until the biting cold forced me back to the hotel to warm up.
This is a building filled to the brim with antiques, giving guests plenty to admire over their stay. On our visit, there were log fires roaring in the library and drawing room, making us feel quite at home.
Our bathroom in Ben Lui was one of the highlights for me, the roll-top bath leaving me with great plans to move house on my return and recreate the layout.
The Molton Brown goodies and dressing gowns gave me the chance to relax in luxury, while not feeling too guilty about my laziness.
There were other nice touches throughout our stay, such as the hot-water bottles we found at the bottom of the bed as we returned to our room, exhausted from a day of eating and relaxation.
And then came the food. Ah, the food. We had already had a preview of the delights to come at lunch, as head chef Gary Goldie had served up lobster, oysters and mussels. I, being pregnant, could only watch with sheer jealousy as my partner wolfed down the treats, but the smell was enough to know I was missing out.
With the knowledge that the restaurant had recently been awarded a third AA rosette, I knew I was in for a treat. The head chef focuses on the importance of high-quality, locally-sourced produce and some of the ingredients are actually grown in the hotel’s garden. We met in the library for dinner, where we had a chance to study the five-course set menu and check it was to our liking. We were then led to our table in the dining room which treated us to stunning and romantic views of the moon shining on Loch Awe.
The food certainly lived up to the standard of our outlook. We had a veloute of Jerusalem artichoke and almond to start, followed by salmon with a potato salad, and then braised ox cheek. Let me say at this point that I don't honestly think, given a choice, I would have looked at a menu and necessarily chosen the artichoke soup starter, but this ended up being my favourite course of the night, thus proving the beauty of the set menu. Both the salmon and the ox cheek were cooked to perfection, and the lemon tart dessert finished things off nicely.
Our attentive waitress gave us excellent service – we were never waiting for too long, but did not feel rushed in the slightest, despite every one of the tables in the restaurant being full. After dinner, we retired to the library for a few hours to sit in front of the log fire with our coffees and chocolates.
Our overall impressions of the food were confirmed by our slap-up breakfast the next morning. Of course, I skipped the continental option and concentrated on the cooked section of the menu, where there were all sorts of variations on the traditional breakfast. I couldn’t resist the temptation of the full Scottish breakfast, while my partner opted for scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. It certainly hit the spot and was not at all greasy, leaving me feeling not too guilty about my gluttony.
At the end of our visit, I felt thoroughly relaxed. In this day and age, many hotels pride themselves on their top-rate WiFi signal or their array of digital television channels, but I think this can sometimes miss the point of getting away from it all. It was refreshing to spend time at Ardanaiseig to just enjoy the peace and tranquility and escape the trappings of everyday life.
The awards themselves speak for Ardanaiseig's strengths, and I am sure with such high standards the hotel will be no stranger to further pats on the back.
Bed and breakfast at the Ardanaiseig, staying in a room with a loch view, starts from £104. Dinner is £50 per head.
Dinner, bed and breakfast, staying in a room with a loch view for three nights or more, starts at £143.
Full details can be found at www.ardanaiseig.com or by calling the hotel on 01866 833333.