Nestled deep in the leafy countryside of Highland Perthshire, the stunningly restored 18th Century Old Manse of Blair boutique hotel absolutely deserves all five of its stars.
And although the charming property dates back to 1828 – having been relocated from the lawn of nearby Blair Castle by order of the then Duke of Atholl back in the mid 1700s – it is a wonderfully modern destination, suitable for all kinds of visitor, be they duke or not.
Located just a short drive from Blair Atholl, a 15-minute drive from the bustling tourism centre of Pitlochry, just east of the House of Bruar and across the road from the A9 Perth to Inverness road, the hotel is the ideal base for exploring the region.
But despite its proximity to so many busy areas, you wouldn’t have the faintest idea that was the case as you arrived.
After pulling up the long, curving driveway, my wife and I were amazed by the shock of red autumnal leaves covering the outside of the impressive property.
After donning our masks, we were greeted by estate owner Anne Macdonald, equally masked, who showed us to our accommodation for the weekend.
Our check-in was to be slightly later than in typical times, as due to the pandemic, Anne explained, the hotel was taking every precaution to fully clean every room before and after each guest arrives and leaves.
The snug room we stayed in was one of the converted stables at the property, and featured a luxuriously comfy bed alongside a bathroom with a powerful walk-in shower, and most importantly, two Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers.
Although my wife and I were at first a bit concerned about our first big trip away since the start of the pandemic, Anne and the team made us feel very safe with the extensive Covid-19 protocols that were in place.
With a while to wait for our dinner reservation, we decided to check out some of the things to do in the local area, and our first stop was the Blair Athol distillery in Pitlochry for a whisky tasting.
On arrival we masked up again, and were led inside the building to a series of tables socially-distanced from other visitors for a selection of delicious drams, guided through our tasting from a safe distance.
Back at the Old Manse to whet our appetite, my wife and I dug out our cosier clothes and enjoyed some alfresco beers in the hotel’s patio area seating around a toasty firepit.
When it came time to eat, we popped on our masks once more and after a quick squirt of hand sanitiser were taken to our table.
The food was as exquisite as the property is beautiful.
For starters, the crème fraiche and Dunkeld smoked salmon perfectly set up the main course of roast Ayrshire pork with maple-roast rainbow carrots.
And for dessert, with the tastes of the distillery still on my mind, I couldn’t help but go for the Blair Athol 12-year single malt set cream, which came coated in raspberries and honeycomb.
The next day, after a filling full Scottish breakfast at the restaurant, my wife and I strapped on our walking boots for a hike up through the treeline north of the hotel to the spectacular Falls of Bruar, a must-see destination for those visiting the area.
And after our token selfies at the falls, we celebrated the middle of our hike with fish and chips at the House of Bruar, just south of the natural wonder, for lunch.
But for those wanting to spend more time in the scenic surroundings of the Manse, visitors can also enjoy lunch at the hotel’s Little Farm Shop and takeaway, complete with its socially-distanced picnic area.
Before our second dinner of the weekend, we wanted to get a flavour for some of the more modern enterprises popping up around the region, and stopped by the Wasted Degrees brewery just outside Blair Atholl for a tour.
Conall Low, one of the two young entrepreneurs who started the business, showed us around and guided us through tasting the brewery’s two flagship beers of their gorgeously dark chipotle porter and their refreshing pale ale.
The brewery has just started opening its taproom to the public for drinks on the occasional Saturday, complete with a small hot-food menu, but if you can’t make your trip coincide, you owe it to yourself to at least seek out their beers in bottleshops where you can find it, or buy it online.
If staycations are to remain the best course of action for holidays in the face of the pandemic, then I’m thankful for destinations like the Old Manse of Blair providing five-star holiday opportunities right here at home in Scotland.
- The Old Manse of Blair Blair Atholl, Pitlochry PH18 5TN Call: 01796 483344
- Visit: theoldmanseofblair. com
- Christmas package: December 24 for three nights includes – arrival dram; daily afternoon tea; champagne and canapes on the 24th and 25th; dinner each evening; transport to midnight service and more. See website for prices. Hogmanay packages also available.