Christmas retreats are all about escaping the outside world – turn it off, put it in a box, forget about it.
Some years it’s nice to arrange a big get-together with family, some years it’s best to leave them for another time.
Before the madness of the festive season entered full swing, my wife and I were eager to get away to find some solitude.
Finding that balance between somewhere to run to the country but still be easy to access in winter weather can be tricky though.
A Christmas wonderland
Whispering Pine Lodge is right on the A82 Inverness to Fort William road near Spean Bridge, while also having its own beach on the banks of Loch Lochy.
Driving up to the 19th Century former hunting lodge is almost like driving into Christmas.
Fairy lights lining the roof make it impossible to miss from the road.
And stepping inside was like walking into a scene from a festive movie with tinsel, decorations and warm fires for the perfect winter setting.
The building has been a hotel since the mid-1900s and has passed through several owners but must rarely have gone through such a transformation since being taken over by current custodians Black Sheep Hotels in 2017.
A large extension containing more rooms has been added to Whispering Pine with the addition of a dedicated purpose-built spa offering massage and beauty treatments for locals and guests.
Local rumour has it that six caskets of gold sent by the Spanish to support Bonnie Prince Charlie went missing in the area.
The legend is that the treasure is still in the area waiting to be discovered in nearby forests – but step onto the lodge’s stretch of private beach and all thoughts about anything other than the solitude will drift away.
Investment from new Whispering Pine owners
During lockdown, Black Sheep Hotels has opened a series of two and three-bedroom self-catering cabins by the lochside.
We were staying in one of the bothy-themed cabins, which had all the trappings you would expect from newly created self-catering accommodation – while still having a traditional feel.
Walking through the front door we were immediately struck by the huge windows offering amazing views across Loch Lochy.
The scenery provided a stunning backdrop for relaxing through the weekend with a large seating area and fire by the seascape – perfect for hosting holiday gatherings.
With an enviable location, it is clear why Burt Lancaster checked in while filming Local Hero.
Self-catering without the hassle
One of the headaches with self-catering accommodation is always wondering what to do about dinner.
And frankly, when you go away on holiday sometimes you want the space of self-catering while not necessarily being that keen to do the cooking. Takeaways can be notoriously difficult to get hold of too while enjoying rural solitude.
We took advantage of takeaway hampers from the Whispering Pine Lodge hotel for breakfast, to enjoy a leisurely start to the days in our own company.
The cabins are separate enough to offer the space and tranquillity of a bothy by the lochside while also being just a short walk away from the luxuries and comforts of a small hotel.
Part of the fantasy of Christmas is wrapping up, walking through the frost and stepping inside to the warmth with all your home comforts close at hand.
However, part of the magic of escaping for a holiday is also having the luxuries of a hotel at your fingertips.
And one night we decided to venture out for dinner in Whispering Pine’s lochside restaurant, while the other we booked a takeaway from the kitchen to save the fuss of cooking ourselves.
Food has been a focus of the new owners since taking over Whispering Pine Lodge in 2017.
And during that time they have developed a local reputation for serving up authentic Indian cuisine.
Don’t expect thick tikka masala sauces, ready your tastebuds for local game mixed with Asian spices.
There are also rare treats, including the traditional Indian ice cream kulfi, which is creamy and served with nuts.
After two days enjoying the comfort and space of our cabin with the luxuries of having hotel facilities nearby, the two of us felt suitably recharged for the festive period.
However, it will be hard to find a venue offering such stunning natural beauty and comfort during the rest of the holiday season.
Whispering Pine Cabins are currently offering a free night when three-night stays are booked. An extra night on a three-night stay at Christmas or Hogmanay can also be booked at a 50% discount.
Stays can be booked at the cabins’ dedicated website here.