When travelling to Dornoch, you certainly expect the golf to be world class – but you can also have top-notch accommodation, dining and service at the Links House.
The luxurious 15-bedroom, five-star hotel is located mere metres from the first tee of the town’s famed championship links and is naturally a base for golfers touring the Highlands.
Royal Dornoch is a stunning course, after all, but the Links House makes an impression of its own – whether you’re the type to travel with a set of clubs or not.
Arriving on a beautiful, sunny spring day, we were met by the hotel’s Aberdonian managing director, Phil Scott, kicking off an exceptional customer service experience.
Sporting pursuits have informed the Links House’s opulent, old-world-style decor, and our suite, in the “Glenshiel” building, was called “Loch Fleet” – with every room named after one of the region’s 17 principal salmon fishing rivers.
We had an enormous, comfortable bed, a walk-in wardrobe area, as well as a large bathroom with complimentary Arran Aromatics toiletries, bath, powerful shower, his and hers washbasins and heated floors.
Two comfortable armchairs in front of the bay window looked out over lovely views, to Royal Dornoch and Dornoch beach beyond.
Every conceivable touch had been thought of when it came to the room, including the Negroni cocktails waiting on the dresser to help us settle in.
Mara – the best fine-dining experience in the north?
The stay included a delicious breakfast on both mornings in the space which doubles as the Mara restaurant at night.
Our maiden experience of dining at the Links House was a wonderful dinner on our first evening.
Revamped during the pandemic – with a kitchen led by head chef Kevin Barber and with attentive, enthusiastic waiting staff – Mara is surely among the best fine-dining experiences in the north of Scotland. And one which captures the fare of the nation’s “waters, fields, forests and skies” spectacularly.
We were first ushered into a sitting room for drinks and an amuse bouche of melt-in-the-mouth salmon tartare.
Moving through to the restaurant, the meal itself began with warm, homemade sourdough bread, which arrived with a nutty pumpkin seed oil, perfectly garlicy, silky truffle butter and an olive tapenade.
My starter of crab tortellini – which was served with a beautiful, slightly sparkling Lugano white wine – was my favourite course. Soft crab meat played off against the slight chew of the pasta and the sugar-like texture of crab powder in a super-sweet langoustine bisque.
My wife, meanwhile, had smoky-sweet pork cheeks, cut through with beads of crisp, sharp apple.
For mains, I was treated to melt-in-the-mouth tender hogget, with my wife’s venison complemented deliciously by a beetroot puree and rich chocolate sauce.
Dessert was a sharp, zingy lemon tart for her, while I sampled the very sweet and rich brioche French toast with clotted cream.
An admission: we’d initially been pencilled in for the Court Room on the second evening of our stay – the Links House’s off-site brasserie located two minutes away in Dornoch’s square. However, early-season staffing issues meant only Mara had opened – so we returned there, not least to sample another dessert, namely the oozing salted caramel fondant.
The golf and other attractions
Yes, Dornoch and the surrounding area is most famous for its golf offering.
I played the king of the area’s (and possibly Scotland’s) links – on the first morning of our stay, full of eggs benedict and optimism.
It was a glorious, unseasonably hot day, with stunning views to delight even those with no interest in the game.
Although the standard of my golf was middling, the course was in immaculate condition.
One of the repeated sights during the round was of the beautiful Dornoch beach, which I walked with my wife on our second morning in similarly blissful conditions.
It was pretty quiet, but I imagine that in the summer season nearby caravan parks and facilities are teeming with visitors.
It was a similar story in town. Some things had already opened for the season – we had locally made beer and gin in both the Eagle and Dornoch Castle hotels, and lunch in the town square’s Milk and Honey cafe – while other offerings were set to remain closed for a few more weeks.
Away from Dornoch itself are more popular beaches – south at Portmahomack, and north at Golspie and Brora. On the road up the coast to the latter two, you’ll see stunning natural landmarks like the Mound.
On the single-track road between Dornoch and Embo, another town with a huge caravan park is Loch Fleet, where you can watch groups of harbour seals relaxing close to the shore.
There are also man-made attractions, like the Glenmorangie and Clynelish distilleries, and the impressive Dunrobin Castle.
Not as impressive as the Links House, mind you.
Links House at Royal Dornoch, Golf Road, Dornoch IV25 3LW.
48 hours in the Highlands offer, including dining at Mara, from £645.
One, two and three-night offers available.
For more information or to find out about the Links House at Royal Dornoch’s offers, visit www.linkshousedornoch.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 1862 810279.