Scotland hotel: Fairways to heaven

The magic still remains in the legendary Gleneagles.

I'll never forget sitting in the lofty dining room of the magnificent Gleneagles Hotel as a wide-eyed eight-year-old, circled by five waiters. I was on my first overseas trip with my family, a four-month adventure through Europe, organised by my British father - the prodigal son returning to the motherland.

It must have been a proud moment for my father, the Liverpool son made good, to stay in this luxury French chateau-style hotel, described as the "Riviera of the Highlands" when it opened in 1924, and play its magnificent King and Queens's golf courses.

The hotel's golf course and luxurious surroundings meant that golf and grouse shooting had, by the 1950s, become a fixed part of high society's calendar, along with yachting at Cowes and polo at Deauville.

Of course this meant nothing to a naive young girl. All I remember thinking is how much I liked hotels, particularly this one with a pool and so many attendants at our beck and call. Each morning at breakfast one of the waiters would deliver a steaming bowl of porridge with brown sugar and a little jug of cream. Come Easter morning my two brothers and I rushed outside into Gleneagles' magnificent landscaped gardens to find a trail of large bunny footprints that had been put there by the staff.

More than three decades later I'm curious to see if the historic hotel's grandeur and presence still impresses me now I'm seeing it through the eyes of a fairly seasoned traveller.

As we enter the hotel's sprawling estate past the championship course that will host the Ryder Cup in September, my first impression is how busy it is. As the kilt clad doormen usher us inside to reception, the foyer, bar and retail precinct are crawling with guests, golfers and day-trippers.

Obviously business is booming at the 220-room property built by the former Caledonian Railway Company - boasting the only two Michelin star restaurant in the country and its own railway - and now owned by global liquor giant Diageo.

We're handed our room keys and initially I'm disappointed not be staying in the historic main building where I stayed as a child, but rather the adjoining and newer Braid House wing.

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All is forgiven though on entering the second floor estate suite with its commanding views over the Perthshire countryside and back across the grand historic main building. The room is the most stylish use of tartan I've seen with its smart checked woollen blanket atop crisp white sheets. There are plump sofas to recline on and soak up the gorgeous views with a pot of tea or a whisky.

But there's no time for lounging about. That afternoon we enjoy a falconry lesson at the British School of Falconry. I'm given the noisiest bird of the lot, Comet, a screeching harrier hawk, who calms down after she's been given something to eat.

It's exhilarating to get a good close look at these magnificent birds of prey.

Another day we leave Gleneagles manicured lawns for the rugged surrounding Scottish lowlands, famous for its gaming and fishing, where we're put through our paces on an offroad driving course.

The course, up and down hills, through ridges, gullies, steep gradients, ditches, bogs and even down a river in the trusty Land Rovers, is adrenaline-charged.

Other memorable experiences are a degustation menu at the Michelin-starred Andrew Fairlie (a local lad who trained in south-west France) restaurant. His clever take on macaroni and cheese is a dish I'll never forget.

The other is taking a stroll through the Queen's Course, where the likes of Greg Norman, Seve Ballesteros, Sean Connery and Bing Crosby have all played.

It makes me happy knowing my late father, a mad keen golfer who planned our entire European trip around golf courses, had a round here. I can still see him in his tweed golfers cap, while we ran amok in the bunkers at this magnificent Scottish hotel.

The writer was a guest of Visit Britain, Virgin Atlantic and Johnnie Walker.

TRIP NOTES 

WHAT

The Gleneagles Hotel, Auchterarder, Perthshire, Scotland. See gleneagles.com.

GETTING THERE

British Airways, Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Emirates and Cathay Pacific fly to London Heathrow from Sydney and Melbourne. Virgin Atlantic offers connections to Edinburgh. Gleneagles is an hour's drive from Edinburgh Airport. Phone 1300 727 340; see virgin-atlantic.com.

HOW MUCH

Rooms start from £360 ($650) a night, including full Scottish breakfast, the choice of a complimentary green fee (excluding the PGA Centenary Course until October 31, 2014) or 55-minute spa treatment.

TOP MARKS

Its location in gently rolling hills lives up to its claim as "the palace in the glens", while facilities and activities are world-class.

BLACK MARK

A decent coffee was nowhere to be found.

DON'T MISS

A whisky sour in the 1920s inspired bar followed by dinner prepared by Andrew Fairlie - named Scotland's top chef.

MORE INFORMATION

visitbritain.com.

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